A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Impeachment Watch newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
What a week.
- We are less than three weeks out from the start of the impeachment inquiry. Recapping just the last seven days:
- Lawyers for the whistleblower said they were representing another whistleblower
- The White House declared political war on the impeachment inquiry and blocked testimony by a key diplomat.
- Two Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani who helped his efforts in Ukraine were arrested on unrelated campaign finance charges.
- Now, the former US ambassador to Ukraine defied the White House to accuse President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani of targeting her.
We’ll send a special edition of this newsletter Sunday if news warrants. Otherwise, we’ll publish as usual on Monday.
Yovanovitch defies White House
- The White House and State Department apparently told her not to testify, according to Democratic committee chairmen.
- She testified without a State Department lawyer and, according to White House talking points, was in jeopardy of accidentally revealing classified information.
- She said believed Trump removed her after pressure from Giuliani.
- She said she was told by the deputy secretary of state her removal was unusual.
- She had a stark warning about the state of US diplomacy.
- A senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mike McKinley, resigned suddenly in part because the top ranks at the State Department were not defending Yovanovitch, a source told CNN.
Here’s what she told Congress
CNN’s Marshall Cohen pulled out five key passages from Yovanovitch’s 10-page opening statement and put some context around them. Check out his full piece or read the selections below.
…unfounded and false claims…
“Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the President, I was nevertheless incredulous that the US government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me.
“With respect to Mayor Giuliani, I have had only minimal contacts with him — a total of three that I recall. None related to the events at issue. I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me. But individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”
… come back to Washington from Ukraine on the next plane.
“…after being asked by the Department in early March to extend my tour until 2020, I was then abruptly told in late April to come back to Washington from Ukraine on the next plane.”
… this was not like other situations…
“I met with the Deputy Secretary of State, who informed me of the curtailment of my term. He said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018. He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.”
…take action now to defend this great institution…
“Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees. We need to rebuild diplomacy as the first resort to advance America’s interests and the front line of America’s defense. I fear that not doing so will harm our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably.”
This impeachment story arguably started years ago, with protests in Ukraine in 2014 that toppled the government there, angering Vladimir Putin, who invaded Crimea. Here’s how that set off a chain of events that ultimately triggered the current investigation.
Trump takes a loss in his other big fight with Congress
The Trump administration is keen on rewriting the rules of justice as they pertain to the President.
- The White House argued this week the impeachment inquiry was illegitimate even though the Constitution gives Democrats wide latitude on impeachment.
- The administration argued in court this week that Watergate-era decisions about executive privilege will be decided differently as it tried to keep Mueller investigation grand jury documents from Congress. That one drew an audible “wow” from the judge hearing the case.
- The entire Mueller report was written with Mueller’s understanding that the Department of Justice would never charge Trump with a crime, thanks to its own rules.
But the all-powerful untouchable executive strategy was checked by a judge overseeing a case involving Trump’s tax returns — which he, breaking previous presidential precedent, has refused to release. A panel of federal judges in DC ruled Trump’s accounting firm must turn over his tax records to a House committee. They also suggested Trump’s argument against the legality of the impeachment inquiry is seriously flawed.
“The fact that the subpoena in this case seeks information that concerns the President of the United States adds a twist, but not a surprising one,” the majority wrote. There will certainly be an appeal.
Judge Neomi Rao wrote a dissent and previewed the fight that could be coming to a Supreme Court near you when she warned that Congress could become “a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government.”
The very fine Rubio line
Republicans continue to contort themselves during interactions with reporters as they try to avoid either condoning or condemning Trump’s behavior.
Yesterday we pointed out the incredible stamina of Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner in not answering whether it was appropriate for a president to invite foreign election influence. Today, Marco Rubio, clarified on Twitter that when Rubio said he didn’t think Trump was being serious by asking China to investigate Biden, he was not suggesting Trump was kidding.
Rubio’s tweet: “Some taking liberty of reporting I said Trump was ‘joking’ or ‘kidding’ about Biden & China I said wasn’t “serious” request. Stand by it 100%. Disagree? Find use of ‘joking’ or ‘kidding’ in my statement Describe what potential legal consequences this poses for Biden or son”
Giuliani and Trump — The President is now expressing concerns about Giuliani’s ties to the Ukrainians arrested this week. According to CNN’s White House team, Trump is not happy with coverage on television — but Giuliani is still his lawyer, but a source tells CNN’s Pam Brown that he’s no longer working on Ukraine.
Trump and the Bidens and China — Trump repeated his attacks on Hunter Biden during a rally in Minneapolis Thursday, again accusing Joe Biden’s son of wrongdoing in China. Full fact check
Trade deal with China — In Washington after a meeting with the Chinese Vice Premier Friday, Trump said he did not bring up his public request for China to investigate Biden during trade talks. The US and China moved toward a mini trade agreement Friday ahead of scheduled tariff increases next week.
Republican supports impeachment inquiry — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan joins the very few elected Republicans who support an impeachment inquiry.
HR McMaster weighs in — Trump’s former national security adviser said it is “absolutely not” appropriate for a president to ask other countries to interfere in the political process of the US.
The Vienna connection – Rudy Giuliani told Elaina Plott of the Atlantic he was supposed to be en route to Vienna on Thursday night. That’s the same city his two arrested associates were bound for when they were detained at the airport.
Help for Giuliani clients — The Post and the Times report that Trump tried during an Oval Office meeting to get his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to find a diplomatic deal to benefit a Turkish-Iranian gold dealer who was being prosecuted by the US and who was represented by Giuliani.
Smoke and mirrors — Trump had this WSJ Op-Ed on Ukraine by Kimberley Strassel, with the headline “Smoke and Mirrors” sent to every Republican senator.
On the podcast
Guest host and CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto talked to former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers about how Trump’s political problem might become a criminal problem with this week’s arrests. Listen here.
Here are the planned/possible witnesses scheduled to appear before Congress next week:
- October 14: Dr. Fiona Hill, Trump’s former Russia adviser
- October 15: George Kent, US State Department deputy assistant secretary
- October 17: Gordon Sondland, ambassador for the European Union
- October 17*: T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, US State Department counselor and confidant of Pompeo. (*May be rescheduled in light of Sondland testimony.)
The House committees have also requested to talk to top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor.
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election.
Democrats want to impeach him for it.
It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.