House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed Friday that President Trump “will be held accountable” as the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry moved forward with closed-door testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
In opening remarks, Yovanovitch, who is appearing under subpoena, said her abrupt departure in May came as a direct result of pressure Trump placed on the State Department to remove her.
Also Friday, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a key figure in the Ukraine controversy, bucked the State Department and announced he would appear before House investigators under subpoena next week.
The State Department blocked Sondland last week from appearing before three panels focused on Trump’s efforts to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden at a time when U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being withheld.
Trump, meanwhile, prepared to stage his second campaign rally in as many days outside Washington and took jabs at the Democrats on Twitter. That included highlighting a past impeachment effort that failed badly.
● At least four national security officials raised alarms about Ukraine policy before and after Trump call with Ukrainian president.
● White House political appointees overrode career staffers before freezing Ukraine aid.
● Two business associates of Trump personal lawyer Giuliani arrested at airport as they tried to leave United States.
2:10 p.m.: Yovanovitch appearing under a subpoena
House investigators said that they issued a subpoena to compel the appearance of Yovanovitch after learning Thursday night that the State Department had directed her not to appear Friday for a voluntary interview.
“This is the latest example of the Administration’s efforts to conceal the facts from the American people and obstruct our lawful and constitutionally-authorized impeachment inquiry,” three Democratic chairmen said in a joint statement. “As is required of her, the Ambassador is now complying with the subpoena and answering questions from both Democratic and Republican Members and staff.”
In the statement, the chairmen also renewed a warning to the White House that preventing witness cooperation “will be deemed obstruction of a co-equal branch of government and an adverse inference may be drawn against the President on the underlying allegations of corruption and coverup.”
The statement came from Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.).
2 p.m.: White House talking points suggest a ‘serious danger’ Yovanovitch will reveal information without authorization
In talking points distributed to Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the White House suggested arguing that Yovanovitch is in a “precarious position” because she is appearing for her deposition without State Department lawyers.
“We are not concerned with any information Yovanovitch might share, because the President did nothing wrong,” the talking points say. “But we are concerned that Schiff is putting her a precarious position by having her testify in secret without State Department lawyers be present.
“Only State Department lawyers would be able to provide Yovanovitch with the correct counsel on what is classified or privileged and without that counsel there is serious danger that she could breach her obligations as a current employee not to reveal such information without authorization.”
While Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in Ukraine in May, she remains a State Department employee.
The White House talking points, which were shared by a Republican official, also suggest saying that Schiff is not only acting in complete disregard of Yovanovitch, he is furthering a “sham show trial that no one should seek to participate in.”
“By throwing those protections out the window, Rep. Schiff has shown the world that he is willing to ride roughshod over fair process and to use career officials to further a baseless political objective without any regard for the officials themselves,” the talking points say.
— Rachael Bade
12:45 p.m.: Pelosi vows Trump ‘will be held accountable’
In a letter to House Democrats ahead of a planned conference call Friday, Pelosi touted “increased outside validation of our efforts” and thanked colleagues for their “seriousness of purpose” during the impeachment inquiry.
“The President’s actions threaten our national security, violate our Constitution and undermine the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi wrote to fellow Democrats. “No one is above the law. The President will be held accountable.”
Pelosi pointed to a court ruling Friday as validation of the oversight authority of Congress, which the Trump administration has been resisting. The federal appeals court ruling rejected Trump’s bid to block a House panel from subpoenaing business records from his accounting firm.
Pelosi also pointed to a statement this week by 17 former Watergate special prosecutors supportive of the impeachment inquiry, as well as another from conservative lawyers from past Republican administrations.
12:10 p.m.: Trump highlights previous effort to impeach him that failed badly
In late-morning tweets and retweets, Trump returned to taunting “Do Nothing Democrats” and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and also highlighted a previous effort to impeach him that failed badly.
As House investigators were hearing testimony behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, Trump shared a blog post by Fox News host Sean Hannity headlined “Flashback to DEC 2017: 58 Dems Vote to Impeach Trump for Criticizing NFL Anthem Protesters.”
Hannity was referring to a December 2017 vote forced by Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.), who introduced articles of impeachment describing Trump as a bigot who incites hate.
Green’s articles of impeachment cited Trump’s repeated criticism of mostly African American NFL players who knelt during the national anthem as a form of protest against abuse by police officers.
The articles of impeachment also included references to Trump’s remarks in the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and his attacks on Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), an African American lawmaker.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opposed Green’s measure, which was blocked by a vote of 364 to 58.
