The House of Representatives has voted to formalise the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump by 232-196, firmly along party lines, establishing key ground rules for the ongoing investigation and setting up a potentially explosive public hearing phase.
Before the ballots were cast, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff reminded members of the “solemnity” of the day before angry Republicans Devin Nunes and Steve Scalise accused the opposition of “acting like a cult” and carrying out a “Soviet-style” operation. Mr Trump himself then raged at the result on Twitter, branding the inquiry: “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”
Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s top Russia adviser reportedly said the administration’s dealings with Ukraine gave him “a sinking feeling”, during testimony on Capitol Hill after lawyers for the president’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, said he will appear before the House panel next week should a subpoena be issued.
During his testimony, Mr Morrison confirmed that Mr Trump had sought a quid pro quo related to US security funding and an investigation into Joe Biden, but said he did not believe Mr Trump had broken the law.
The impeachment vote means that the House is moving into a new phase, with public hearings likely on the horizon as Democrats continue to pursue the president over potential wrongdoing.
And, shortly after the vote, Democratic congresswoman Katie Hill delivered a scathing resignation speech, in which she declared that she was the victim of a "double standard" because she had been accused of an inappropriate but consensual sexual relationship, and forced from Congress.
Mr Trump, she said, is meanwhile still the president after repeated accusations of sexual assault (he has denied doing so).
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Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton will appear before the House impeachment inquiry next week if a subpoena is issued summoning him to give testimony, his lawyer has said.
Bolton will be questioned over the president’s dealings with Ukraine along with two other witnesses, John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis, both legal advisers to the National Security Council.
The committees have reportedly asked Bolton to appear on 7 November, while Eisenberg and Ellis have both been asked to testify on 4 November but the depositions have not yet been formally scheduled.
Here's Chris Riotta's report.
Ex-Republican senator William Cohen of Maine has meanwhile likened the president’s rhetoric to that of a dictator in an interview with CNN, advising viewers to read George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and ask themselves: “Is that where we’re headed?”
Cohen told Christiane Amanpour:
He feels that he alone can take action, without regard to any of the other institutions which are there to make sure that the rule of law stays intact. And so that, 'Only I can do this,' and that has the sound of, you know, a dictator or a dictatorship.
I would ask everyone to go back and read Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and look at what he was writing about in a fictional sense, and saying, 'Is that where we're headed?,' where you have a ministry of truth, in which you can tell the biggest of lies and you repeat them over and over again until they're accepted as the truth.
That's pretty fictional, but it's not too far removed when you can have the president of the United States say, 'Yeah, I wrote this letter, and it's a perfect letter.'
Here he is backing Trump's impeachment...
...and here's some background on that seminal work the senator alluded to.
The House will vote on the Democrats' new impeachment inquiry resolution on Thursday, a measure put forward in a bid to allay Republican complaints about the process and establish the ground rules before it heads into a public hearing phase.
There is little doubt that the Democratic-controlled body will approve the eight pages of procedures, with each side likely to lose a handful of defectors, if any. "As much as this president flaunts the Constitution, we are going to protect it," House Rules Committee chairman James McGovern said on Wednesday as his panel debated the procedures.
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy told the Associated Press that the package creates "much more of a politically closed system than an open system." That echoed Republican complaints that the Democratic-run process has been secretive and tilted against them. Democrats say their plan follows how impeachment efforts against presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were run.
The investigation is focused on Trump's efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political opponents by withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting craved by the country's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky. It is likely to take weeks or more before the House votes on whether to actually impeach Trump. If it does, the Senate would then hold a trial to decide whether to remove him from office.
Both parties' leaders were rounding up votes as Thursday's roll call approached, with each side eager to come as close to unanimity as possible. Republicans said a solid GOP "no" vote would signal to the Senate that the Democratic push is a partisan crusade against a president they have never liked. McCarthy said he's unaware of any Republican even "leaning toward voting for it" while Trump ally Lindsey Graham has repeatedly insisted no Senate GOP members support the president's impeachment.
Fred Upton, a Republican moderate from Michigan who some thought might be open to backing the Democratic rules, said he would oppose them. He complained about the secrecy that Democrats have used and said he had not been pressured by GOP leaders or Trump, with whom he had a drink at a Republican fundraiser on Tuesday night. "You really can't roll back the clock" from the time the investigation began last month, Upton said.
