The House impeachment inquiry interviewed Mike Pence special adviser Jennifer Williams, a specialist on European and Russian affairs who listened in on Donald Trump’s “quid pro quo” call with Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, after issuing a subpoena commanding her to appear, circumventing White House objections to her giving testimony.
The president has meanwhile angrily denounced as “degenerate” a Washington Post report that he asked his attorney general, William Barr, to declare publicly that the Zelensky call of 25 July contained no illegality, only for Mr Barr to decline.
House investigators released the transcript of their interview with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, who accused Mr Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani of leading a campaign of “lies and deceit” against former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Meanwhile, Mr Giuliani is lawyering up as federal investigators look into whether he violated lobbying laws in his attempts to dig up dirt on Mr Trump's political rivals.
Next week, the first televised witness testimonies in the impeachment proceedings begin with Bill Taylor, whose damning testimony contradicted the so-called quid pro quo arrangement between Mr Trump and Ukraine.
Mr Taylor and Mr Kent appear on Wednesday.
On Friday, viewers will hear from Ms Yovanovitch.
In another blow to Mr Trump, a judge has ordered he must personally pay $2m following a lawsuit from the New York Attorney General alleging that his now-dissolved foundation twas used as a personal "chequebook" for his political and personal dealings. Last year, the president said on Twitter that he "won't settle" the case and called it a political attack from "sleazy" New York Democrats.
At a rally in Louisiana on Wednesday night, Mr Trump attacked the Democrats as “totalitarian”, labelling the inquiry into his conduct in office a “hoax” and reviving his attack on 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren, again deriding her claim to Native American heritage by labelling her “Pocahontas”.
Please allow a moment for our live blog to load
Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.
Trump wanted William Barr to say Ukraine call was not illegal
Donald Trump wanted his attorney general, William Barr, to declare publicly that the president’s phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was not illegal, only for Barr to decline, according to The Washington Post.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) did ultimately release a statement saying that the White House’s notes on the call - we’re still yet to see a proper transcript, remember - did not contain any violations of campaign finance rules.
"The DoJ did in fact release a statement about the call, and the claim that it resulted in tension because it wasn’t a news conference is completely false," one official quoted by The Post said.
Another said the relationship between Trump and Barr involved the latter keeping a “healthy” distance.
“My take is that Barr hasn’t changed one bit, that he has had a healthy distance from the beginning,” the source told The Post. “He knows the parameters of the relationship between a president and an AG.”
Trump, naturally, wasted no time in denouncing the story.
Bill Taylor set to be impeachment inquiry’s first public witness
As the House impeachment inquiry progresses, Bill Taylor, acting US ambassador to Kiev, is set to become its first televised witness when the hearings go public next week, ending weeks of Republican gripes about their Democratic rivals carrying out “Soviet-style” behind-closed-doors testimony.
Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee leading the probe, said that with two days of hearings next week, Americans will have a chance to decide for themselves.
"The most important facts are largely not contested," the California Democrat said. "Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn firsthand about the facts of the president's misconduct."
Along with Taylor, the public will hear from former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump fired after what she and others say was a smear campaign, as well as career State Department official George Kent.
Taylor and Kent will appear on Wednesday, Yovanovitch on Friday.
A 324-page transcript of Taylor’s deposition to investigators was also released on Wednesday, in which Mr Taylor agrees a quid pro quo was in play and frets about the administration’s strategy of withholding military assistance.
Taylor, a career envoy and war veteran with 50 years of service to the US, told investigators that an "irregular channel" operated by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was set up to handle Ukraine diplomacy in the wake of the ousting of Yovanovitch and how the White House was holding up almost $400m (£311m) in aid.
This exchange with Chairman Schiff was particularly revealing:
Taylor: "That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president committed to pursue the investigation."
Schiff: "So if they don't do this, they are not going to get that was your understanding?"
Taylor: "Yes, sir."
Schiff: "Are you aware that quid pro quo literally means this for that?"
Taylor: "I am."
The acting charges d'affaires also discussed the president’s unsuccessful and much derided proposal to buy Greenland. “It took up a lot of energy in the [National Security Council],” he lamented.
Here's Clark Mindock's report.
Trump attacks state governor, ‘totalitarian’ Democrats and Elizabeth Warren in Louisiana
Trump himself was in Monroe, Louisiana, on Wednesday night to bolster Republican businessman Eddie Rispone in his effort to unseat Democratic governor John Bel Edwards in a gubernatorial run-off taking place next weekend.
"It may be 120 degrees in this room," the president observed, sweating profusely. "Somebody is saving on air conditioning," Trump joked. "That's all right. You've always got to save a little money. You go home and you lose about nine pounds and you say, 'What happened?’”
Ignoring his failure to save unpopular GOP governor Matt Bevin in deep red Kentucky earlier this week, the president used his address to attack the Democrats as “totalitarian”, branding the impeachment inquiry a “hoax” and reviving his attack on 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren, again deriding her claim to Native American heritage by labelling her “Pocahontas”.
"The American people are fed up with Democrat lies, hoaxes, smears, slanders and scams. The Democrats' shameful conduct has created an angry majority. And that's what we are," Trump whined. "We're a majority, and we're angry, that will vote the do-nothing Democrats out of office in 2020."
Bizarrely, Trump was joined on stage by the stars of reality TV show Duck Dynasty, Phil and Willie Robertson, who insisted the president "gets our lifestyle".