12 p.m.: Yovanovitch tells Congress Trump pressured State Dept. to remove her
The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whose abrupt ouster in May has become a topic of interest for House impeachment investigators said Friday that her departure came as a direct result of pressure Trump placed on the State Department to remove her, according to her prepared remarks before Congress obtained by The Washington Post.
Yovanovitch told lawmakers that she was forced to leave Kiev on “the next plane” in the spring and subsequently removed from her post, with the State Department’s No. 2 official telling her that, though she had done nothing wrong, the president had lost confidence in her, and that the State Department had been under significant pressure to remove her since the summer of 2018.
In explaining her departure, she acknowledged months of criticisms by President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had accused her of privately badmouthing the president and seeking to protect the interests of Biden and his son who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Yovanovitch denied those allegations and said she was “incredulous” that her superiors decided to remove her based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
Read more here.
— Karoun Demirjian, John Hudson and Paul Sonne
11:40 a.m.: Cummings hails court ruling as ‘resounding victory for Congressional oversight’
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings hailed a court ruling Friday related to Trump’s business records as “a fundamental and resounding victory for Congressional oversight, our Constitutional system of checks and balances, and the rule of law.”
The Maryland Democrat issued a statement following a 2-1 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that allows Congress to seek eight years of Trump’s business records from his accounting firm Mazars.
“For far too long, the President has placed his personal interests over the interests of the American people,” Cummings said. “After months of delay, it is time for the President to stop blocking Mazars from complying with the Committee’s lawful subpoena. We must fulfill our stated legislative and oversight objectives and permit the American people to obtain answers about some of the deeply troubling questions regarding the President’s adherence to Constitutional and statutory requirements to avoid conflicts of interest.”
10:45 a.m.: Appeals court rules against Trump in fight with Congress over president’s accounting firm records
Congress can seek eight years of Trump’s business records from his accounting firm, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled Friday in one of several legal battles over access to the president’s financial data.
In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld Congress’s broad investigative powers and rejected the president’s bid to block lawmakers from subpoenaing the documents.
The case is one of several clashes between the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican president over Trump’s data that is expected to reach the Supreme Court. In this case, the judges ruled that Trump’s arguments — that the subpoenas were invalid because Congress lacked a “legitimate legislative purpose” for its subpoenas — were incorrect.
“Contrary to the President’s arguments, the Committee possesses authority under both the House Rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars [Trump’s accounting firm] must comply,” Judges David S. Tatel and Patricia A. Millett wrote for the court. Both were appointed by Democratic presidents.
Read more here.
— Ann E. Marimow, Spencer S. Hsu and David A. Fahrenthold
10:40 a.m.: Trump obfuscates, misleads and exaggerates to make his case against impeachment
Trump’s propensity to mislead, misconstrue and obfuscate is escalating as he confronts the threat of becoming just the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.
For days, Trump and his allies have repeatedly charged that the whistleblower — whose complaint about Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine set off the current impeachment inquiry — made up a “false story,” even though many of the claims have been shown to be accurate. The president has insisted that his top Democratic and Republican critics on Capitol Hill should be impeached for their efforts against him, despite a centuries-old precedent that prevents such an action.
And White House lawyers this week sent congressional leaders an eight-page letter vowing not to cooperate with the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry that was laden with imprecise or misleading interpretations of congressional oversight powers and the chamber’s constitutional right to impeach, according to legal experts.
Read more here.
— Seung Min Kim
10:30 a.m.: Maryland’s Larry Hogan becomes third GOP governor to support impeachment inquiry
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is the latest Republican elected official to say he supports the Trump impeachment inquiry.
“I think we do need an inquiry because we have to get to the bottom of it,” Hogan told Margaret Hoover of PBS’s Firing Line, in an interview that was taped Thursday night and will be aired in full on Friday. “I don’t see any other way to get to the facts.”
The popular two-term governor said he is “not ready” to say he supports an impeachment or a removal of the president, but thinks an inquiry of his conduct is warranted. House Democrats launched an inquiry just over two weeks ago, focusing on Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden and his son.
Hogan joins fellow Republican Govs. Phil Scott (Vermont) and Charlie Baker (Mass.) in backing an investigation. But Hogan, who is term-limited and decided against a primary challenge to Trump earlier this year, also raised concerns about the process moving forward.
Read more here.
— Ovetta Wiggins
10:10 a.m.: Yovanovitch arrives for deposition
Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, arrived at the Capitol for a scheduled closed-door deposition in front of three House committees.
She did not answer questions from reporters as she entered the building.
Up until the time of her arrival, there was uncertainty about whether the White House or State Department would try to block her testimony.
8:50 a.m.: Sondland to appear for deposition next week, lawyers say
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will appear for a deposition next week under subpoena in the House’s impeachment inquiry but cannot turn over documents requested by investigators, his lawyers said Friday.
The State Department blocked Sondland from appearing before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees on Tuesday with an overnight order not to show. Democrats subsequently issued a subpoena for his testimony, and later that day the White House informed Democratic leaders they had no intention of cooperating with the investigation.
“Notwithstanding the State Department’s current direction to not testify, Ambassador Sondland will honor the Committees’ subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying on Thursday,” Sondland’s lawyers said in a statement. “Ambassador Sondland has at all times acted with integrity and in the interests of the United States. He has no agenda apart from answering the Committees’ questions fully and truthfully.”
The lawyers, Robert Luskin and Kwame Manley, said that State Department regulations prohibit Sondland from producing documents concerning his official responsibilities and that the department has the “sole authority” to do so.
“Ambassador Sondland hopes the materials will be shared with the Committees in advance of his Thursday testimony,” they added.
Sondland was one of a handful of U.S. diplomats who facilitated Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian leaders, according to a trove of text messages that former U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker provided to House investigators last week. Messages that were released publicly show that the administration sought a promise from Ukrainian leaders to investigate the 2016 election and the energy firm, Burisma, that had paid Hunter Biden to sit on its board.
— Karoun Demirjian
8 a.m.: Trump heading to another campaign rally on Friday night
Trump is scheduled to leave the White House shortly after 4 p.m. and head to Lake Charles, La., where thousands of supporters are expected for another campaign rally on Friday night.
During a rally Thursday night in Minneapolis, Trump leveled some of his most personal attacks yet against Biden and his family, highlighting unsubstantiated claims about his potential 2020 rival’s son and using profanity to describe Biden’s tenure as vice president.
Among other things, Trump mocked Hunter Biden’s personal problems, including his discharge from the Navy after he tested positive for cocaine use.
“Hunter, you know nothing about energy, you know nothing about China, you know nothing about anything, frankly,” Trump said to a near-capacity crowd. “Hunter, you’re a loser.”
Joe Biden went on Twitter after the rally, referring to his appearance at a town hall hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and CNN on LGBTQ issues.
“I spent my night at the HRC forum talking about the fundamental respect every human being deserves,” Biden tweeted. “You spent yours showing how little respect for anyone else you have. America is so much stronger than your weakness, @realDonaldTrump.”
Before leaving Washington Friday afternoon, Trump is scheduled to have photos taken with Little League championship baseball and softball teams and meet with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng.
7 a.m.: Former ambassador to Ukraine scheduled for deposition Friday morning
Yovanovitch is expected to be deposed at 10 a.m. by House investigators Friday as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry, despite the White House’s stated objections and refusal to cooperate with the Democratic-led proceedings.
Yovanovitch was confirmed as ambassador to Ukraine in August 2016, but recalled in May, after conservative activists — including Giuliani — accused her of being biased against Trump. State Department officials have said the accusations against the career diplomat are baseless.
She is one of several current and former diplomats that the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have identified as witnesses in their probe into whether Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rivals.
The panels have issued subpoenas to the White House, Giuliani and two business associates, and several Cabinet-level officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell T. Vought, requesting materials related to the administration’s interactions with Ukraine.
But to date, the panels have recorded only one deposition — with former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who quit his post hours after he was requested to appear for a deposition.
Read more here.
— Karoun Demirjian
6:45 a.m.: New revelations about Trump test Pelosi’s narrow impeachment strategy
Recent revelations about Trump’s conduct are testing the limits of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s narrow impeachment strategy, leading some Democrats to wonder whether the probe should be expanded beyond the Ukraine scandal.
Since House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry just over two weeks ago, Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her top lieutenants have coalesced around a plan to focus on Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden, a 2020 presidential candidate, and his son Hunter.
The episode, Democrats argue, is clear-cut, easy for Americans to understand and doesn’t require further proof as the White House has released a rough transcript of the call.
But a spate of allegations about other possible abuses have led some Democrats to rethink the strategy.
Read more here.
— Rachael Bade
6:40 a.m.: George Conway takes shot at Giuliani
George Conway, the conservative lawyer and spouse of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, took a shot at Giuliani on Friday, referring to the arrests this week of two of his associates on charges they schemed to funnel foreign money to U.S. politicians while trying to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations.
“Rudy 1986 would have indicted Rudy 2019 in a New York minute,” Conway tweeted.
In 1986, Giuliani was a federal prosecutor, serving as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
His two associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who had been helping Giuliani investigate Biden, were arrested Wednesday evening at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, where they had one-way tickets on a flight out of the country, officials said.