Democrats were also hoping to demonstrate solidarity from their most liberal elements to their most moderate members. They argued that GOP cohesion against the measure would show that Republicans are blindly defending Trump, whatever facts emerge. "It will show the other party has become the party of Trump. It's really not the Republican Party any longer," said Dan Kildee, also of Michigan.
The Democrats' chief vote counter, James Clyburn of South Carolina, said he believed "less than half a dozen" from his party would oppose the package. One Democrat whose vote was unclear, New York freshman Anthony Brindisi, said he'd not been pressured by party leaders to back the measure and said, "This is a decision I have to make."
Republicans said they'd use the vote to target freshman Democrats and those from districts Trump carried in 2016. They said they would contrast their support for the rules with campaign promises to focus on issues voters want to address, not on impeaching Trump.
The House GOP's campaign arm sent emails to reporters all but taunting some of those Democrats including New Hampshire freshman Chris Pappas. "Pappas wants to be a one-termer," one said.
GOP leaders called the rules "Speaker Pelosi's sham process designed to discredit the Democratic process" in their daily impeachment email to lawmakers. Pelosi decided to have the vote following weeks of GOP claims that the inquiry was invalid because the chamber had not voted to formally commence the work.
The rules lay out how the House Intelligence Committee - now leading the investigation by deposing diplomats and other officials behind closed doors - would transition to public hearings. That panel would issue a report and release transcripts of the closed-door interviews it has been conducting with diplomats and other officials with connections to Trump's interactions with Ukraine. The Judiciary Committee would then decide whether to recommend that the House impeach Trump - a finding that he should be removed from office.
Republicans could only issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear if the entire panel approved them - in effect giving Democrats veto power over such requests by the GOP. Attorneys for Trump could participate in the Judiciary Committee proceedings. But in a bid for leverage, panel chairman Jerrold Nadler would be allowed to deny "specific requests" by Trump representatives if the White House continues refusing to provide documents or witnesses sought by Democratic investigators. The rules also direct House committees "to continue their ongoing investigations" of Trump.
Top Democrats think that language will shield their members from weeks of Republican complaints that the inquiry has been invalid because the House had not formally voted to begin that work. Democrats have said there is no constitutional provision or House rule requiring such a vote.
Yesterday, the inquiry heard from Christopher Anderson and Catherine Croft of the State Department, the latter saying she had been repeatedly pressured by a GOP-linked lobbyist - Robert Livingston - to assist with the outsting of Marie Yovanovitch, the US ambassador to Ukraine, in May.
Chris Riotta has more.
Today, it's the turn of the the National Security Council (NSC)’s top adviser on Russian and European Affairs Tim Morrison to give his deposition, a man who just so happened to announce on Wednesday he will soon be leaving his job at the White House.
A senior administration official said yesterday that Morrison "has decided to pursue other opportunities" and has been considering leaving the administration for "some time". Morrison has been in the spotlight since August when a government whistleblower said multiple US officials had said Trump was "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election."
Now it's his turn in the impeachment probe's hot seat.
Morrison, tall and lean with an authoritative voice (it says here), will be asked to explain that "sinking feeling" he got when Trump demanded that Ukraine's president investigate former vice president Joe Biden and meddling in the 2016 election.
Morrison, who is in his 40s, is a political appointee in the Trump White House, brought on board by John Bolton to address arms control matters and later shifted into his current role. It was there that he stepped into the thick of an in-house squabble about the activities of Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney who had been conversing with Ukrainian leaders outside of traditional US diplomatic circles.
Known as a "hawk" in national security circles, Morrison is set to be the first political appointee from the White House to testify before impeachment investigators. The probe has been denounced by the president, who has directed his staff not to testify.
Regardless of what he says, GOP lawmakers will be hard-pressed to dismiss Morrison, formerly a longtime Republican staffer at the House Armed Services Committee. He's been bouncing around Washington in Republican positions for two decades, having worked for Minnesota congressman Mark Kennedy, Arizona senator Jon Kyl and as a GOP senior staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, including nearly four years when it was chaired by congerssman Mac Thornberry in Texas.
Morrison's name appeared more than a dozen times in earlier testimony by Bill Taylor, the acting US ambassador in Ukraine post-Yovanovitch, who told impeachment investigators that Trump was withholding military aid unless President Zelensky went public with a promise to investigate the Bidens. Taylor's testimony contradicts Trump's repeated denials that there was any quid pro quo.
Taylor said Morrison recounted a conversation that Gordon Sondland, America's ambassador to the European Union, had with a top aide to Zelensky named Andriy Yermak. Taylor said Morrison told him security assistance would not materialise until Zelensky committed to investigate Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that once employed Biden's son. A White House meeting for Zelensky also was in play.
I was alarmed by what Mr Morrison told me about the Sondland-Yermak conversation. This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance - not just the White House meeting - was conditioned on the investigations.
Taylor also said that Morrison told him he had a "sinking feeling" after learning about a 7 Sepember conversation Sondland had with Trump.
According to Mr Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a quid pro quo. But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself. Mr Morrison said that he told Ambassador Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland.
Morrison told people after Bolton was forced out of his job that the national security adviser had tried to stop Giuliani's diplomatic dealings with Ukraine and that Morrison reportedly agreed. The official said Morrison told people that with the appointment of Robert O'Brien as Bolton's successor, his own future work at the NSC was in a "holding pattern".
Bolton had brought Morrison into the NSC in July 2018 as senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefence. He's known as an arms control expert or an arms treaty saboteur, depending on who you ask. Morrison, who earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from George Washington University, keeps nuclear strategist Herman Kahn's seminal volume on thermonuclear warfare on a table in his office.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Bolton and Morrison are likeminded. Kimball said both have been known for calling up GOP congressional offices warning them against saying anything about arms control that didn't align with their views. "Just as John Bolton reportedly did, I would be shocked if Morrison did not regard Giuliani's activities as being out of bounds," said Kimball, who has been on opposite sides of arms control debates with Morrison for more than a decade.
More details have emerged about Lt Col Alexander Vindman's behind-closed-doors deposition on Tuesday, including the line that it was the aforementioned White House lawyer John Eisenberg who proposed moving the transcript of the Zelensky call to a highly classified server and restricting access to it. He has since become a person of interest to House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff's team.
Like Ambassador Taylor, Vindman has since volunteered to testify again publicly should his services be required by the investigating House Democrats.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has meanwhile written to the secretary of the army Ryan McCarthy and army chief of staff James McConville to ask what steps are being taken to guarantee Vindman's personal safety after attempts were made to smear his good name, not least by Trump, who called him a "Never Trumper witness" on Twitter, and by Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham, who suggested he might be a Ukrainian double agent because he was born behind the Iron Curtain.
All that and hardly a word about Trump himself so far.
The president yesterday posted a Photoshopped picture of himself tying a medal for bravery around the neck of the army dog who helped chase Isis terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to his ignominious death in Syria over the weekend.
The image was actually made by right-wing news site The Daily Wire and, in tweeting his thanks, the president gave away the animal's name, which had previously been classified information. The heroic Belgian Malinois turns out to be called "Conan", for what it's worth, and looks set to be making an appearance at the White House soon, judging by Trump's heavy hint.
Samuel Osborne has the full story.
Also on the Baghdadi killing, the Pentagon yesterday released the first video of the raid. The footage shows around a half dozen American troops approaching the extremist leader's compound, which is protected on the outside by walls that the US forces had to blast open.
Trump announced Baghdadi's death on Sunday, giving a graphic and gloating account of the terrorist's final moments, relishing saying he had died "whimpering and crying" as he took his own life - and those of his children - by detonating a suicide vest in a tunnel dug within the compound.
American officials say that six enemy fighters were killed during the special forces operation, while 11 children were safely removed from the house.
Here's Clark Mindock's report.
Arguably one of the most significant development to take place on Wednesday was Twitter's announcement that it would cease hosting political advertising ahead of the 2020 US presidential election, putting pressure on Facebook to respond in kind.
The latter's CEO Mark Zuckerberg was given a torrid time on Capitol Hill last week as he explained the company outsources the fact-checking of political ads, taking no responsibility for their content.
Here's Phil Thomas.
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