For his part, Rispone said at the rally: "We need a pro-Trump, good servant. Someone who is not beholden to special interests... someone like Trump."
A longtime Republican donor and the owner of an industrial contracting firm who has poured millions of dollars of his money into the campaign, Rispone has avoided specifics about what he would do in office as far as possible so far but regularly compares himself to Trump in his TV adverts, declaring both are "conservative outsiders."
Edwards, a former state lawmaker and military veteran, has downplayed national issues in favour of a defence of his own performance at a local level. Both anti-abortion and pro-gun, Edwards in many ways doesn't match the platform of the national Democratic Party. But he holds positions that helped him draw support in 2015 from the Republican and independent voters he needs to win again.
Here’s Andrew Buncombe’s report on the evening’s events.
Rand Paul shoots down Senate resolution backing protections for whistleblowers
Kentucky senator Rand Paul, who has been leading the cry to name the CIA whistleblower whose complaint about the Zelensky call provided the basis for the House impeachment inquiry, has blocked a Senate resolution put forward by Chuck Schumer and Mazie Hirono reaffirming the upper chamber's support for witness protection.
"The threats we have seen over the last few days are so egregious they demand bipartisan outrage from one end of this chamber to the other, whether you're a Democrat, Republican, independent, liberal, moderate or conservative," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "What's happening here is another erosion of the values of this republic for political expediency."
But, under Senate rules, any member can attempt to pass a bill and any senator can attempt to block them in return.
Paul did so, declaring: "I support whistleblowers, and I do think they have a role to play in keeping government accountable... but what we have seen over the last few years is that we have a system that we should continue to refine."
He also had some legislation of his own to propose instead: "The bill I will introduce today will expand the whistleblower act [and] would be made retroactive so Edward Snowden can come home to live in his own country. All he did was expose that his government was not obeying the Constitution."
Hirono responded that she had not had time to read Paul's bill as it "was just dropped on my lap literally just now" and added that she was "flabbergasted" that he would seek to apply Sixth Amendment principles (right to a fair trial, lawyer etc.) to impeachment proceedings against a president.
Alt-right figures online, including Don Jr and Sebastian Gorka, have already circulated the name of the person they believe to be the whistleblower, risking compromising their personal safety to win likes from conspiracy theorists.
George Conway suggests Rudy Giuliani's latest tweet admits 'impeachable offence'
George Conway, the DC lawyer married to senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, says Rudy Giuliani's latest tweet "itself establishes that Donald Trump committed an impeachable offence".
Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams expected to testify today
Jennifer Williams, vice president Mike Pence's special adviser on Europe and Russia, is expected to testify before House investigators today. She will be the first member of Pence's team to appear and the second to have been on the 25 July call, along with Lt Col Alexander Vindman.
Former national security adviser John Bolton is also due but is not expected without a subpoena.
One person who the inquiry appears to have given up on is Charles Kupperman, Bolton's former deputy, whose subpoena has been rescinded after he asked a DC district court to rule on whether he should adhere to a White House order not to testify or comply with the summons - a process that threatened to drag on for weeks.
Lindsey Graham scrambles to discredit impeachment inquiry
South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham is cutting an increasingly desperate figure on Capitol Hill as he runs out of new lines of attack as part of the GOP scramble to discredit the impeachment inquiry.
Yesterday he told reporters in the corridors of power that president's team "incapable" of thinking up the Ukraine quid pro quo and state that the process was "a joke" before going on Fox News to accuse Trump appointed-ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, also a generous donor to the president's inauguration, of being a Democrat double agent.
White House hires two new spokespeople to tackle impeachment
To help with its messaging on impeachment, the White House is reportedly planning to add two new recruits to its communications team.
Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and ex-Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh will join Stephanie Grisham's staff "to work on proactive impeachment messaging and other special projects as they arise," according to The Hill.
The appointment of Bondi - who served the Sunshine State between 2011 and 2019 - will raise eyebrows given that the Donald J Trump Foundation donated $25,000 (£19,445) to her campaign for re-election in 2013, interpreted by many as a bribe to ward off an investigation into his failed Trump University project.
Hillary Clinton mentioned the matter in a 2016 attack ad, using Bondi to go after her then-rival: "She cashed the check, blocked the case, and he tried to cover up the donation."
New book by anonymous White House aide says officials believed Pence backed Trump's removal by 25th Amendment
A Warning, the forthcoming book written by an unnamed White House aide, reports that talk of the president's removal from office escalated drastically following his decision to fire James Comey as FBI director in May 2017 and that senior officials believed the vice president was in favour of triggering the 25 Amendment to eject Trump, The Huffington Post reports.
White House officials, the book claims, jotted down on the back of an envelope the names of Cabinet members they believed would have signed a letter invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that if a president is deemed unfit to discharge the duties of their office, the vice president would assume the role.
The numbers were apparently insufficient to press ahead but, had a majority of the Cabinet signed such a letter, it would have been passed on to Pence for his signature, after which it would have been delivered to Congress.
A Warning is due to hit book shelves on 19 November and further revelations of that sort are sure to unfuriate Trump, deeply intolerant of dissent and disloyalty.
Pence reportedly signalled to the Republican National Committee that he would be willing to take over the presidential nomination in October 2016 when it looked like Trump would have to step down over the outrages of the Access Hollywood tape, published by The Washington Post, when his notorious "Grab them by he p****" remark was first aired in which he cheerily advocated sexual assault.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies