Politics Headlines

Bill Chizek/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., again upheld a district court ruling granting Congress access to President Donald Trump's tax records, teeing off a likely battle in the Supreme Court to settle the matter.

The ruling on Wednesday by the full U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marks yet another blow to the president and his ongoing effort to keep Congress from seeing his financial information.

This particular legal challenge from Trump's team revolves around a subpoena the House Oversight Committee sent to Mazars, an accounting firm the Trump family has used for years, for some of the president's financial records.

The president's legal team filed a petition in October for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear their case.

On Wednesday, the court denied that petition, and the president's personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, subsequently told ABC News, "In light of the dissents, we will be seeking review at the Supreme Court."

Sekulow has already promised to take another tax-related case against the president, which was struck down in New York's Second Circuit Court of Appeals earlier in November, to the Supreme Court.

In his dissent, also filed Wednesday, appellate Judge Gregory Katsas conceded that "this case presents exceptionally important questions regarding the separation of powers among Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary."

During oral arguments in July, one of Trump's attorneys, William Consovoy, argued that the Oversight committee had overstepped its constitutional bounds.

"Where there are constitutional doubts?" Consovoy said at the time. "The committee's power should be narrow."

But in its initial ruling, in October, a panel of appellate judges cited "the fact that every President during the last four decades has filed financial disclosures offers persuasive evidence."

Trump is the first president in over 40 years not to release his tax returns.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


memoriesarecaptured/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Chad Wolf was confirmed to be the new acting secretary of Homeland Security on Wednesday, as a high rate of turnover continues to disrupt the agency's top ranks with several recent leaders serving mainly in temporary roles.

Wolf, now the fifth DHS chief in less than three years since President Donald Trump took office, succeeds Kevin McAleenan, who served as acting secretary since April before resigning last month.

DHS has had a difficult time filling its high-level positions since the agency was established in 2002.

Two Senate confirmed DHS secretaries and one acting chief served under President Barack Obama. President George W. Bush also had three DHS heads after the agency was created under his administration post 9/11.

In the debate over Trump’s aggressive crackdown on immigrants, Democrats have been sharply critical of the agency, which oversees U.S. immigration enforcement and policy implementation.

"President Trump is intentionally circumventing Congress in order to install temporary leadership at DHS to further his cruel agenda against immigrant families and the Latino community," Congressman Joaquin Castro said Wednesday.

As Wolf was elevated to the cabinet-level position, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services -- a subsidiary of DHS -- unveiled a new plan to withhold work permits from asylum seekers who cross the border between ports of entry.

"Illegal aliens are gaming our asylum system for economic opportunity, which undermines the integrity of our immigration system and delays relief for legitimate asylum seekers in need of humanitarian protection," acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli said, after announcing the new rule.

A record-setting spike in illegal crossings occurred over the past year as immigration authorities blocked asylum requests at legal ports of entry. An enforcement procedure known as "metering" has restricted legal options for unauthorized immigrants waiting at ports since 2016. The practice has likely prompted more illegal crossing attempts, according to federal government inspectors.

Felons and those guilty of certain misdemeanors, including driving under the influence, would also be ineligible for work permits under the new USCIS proposal.

Cuccinelli was asked at a Senate hearing today about why the employer verification systems don’t always stop unauthorized immigrant labor. Pointing to the recent ICE raids at several Mississippi food processing plants where E-verify systems largely failed, the acting director said employers have started facing new "consequences" for not fully complying.

USCIS in September scrapped a requirement that the agency issue work permits within 30 days of receiving a valid application.

The new proposal revealed Wednesday would allow the agency to take more time to issue the forms.

Cuccinelli is reportedly under consideration to serve in the number two position at DHS as Wolf’s deputy.

CNN first reported the news of his possible role change.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ftwitty/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The first public impeachment hearings got underway Wednesday on Capitol Hill, bringing with them a fresh threat to derail Donald Trump's presidency.

But just blocks away at a federal courthouse in Washington, government prosecutors presented closing arguments in the week-long trial against veteran political operative Roger Stone, a longtime friend of Trump, who is facing charges he lied to Congress and tampered with a witness in the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Prosecutors argued Wednesday that Stone's alleged crimes came as a direct result of his efforts to save the embattled president.

Stone has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which were brought in January by special counsel Robert Mueller.

As questions surrounding Trump's conduct toward Ukraine have taken on the national attention in recent months, Stone's trial illustrates how the lingering accusations brought to light by the special counsel's office remain relevant.

"Stone knew that if this information came out, it would look really bad for his longtime associate Donald Trump," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis said Wednesday in his closing statement to jurors. "So he lied to the committee."

Bruce Rogow, an attorney for Stone, said it was "absolutely false" to suggest that Stone lied to Congress as part of an effort to protect Trump, arguing that "this is what happens in campaigns -- they look for opposition information."

"There was not purpose for Mr. Stone to lie about anything to protect the campaign," Rogow argued, "when the campaign did nothing wrong."

Prosecutors on Wednesday sought to highlight several times that Stone allegedly lied to the committee about several elements of their investigation. Those alleged lies range from information about his contacts with members of the Trump campaign regarding WikiLeaks to the identity of his alleged back channel to WikiLeaks. The special counsel has described Stone as a conduit between the campaign and Wikileaks, which disseminated internal Democratic National Committee emails in the summer of 2016.

After one week of testimony, both the government and defense counsel rested their cases on Tuesday.

During his closing argument on Wednesday, Kravis reviewed the documents and testimony before the jury that he said prove Stone's guilt. He said those records show "exactly what was in [Stone's] head all along: to obstruct the committee's investigation."

Rogow took issue what that claim in his closing argument, arguing, "There was no reason for Mr. Stone to lie."

Jurors will soon take up the case and begin deliberations.

If found guilty, Stone faces a statutory maximum of 50 years in prison, but federal sentencing guidelines likely mean he would serve a sentence much lower than that.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The House on Wednesday convened its first impeachment hearing in more than 20 years. Testifying was William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the State Department's top career official tasked with Ukraine policy.

Here are the key takeaways:

New details involving another Trump phone call

Much of Wednesday's testimony recounted details already provided in closed-door depositions. But there was one new detail that raised fresh questions about the extent to which President Donald Trump was personally involved in the pressure campaign against Ukraine.

According to Taylor, one of his staffers was in a restaurant in Kyiv with Gordon Sondland following a meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy when he overheard a call between Sondland and Trump, in which Trump asked Sondland the status of "the investigations." Sondland is a close Trump ally and megadonor who is serving as U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

The alleged phone call took place on July 26, one day after Trump's phone call to Zelenskiy in which he asked Ukraine's leader for an investigation involving Democrat Joe Biden.

"The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about 'the investigations,'" Taylor said. "Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward."

Following that call with Trump, the staffer asked Sondland what the president thought about Ukraine, according to Taylor.

"Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden," which Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had been "pressing for," Taylor said.

It's still a question as to when exactly Ukraine figured out military aid was frozen

This is a key point for Republicans, who contend that Trump can't be accused of personally imposing a "quid pro quo" in his July 25 phone call because, they say, Ukraine had no idea that military aid was on hold at that time.

The hold was reported by Politico on Aug. 28, and Sondland has previously testified that he told Ukraine directly on Sept. 1 that security assistance was contingent upon its willingness to conduct an investigation.

By that point though, the military assistance had been frozen for several weeks and aides within the Trump administration were scrambling to figure out why. Taylor testified on Wednesday that it was already clear to him by that point that a White House summit was contingent upon Ukraine's willingness to agree to an investigation.

Taylor said he personally didn't hear from his Ukrainian counterparts expressing concern about the aid until after the Politico article published. Other witnesses testified in separate closed-door hearings that their Ukrainian counterparts had figured it out earlier than that. The State Department's Catherine Croft couldn't give an exact date the Ukrainians found out, other than it was "earlier than I expected them to."

"I think there's still some question as to when they may have heard," Taylor said.

Dems say military aid to Ukraine was released 48 hours after whistleblower complaint given to Congress

Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said military aid to Ukraine was released 48 hours after the White House learned that Congress was informed of a whistleblower complaint involving Trump.

Schiff said his committee was informed on Sept. 9 by the intelligence community's inspector general that a whistleblower complaint had been filed. At that point, the director of national intelligence hadn't provided the complaint to Congress.

"On Sept. 9, when the Inspector General informed Congress that that complaint had been withheld, the White House also learned that Congress now inevitably would learn about the complaint," Schiff said. "It was less than 48 hours later that the military aid would be released."

Republicans contend there is no clear evidence that Trump personally forced a "quid pro quo" on Ukraine -- $400 million in security assistance in exchange for launching an investigation that includes Democrat Joe Biden -- because Ukraine eventually received the money without the public announcement the president wanted.

Schiff's comments suggest the money might have remained frozen, despite objections from Pentagon and State Department officials, had Congress not found out about the whistleblower complaint.

The witnesses played it straight

Seasoned diplomats, Taylor and Kent have decades of experience walking a fine line when trying to make their point. So it's probably no surprise that neither took the bait when Republicans or Democrats tried to drag them into politics.

But there were some interesting moments, including when Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan told Taylor he wasn't much of a "star witness" because most of Taylor's information was second-hand.

Upon hearing this, Taylor responded, "I don't consider myself a star witness," and added, "I'm not here to take one side or the other."

Taylor and Kent also refused to comment when asked by Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, whether Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president constitutes an impeachable offense.

"That is not what either of us are here to do," Taylor said. "This is your job."

At one point, Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro tried to make the point that Trump shouldn't be let off the hook because military aid to Ukraine was eventually released by White House. Castro, D-Texas, asked the witnesses if attempted murder and robbery is a crime.

"I think that's right. I will go out on a limb and say yes, it is," Taylor said, with a slight smile.

Castro pressed, "Is attempted extortion a bribery or a crime?"

Taylor answered, "I don't know, sir."

GOP wants first-hand knowledge, but not Trump's

Republicans repeatedly questioned the witnesses' ability to speak on events because they lacked firsthand knowledge.

"I mean, I've seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this," Jordan exclaimed during the hearing.

Asked Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, of Taylor's account, "But since you learned it from others, you could be wrong. Correct?"

"I am telling you what I heard them tell me," Taylor replied. "I've told you what I heard."

Democrats dismissed the GOP complaints and said much of the witness testimony obtained by Congress corroborates the initial concerns raised by the intelligence community whistleblower. They also plan to call Sondland, who spoke directly to the president, to testify in public.

"The facts in the present inquiry are not seriously contested," said Schiff.

Democrats also noted that the White House has blocked other key players with relevant firsthand knowledge of events from cooperating with their inquiry, including former national security adviser John Bolton, and Mulvaney.

And as Republicans demanded that the whistleblower -- who Jordan referred to as "the guy who started it all" -- step up to testify, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., offered another suggestion for a witness with firsthand knowledge of the events. ​

"I'd be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify," Welch said. "President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Office of the Governor of Massachusetts(NEW YORK) -- Deval Patrick, the politician who made history as Massachusetts' first black governor, has begun calling political allies to tell them that he intends to launch a late bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, some 11 months after he ruled it out.

Patrick is expected to file for the New Hampshire primary on Friday -- the last day to do so. He is likely to announce his campaign on Thursday, potentially through social media though a video announcing his bid is not yet ready, according to two sources close to Patrick.

Since he would be filing on the last day, he will have to appear in person.

Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said he has "not spoken with anyone about a potential Deval Patrick presidential campaign."

One source, who has spoken to the former governor, told ABC News Patrick is clear-eyed about his prospects and has started to fill out a team -- believing he can be competitive in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and on Super Tuesday. But Patrick has already missed the filing deadline in two southern states -- Arkansas and Alabama -- whose primaries are slated for March 3, 2020.

CNN first reported Patrick's launch plans.

The ally of former President Barack Obama first began reaching out to officials and potential aides about a possible last-minute entry into the race earlier this week, according to Democratic Party sources. The decision comes as a reversal to the announcement at the end of 2018 he would not run.

"I hope to help in whatever way I can. It just won’t be as a candidate for president," he wrote in 2018, as he signaled that his concerns with launching a White House run were with "the cruelty of our elections process."

 Former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Tim Murray said his former boss had "a lot to offer" and was "not afraid of risk," as Patrick prepares to join the race.

"I always felt he has a lot to offer voters. I've seen him in moments of crisis - the marathon bombing - working decisively, encouraging everyone to work together... he had great instincts in those moments," Murray told ABC News.

"I think he thinks he will bring a unique experience," he continued. "People will say, if you're going to make this decision, you should have made it already -- but I think, he's not afraid of risk. He's not afraid to lose. He thinks he has a vision that will offer value."

Patrick is the second Democrat to consider a late entry into the still-crowded primary field, after former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed to qualify for Alabama's primary last week, keeping his options open as he weighs his own last-minute run amid concerns over the current field's ability to defeat President Donald Trump.

The news of Patrick's possible entry earned jeers earlier this week from the Trump campaign's director of communication, Tim Murtaugh, who tweeted, "Late entries into the Democrat primary just mean that the existing cast of characters can’t get it done. Not one of them can beat @realDonaldTrump and the new ones can't either."

Patrick, a CBS News political commentator, expressed his own concerns about the primary field, saying last month on CBS This Morning that he thought former Vice President Joe Biden's "support was soft."

"I'm a fan of the vice president. I have known him a long time. I have always felt that his support was soft and it feels like his campaign is contracting rather than expanding," he said following the October debate.

He also added that he thought "poll numbers" don't "mean much right now" and suggested voters aren't keeping too close of an eye on the primary this early.

"I'm not sure that the poll numbers mean much right now. I keep meeting people who say, 'you know it's too much right now, I'm not focused right now. I'll focus when there are fewer candidates' and I suspect that moment will come soon."

Patrick hails from the same state as 2020 Democratic front-runner Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has yet to weigh in on his renewed interest in running for president. But in an interview last week with Angela Rye, Warren named Patrick as a potential member of her cabinet.

"If I could talk about people who aren't politicians, I talk about my former governor, Deval Patrick, who is a pretty terrific guy," she said.

Warren said on Wednesday she has not spoken to Patrick in the last couple of days about him eyeing a late run and dismissed the notion that his bid would complicate her own candidacy.

"I'm not here to criticize other Democrats," she told reporters in New Hampshire after she filed for the primary ballot.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The historic first public impeachment hearing began Wednesday as Democrats hoped to make their case to millions of Americans watching on television that President Donald Trump's conduct has been so serious he deserves to be removed from office.

After 16 closed-door interviews over the past month, Democrats have called two star witnesses to testify in open session: Ambassador William Taylor, the United States' top diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, the State Department's top career official focused on Ukraine.

While, as of now, there is little expectation that the GOP-led Senate would convict Trump on any articles of impeachment, Democrats are striving to prove that Trump betrayed his oath of office by withholding military aid to Ukraine unless Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy initiated investigations to benefit Trump's "personal political interests in the United States" -- primarily through a corruption investigation into the Biden family. Republicans argue there was "no conditionality or evidence of pressure."

Taylor on Wednesday revealed new details about alleged comments by Trump about investigations.

Here is how the hearing is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.

3:36 p.m.

Chairman Schiff dismissed the witnesses, announcing that the testimony portion of the hearing had concluded.

In his closing remarks, he praised members who he said acted in a civil matter, despite what he aid were the "strong feelings" in the room.

"That is the way it should be," Schiff said.

3:10 p.m.

After Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, spent his five-minutes defending Trump's actions and accusing Democrats of denying them the ability to question the whistleblower -- "the guy who started it all" Jordan said -- Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., quickly responded.

"I say to my colleague, I've be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there," he said, motioning to the witness table.

After that, Welch, like Jordan, did not spend his time questioning the witnesses, but began laying out Democrats' closing argument on today's hearing.

"The question here is not a dispute about the enormous power that a president has. The question is whether in this case there was an abuse of that power," Welch said.

2:59 p.m.

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro attempted to strike at a GOP oft-repeated talking point that there was no quid pro quo because Ukraine ultimately received the military and there was no investigation of the Bidens, ABC's Trish Turner reports from the hearing room.

"So, ambassadors, is attempted murder a crime?" Castro asked Kent and Taylor.

"Attempted murder is a crime," Taylor answered

"Is attempted robbery a crime?" Castro then asked.

"Neither of us is a lawyer. But ..." Taylor started to answer.

"I think anybody in this room could answer that question," Castro said.

"I think that's right. I will go out on a limb and say yes, it is," Taylor said.

2:40 p.m.

Approximately 50 minutes of questioning are left in the hearing, with 10 members remaining with five minutes each. Schiff is free to question witnesses again after all the members finish, even if he doesn't formally hold a second round of questions, ABC News' Benjamin Siegel reports from the hearing room.

Apparently, there will not be an additional round of questioning after this current five-minute round. After the members finish, Schiff and Nunes will have an opportunity to ask additional questions, and give closing statements.

2:10 p.m.

Under questioning from Democratic Rep. Jim Himes, Kent says any comparison of what Joe Biden did to what President Trump was asking of Zelenskiy is not appropriate – not the same thing, reports ABC News' Trish Turner from the hearing room.

When Himes followed up to ask if Kent saw President Trump engaging in focused policy to counter corruption in Ukraine, Kent responded “I do not.”

“I don't think President Trump was trying to end corruption in Ukraine,” Himes said at the end of his questioning. “I think he was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine at Vice President Biden and at the 2020 election.”

2:01 p.m.

Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe cited multiple statements from Ukrainian President Zelenskiy to reporters saying he did not think there was blackmail in the conversation with President Trump.

“The Ukrainian president sitting in front of the world press and repeatedly, consistently over and over again, no military aid being withheld, no knowledge, no quid pro quo, no pressure, no demands, no threats or corruption and unlike we've heard from the Democrats today that's not secondhand information, not hearsay what someone overhear and Sondland say, that was his direct testimony,” Ratcliffe said.

“In this impeachment hearing today where we impeach presidents for treason, bribery or other high crimes where is the impeachable offense in that call? Are either of you here to say there was an impeachable offense in that call. Shout it out. Anyone?” he said to no immediate response from Taylor or Kent.

Ratcliffe withdrew the question after Taylor began to respond, but Taylor responded by repeating his comments that he is not testifying to what the conclusion of the impeachment inquiry should be.

“I would like to say I'm not here to do anything having to do with decide about impeachment. That is not what either of us are here for. This is your job,” Taylor said.

1:49 p.m.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan noted that Taylor’s testimony on the July 25 call was based on secondhand knowledge, commenting that Taylor is a weak “star witness” for Democrats, since he never spoke with President Trump, a key part of the GOP defense reports ABC's Benjamin Siegel from the hearing room.

“We've got six people having four conversations in one sentence and you told me this is where you got your clear understanding,” Jordan said, speaking of text messages Taylor and others exchanged about whether aid was conditioned on Ukraine agreeing to investigations. “Based on this I’ve seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this,” he added later.

Taylor agreed that he was not on the president's call in question himself and that he didn’t claim any firsthand knowledge, saying he doesn’t consider himself a “star witness” for anyone.

“I think I was clear about, I'm not here to take one side or the other or to advocate any particular outcome. So let me just restate that. Second thing is that my understanding is only coming from people that I talked to,” he said.

1:24 p.m.

In analysis, ABC News’ MaryAlice Parks notes the Republican staff counsel, Steve Castor, has generally taken an aggressive and even accusatory stance toward the witnesses. That style, she says, might underline the notion that Republicans see the hearing as nothing but partisan, but it could backfire, too, if Republicans just look as if they are not playing ball.

Republicans seem to be arguing through these questions that the president or the White House was justified in having concerns about corruption. Parks says It’s worth remembering that Republicans, even more than Democrats, supported and voted for the aid package to Ukraine. Their public votes and statements at the time did not suggest they were looking for the aid to have more conditions.

In one exchange between the Republican investigator Castor and Taylor, he got Taylor to agree the backchannel for foreign policy involving the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, wasn’t “as outlandish as it could be.”

“Now, Ambassador Taylor, I want to turn to the discussion of the irregular channel you described. In fairness, this irregular channel of diplomacy, it's not as outlandish as it could be, is that correct?,” Castor asked.

“It's not as outlandish as it could be. I agree Mr. Castor,” Taylor responded.

12:42 p.m.

The committee returned starting with questions from Ranking Member Devin Nunes who continued to attack Democrats' handling of the inquiry.

ABC's Ben Siegel in the hearing room reports Nunes kicked off Republican questioning by railing against Democrats and accusing them of mischaracterizing the Trump-Zelenskiy July 25 call.

"What it actually shows is a pleasant exchange between two leaders," he said of the rough transcript. "Democrats aren't trying to find facts, they're trying to invent a narrative," Nunes said.

He briefly questioned Ambassador Taylor, after saying he would "skip" Kent given his comments in the last round (he said there was "no factual basis" for allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.)

ABC News' Political Director Rick Klein notes that Nunes ended his questioning by restating a key to the GOP defense of Trump.

“I just want to be clear that some government officials opposed President Trump's approach to Ukraine, but many had no idea what concerned him. In this case, it was numerous indications of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election to oppose his campaign and support Hillary Clinton," Nunes said. "Once you know that, it's easy to understand the president's desire to get to the bottom of this corruption and to discover exactly what happened in the 2016 election.”

After 10 minutes, he kicked over questioning to Steve Castor, the chief GOP investigative counsel for the House Oversight Committee on loan to the Intelligence Committee for the impeachment hearings.

Castor is a veteran of numerous GOP investigations during the Obama years, from the IRS targeting of tea party groups, to Fast-and-Furious and Benghazi.

ABC News' legal analyst Kate Shaw says the GOP argument that there was "no quid pro quo" continues to fall apart in Wednesday's hearing.

“Today you see, the fact that you just speak the words ‘no quid pro quo’ but then everybody involved, really on both the U.S. side and even eventually on the Ukrainian side, understand that there is this linkage between the aid and the White House meetings and these investigations,” she said.

12:39 p.m

As the lawmakers took a break, ABC's Jordyn Phelps reports that ABC's Karen Travers asked President Trump during an Oval Office photo op: "Have you watched any of the hearing?"

"I’m too busy to watch it. It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax, I’m too busy to watch it. So, I’m sure I’ll get a report. There’s nothing," Trump responded.

At the same time, ABC's Katherine Faulders and John Parkinson report that the aide who Taylor testified as overhearing President Trump in a conversation with Gordon Sondland speaking of "investigations" is David Holmes, who has been scheduled for a closed-door deposition.

12:20 p.m.

The Democrats have finished their first round of questioning and chairman Schiff announces a five-minute break before Republicans begin their 45-minute round of questioning.

In a departure from previous hearings, Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman had taken over the questioning, leading Taylor and Kent to repeat and highlight some of their most forceful and critical statements.

11:35 a.m.

ABC News' Ben Siegel notes Schiff, as he began his questioning, immediately asked Taylor about the new details he revealed about the account from his staffer regarding the call between Sondland and Trump.

"The president must have been speaking loudly enough for your staff member to overhear this?" Schiff asked.

"He was," Taylor replied.

"And I think you said that after the call when your staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought of Ukraine, his response was that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, is that right?" Schiff asked.

"And Burisma, yes, sir," Taylor responded.

"And I take it the import of that is he cares more about that than he does about Ukraine? Schiff then asked.

"Yes, sir," Taylor responded.

ABC News' Mary Bruce notes that this is the first we've heard of this conversation that took place the day after the controversial July 25 call at the heart of the whistleblower complaint that triggered the Ukraine affair and led to the impeachment inquiry.

There have been plenty of questions about Sondland's testimony, Bruce said, noting he has updated his account after other witnesses contradicted his initial testimony. Now, even more questions about his version of events.

Sondland has testified that he couldn't remember whether he had additional phone calls with Trump and had requested records of his phone calls

His public hearing scheduled for next Wednesday just got a lot more interesting.

Schiff also asked Taylor what U.S. military aid to Ukraine buys, and what’s at risk without it.

“One of the components of that assistance is counter-battery radar. Another component are sniper weapons,” Taylor said, explaining that such weapons help the Ukrainian military deter Russian forces encroaching on their soil.

“If that further incursion, further aggression, were to take place, more Ukrainians would die,” he said.

In analysis from ABC News Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks, she notes that Taylor's testimony helps lay the groundwork for Democrats to argue that formal U.S. policy toward Ukraine had not changed, and so any hedging on U.S. support of Ukraine was being done through informal and irregular channels. Much of his testimony focuses on what he saw and heard about the "shadow" avenue for foreign policy outside the diplomatic norms.

Parks also points out what this says about the decisions around withholding aid to Ukraine and why Democrats want to talk to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Taylor says someone from the Office of Management and Budget told him military aid was being withheld, and that set off alarm bells to him. Mulvaney is not only the acting White House chief of staff but still technically plays a role at OMB, too. "Did he personally direct a hold on aid?" Parks asks.

11:28 a.m.

Ambassador Bill Taylor said he pushed back when his colleague, Gordon Sondland, told him “everything” was dependent upon Ukraine’s willingness to launch a politically charged investigation that included Democrat Joe Biden.

According to Sondland, Taylor said, Trump wanted Ukraine’s president in a “box” that would have forced their hand to investigate.

Taylor said he responded to Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, “President Trump should have more respect for another head of state.”

Taylor said he was told that Trump was a “businessman” who wanted Ukraine to “pay up.” Taylor said that argument “made no sense” because Ukraine didn’t owe the U.S. anything.

Taylor also said by the time the White House released the transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy he understood that the term “investigations” was a reference to investigations the president wanted into the 2016 election and the Bidens.

11:18 a.m.

ABC News' Jordyn Phelps reports from the White House that press secretary Stephanie Grisham says President Trump is not tuning in to this morning's hearing.

"He's in the Oval in meetings. Not watching. He's working," Grisham said.

Trump was about to meet with visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and was scheduled to hold a news conference mid-afternoon.

11:06 a.m.

ABC News' Katherine Faulders notes Taylor has described a previously undisclosed conversation between President Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.

Taylor testified that an aide in the room heard Trump ask Sondland about “the investigations.”

"Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward," Taylor testified.

He said he recalls his aide asking about the conversation. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor said.

10:53 a.m.

Taylor begins his opening statement saying Ukraine is "important to the security of our country."

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Taylor is telling a House Intelligence Committee that it would be “crazy” for the U.S. to withhold military aid.

His statement is a reference to a text he sent a colleague, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. That text exchange was obtained by Congress in the ongoing House impeachment inquiry.

“I believe that then, and I believe that now,” Taylor said.

Taylor said it was difficult for him to decide to return to Kyiv after how former Ambassador Marie Yovanovich was treated before being removed. He said he consulted both a mentor and his wife, saying his wife was “strongly opposed to the idea.”

10:41 a.m.

In his opening statement, George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, said he expected attacks from corrupt Ukrainians but was surprised to see Americans attack dedicated public servants.

He appears to be referring to an effort led Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to discredit Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

In his phone call to Ukraine’s president, Trump said Yovanovitch was “bad news” and was “going to go through some things.”

In his closed-door interview, Kent vigorously defended Yovanovitch and said Giuliani targeted her with a “campaign of lies.”

Kent, the top Ukraine official at the State Department, is telling the House Intelligence Committee that in 2015 he warned of a perceived conflict of interest after Democrat Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, took a job as a board member on a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma.

Kent added though that he never witnessed “any effort” by a U.S. official to “shield Burisma from scrutiny.”

This statement addresses the unsubstantiated claim from Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, that Biden might have been working in his son’s best interests when leading U.S. policy in Ukraine as vice president.

10:37 a.m.

Rep. Adam Schiff is going over the military and diplomatic experience of the two witnesses, making clear that both men have vast experience as public servants.

He is pointing out Amassador Bill Taylor’s West Point education and military service, and State Department’s George Kent’s work on anti-corruption efforts. Republicans are pressing Democrats to call the whistleblower as a witness.

GOP Rep. Mike Conaway is asking that Congress subpoena the whistleblower for a closed-door session.

Schiff, the chairman said, GOP members can asking any question they want except trying to expose the whistleblower. He also said Democrats “will entertain a motion to subpoena any witness.”

“We will do everything we can to protect the whistleblower,” he said.

10:31 a.m.

Taylor and Kent are sworn in.

As the hearing gets underway, ABC News Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks says she’s watching for any language from Republicans about the importance of the U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

“In late September, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was not given an explanation as to why the aid was held up after Congress approved it, but said he was glad the aid was eventually released to help “our friends” in Ukraine defend themselves against Russia.

Congress approved that aid as a part of a defense package that Republicans championed even more than Democrats. (In the House, 220 Republicans and 139 Democrats voted for the defense spending. In the Senate, 46 Republicans, 40 Democrats and one independent voted to approve the bill.)

Still, in the last few weeks, some Republicans have started suggesting the stalling or bargaining with that aid was understandable. Do they double down on that argument?”

ABC News Political Director Rick Klein says he thinks there’s more pressure on Democrats going into the hearing to lay out their case against the president.

“Democrats will be under immense pressure to unearth new information from witnesses whose accounts are already widely known and to generate new headlines so as not to lose the public’s attention. Consider: If impeachment is going to succeed, the moments that get it there almost certainly haven’t happened yet. As a Democratic House member texted me last night: “I think our members need to talk less.” Good luck with that …”

10:22 a.m.

Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes called the impeachment inquiry a “publicly orchestrated media smear campaign” in his opening statement, repeating Republican talking points that Democrats are continuing attacks against the president for political gain.

Nunes told the packed hearing room that the impeachment inquiry is part of a desperate effort by Democrats and media outlets to smear President Trump, calling the allegations “absurd.”

“This is a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign,” the California Republican said.

Nunes also revived criticism that the GOP was unfairly iced out of the process and accused Democrats of holding “secret” closed-door depositions. Republicans were included in those depositions and allowed to ask questions.

"What we will witness today is a televised, theatrical performance," Nunes said, "congratulating" the witnesses for "agreeing to participate in the drama" - the "low-rent, Ukrainian sequel" to the "Russia hoax."

He also dismissed other witnesses "secondhand" and "thirdhand" accounts of the president's phone call, and defended Trump's ability to fire his ambassadors.

As he closed, Nunes seemed to suggest that now, with this new inquiry, State Department officials have worked to undermine Trump -- a charge he leveled against FBI and Justice Department officials during the Mueller inquiry.

"Elements of the FBI, Justice Department, and now the State Department, have lost the confidence" of millions of Americans," Nunes said.

10:08 a.m.

In his opening statement, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the hearing will look at whether Trump tried to “exploit” Ukraine’s vulnerability during its military conflict and invited Ukraine to interfere in American elections.

“Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency, itself,” he said, asking, whether "such an abuse of his power is incompatible with the office of the presidency."

Schiff is using his opening statement to go over the evidence collected so far in the impeachment inquiry including testimony of key witnesses.

He is focusing on the White House decision to freeze $400 million in aid and witness depositions that the money and other perks for Ukraine was contingent upon the government agreeing to investigate Democrat Joe Biden.

“Neither of these investigations were in the U.S. national interests,” but were in Trump’s personal interests, including his reelection, Schiff said.

10:06 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff opens the hearing.

9:59 a.m.

Republicans and Democrats set up displays of exhibits they plan to use to support their argument ahead of the hearing - Mulvaney’s presser for Dems, and a number of quotes and comments about the whistleblower from Republicans.

The committee lawyers – Daniel Goldman for the Democrats and Steve Castor for Republicans - who will question in the early extended rounds, will be sitting on either side of Schiff and Ranking member Devin Nunes.

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, who was added to the committee late, is sitting in the center on the Republican side.

9:54 a.m.

ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce on Capitol Hill reports she is told that while some political wrangling is expected, Democrats say they will stay "somber, serious and focused."

ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl reports that President Trump and his GOP allies see this as an opportunity to "fight back" -- noting that neither of the witnesses claims to have communicated directly with the president.

9:32 a.m.

Senior State Department official George Kent and the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine Bill Taylor have arrived on Capitol Hill ahead of the 10 a.m. hearing start time.

Both declined to answer questions from reporters.

An official working on the impeachment inquiry confirmed Taylor and Kent were both subpoenaed before the hearing.

9:21 a.m.

ABC News' John Parkinson caught up with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi heading into a closed-door meeting with her Democratic caucus.

"Is today a make or break moment for Democrats regarding the impeachment inquiry? What are the stakes at play today?" Parkinson asked.

“We take the oath of office – all of us become custodians of the Constitution, custodians of all that is contained in it. Our system of checks and balances, separation of powers, a check on each other. Legislative – Article I – the legislative branch – that’s the Congress of the United States. Our duties are spelled out in the Constitution. Article II, the executive branch - duties spelled out; judicial branch, Article III," Pelosi answered.

"The president has said that Article II says that he can do whatever he wants. That is a rejection of the genius of the Constitution of the United States. Benjamin Franklin said, when asked coming out of Independence Hall at the time of the adoption of the Constitution – what do we have, a monarchy or a republic. He said, ‘A republic, if you can keep it. Article II says I can do whatever I want? That’s a monarchy. A system of checks and balances, that’s a republic. And we have a responsibility to keep as custodians of the Constitution – we are defenders of our democracy," Pelosi said.

"So, I’m very prayerful, thoughtful, and actually saddened today that our country has to come to a place where the president doesn’t understand that Article II does not say that he can do whatever he wants, that he is not above the law, and that he will be held accountable. I’m very proud of Adam Schiff and members of the Intelligence Committee and the other committees that have been working on defending our democracy," she told Parkinson and other reporters.

9:18 a.m.

The large Ways and Means Committee hearing room was already buzzing an hour before testimony was scheduled to begin.

ABC News’ Ben Siegel reported the first person in line to watch the hearing in person was Ed Ingber from Sarasota, who extended his vacation to Washington so he could see the proceedings in person. Ingber and others started to line up outside the hearing room at 3:30 a.m.

The leader of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, hopes Wednesday's testimony will demonstrate to Americans watching on television that Trump – directly or through agents – "sought to use the power of the Office of the President and other instruments of the federal government in other ways" to apply pressure to Zelenskiy to advance his personal political interests, including by leveraging a prospective Oval Office meeting desired by Zelenskiy or by withholding nearly $400 million of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine that had been appropriated by Congress.

Finally, Schiff will work to show that Trump and his administration sought to "obstruct, suppress or cover up information to conceal from the Congress and the American people evidence about the president's actions and conduct."

Trump has blocked nearly all of his closest advisers from cooperating in the Democratic impeachment inquiry, including his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, John Eisenberg, legal adviser to the National Security Council, and Eisenberg's deputy, Michael Ellis.

"It is important to underscore that the House's impeachment inquiry, and the Committee, will not serve as venues for any Member to further the same sham investigations into the Bidens or into debunked conspiracies about 2016 U.S. election interference that President Trump pressed Ukraine to undertake for his personal political benefit," Schiff, D-Calif., asserted in a memo to all Intelligence Committee members on Tuesday. "Nor will the Committee facilitate any efforts by President Trump or his allies to threaten, intimidate, or retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously and lawfully raised concerns about the President's conduct."

Schiff has called three witnesses this week, two Wednesday and one Friday, to publicly say what they've already testified to in private -- hoping to capture the attention of a TV audience and shift public sentiment further in favor of removing Trump from office.

"We want the American people to hear the evidence for themselves in the witnesses' own words, and our goal is to present the facts in a serious and sober manner," Schiff said Tuesday ahead of the hearing. "The three witnesses this week will begin to flesh out the details of the president's effort to coerce a foreign nation to engage in political investigations designed to help his campaign, a corrupt undertaking that is evident from his own words on the July 25 call record."

The witnesses

Taylor, who is viewed as perhaps the Democrats' most compelling witness, told Congress on Oct. 22 that "it was becoming clear" to him that a prospective bilateral meeting between Trump and Zelenskiy "was contingent upon the investigation of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 elections," according to a transcript of his closed-door testimony.

Asked about the summary memorandum released by the White House that memorialized the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy, Taylor said "although this was the first time I had seen the details of President Trump's July 25 call with President Zelenskiy, in which he mentioned Vice President Biden, I had come to understand well before then that ‘investigations' was a term that Ambassadors (Kurt) Volker and (Gordon) Sondland used to mean matters related to the 2016 elections, and to investigations of Burisma and the Bidens."

Tayor also affirmed that it was his "clear understanding" that "everything" from the U.S., including a White House meeting with Trump, was contingent upon Ukraine launching an investigation. He even testified that he believed the "irregular" diplomatic channel employed by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, was used to benefit Trump.

Kent testified Oct. 15 that he raised concerns to then-Vice President Joe Biden's office about a conflict of interest presented by Hunter Biden's role on the board of Burisma in 2015, but was ultimately rebuffed, potentially buttressing GOP arguments that questions about the Bidens' activities in Ukraine have merit.

A transcript of Kent's deposition also showed he testified that Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, carried out a "campaign of lies" to smear former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and that the former New York City mayor pushed Ukraine on Trump's behalf to investigate Biden based on an unfounded theory about the country's interference in the 2016 election.

The Republican defense

In an 18-page Republican memo obtained by ABC News on Monday evening, the House GOP laid out their own strategy ahead of public hearings this week, showing they plan to make the case that it's important to understand Trump's "state of mind" to comprehend the administration's diplomacy in Ukraine.

"To appropriately understand the events in question — and most importantly, assess the President's state of mind during his interaction with (Ukrainian) President Zelenskiy — context is necessary," the memo reads.

Republicans outline four key pieces of evidence they plan to center their questions around, including a summary memorandum memorializing Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, arguing the absence of a quid pro quo by showing "no conditionality or evidence of pressure."

Republicans contend that both Zelenskiy and Trump have publicly said there was no pressure exerted by the United States for Ukraine to investigate Biden. They also argue that testimony in the depositions show the Ukraine government was not aware of a hold on U.S. security assistance at the time of the July 25 call.

Republicans point out that Ukraine never initiated an investigation into Trump's rivals but Trump still met with Zelenskiy and U.S. security assistance ultimately flowed to Ukraine in September 2019, undercutting the Democrat's assertion of a quid pro quo.

"The body of evidence to date does not support the Democrat allegation that President Trump pressured Ukraine to conduct investigations into the President's political rivals for his political benefit in the 2020 election. The body of evidence to date does not support the Democrat allegations that President Trump covered up misconduct or obstructed justice," the GOP memo states. "The body of evidence shows instead that President Trump holds a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption."

Republicans also maintain that Trump has consistently expressed skepticism about U.S. foreign aid while calling on European allies to "shoulder more of the financial burden for regional defense."

"Public reporting shows how senior Ukrainian officials interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in favor of Secretary (Hillary Clinton) and in opposition to then-candidate Trump – including some officials who President Zelenskiy retained in his government," the memo continues. "Seen in this light, any reluctance on the President's part to meet with President Zelenskiy or to provide taxpayer-funded assistance to Ukraine is entirely reasonable."

Political theater

While pundits largely anticipate a made-for-TV theatrical bout between Schiff and GOP Reps. Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes, Democrats hold a 13-9 advantage in membership on the House Intelligence Committee, providing Schiff with an edge on any procedural motions or efforts by Republicans to undermine his control during the hearing.

Schiff and Nunes are both afforded a 45-minute block of time to establish the hearing's narrative, with both parties expected to rely largely on questioning by staff counsel. Each member of the committee can also ask up to five minutes of questions per round.

If Schiff decides to add a second round of questioning, he and Nunes would receive another 45-minute block each, with the ability to yield to counsel but not to other members on the committee. Junior members of the committee, however, can yield to other members from their own five-minute windows, although Nunes and Schiff cannot transfer their time to anyone besides their respective counsel.

In an extraordinary move, Jordan was temporarily added to the GOP's membership on the committee last week to give the president one of his fiercest defenders a spot on the committee. While Jordan's questions will be limited to five-minutes absent any transfers of time from his GOP colleagues, his assignment also allows his chief investigative counsel from the House Oversight Committee, Steve Castor, to join the hearing and be heavily featured throughout GOP questioning.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign on Wednesday launched a new website aimed at combating what they see as misinformation being pushed by supporters of President Donald Trump on Ukraine -- a site that went live as a historic first public impeachment hearing continued.

The website called "Just the Facts, Folks" highlights news articles that fact check claims about Biden and Ukraine and highlight his campaign message. Biden has not yet offered public comment during Wednesday's public hearing, part of an impeachment inquiry stemming from President Trump’s July phone conversation with the president of Ukraine, Voldymyr Zelenskiy, who he may have urged to launch an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

The site also includes television ads that have been released by the campaign.

“There's a lot of misinformation and lies out there, so welcome to the one stop shop for the facts about Joe Biden. Stay informed about the truth Trump and his special interests are trying to distract from,” the website header’s proclaims.

Biden’s Deputy campaign manager Pete Kavanaugh confirmed the campaign was behind the launch in tweet Wednesday afternoon, and said the site would be continually updated.

Biden and his son were the subject of several lines of questioning throughout the testimony, but the former vice president has not given any reaction to the testimony, ignoring shouted questions on the topic from reporters Wednesday morning in DC.

Democrats are hoping to make their case to millions of Americans watching on television that Trump's conduct has been so serious he deserves to be removed from office.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A day after President Donald Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president, Trump was overheard on the phone to Ambassador Gordon Sondland inquiring about the status of "the investigations," according to new congressional testimony on Wednesday.

The account, provided by Ambassador Bill Taylor in the first public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry, raises new questions about the extent of the president's involvement in the pressure campaign against Ukraine.

Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelinskiy in Kyiv the day after Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelinskiy.

After the meeting, Taylor -- the top diplomat in Ukraine -- said, one of his staffers overheard a phone conversation between Sondland and Trump at a restaurant.

"The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about 'the investigations,'" Taylor said of the July 26 incident.

"Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward," Taylor testified.

Following that call with Trump, the staffer asked Sondland what the president thought about Ukraine, according to Taylor.

"Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden," which Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had been "pressing for," Taylor said.

Trump said he has no recollection of the phone call with Sondland in question.

“I know nothing about that. First time I’ve heard it,” Trump said when questioned about it at a White House news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan close to the end of the hearing.

The president dismissed Taylor's account as “second-hand” information and said the only thing he ever told Sondland was that there was “no quid pro quo.”

“The one thing I’ve seen that Sondland said is that he did speak with me with for a brief moment. I said no quid pro quo under any circumstances. That's true. I never heard this. In any event, it is more secondhand information, but I've never heard it," Trump said.

Asked if he recalls the conversation Taylor testified to, the president said he does not.

“Not at all, not even a little bit. The only thing -- and I guess Sondland had stayed with his testimony that there was no quid pro quo -- pure and simple,” Trump said.

Taylor said the new information was brought to his attention last Friday, after he had already testified in a closed-door deposition.

According to sources familiar with the matter and confirmed by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the aide referenced by Taylor is David Holmes, who has been scheduled for his own closed-door deposition.

In addition to shedding light on Trump's involvement, the new details also raise questions about Sondland's testimony to Congress. Sondland has testified that he had called the president before, although he doesn't provide details on a July 26 call and said he was unsure how many times he spoke to Trump in September.

Sondland said he requested his phone records from the State Department but hasn't received them.

In a closed-door interview, Sondland told lawmakers that investigating Biden did not come up in his July 26 meeting with Zelinskiy.

According to a White House summary of Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelinksiy, the president asked Ukraine's government for a "favor" and requested that Ukraine launch an investigation that would include Biden and his son, Hunter.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


narvikk/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The first public impeachment hearings tied to a phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy began on Wednesday, with House Democrats calling on Ambassador William Taylor, the United States' top diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, the State Department's top career official focused on Ukraine, to testify.

In his opening statement, Taylor focused primarily on Ukraine, and its importance "to the security of our country." As he said in his closed-door testimony, Taylor told the House Intelligence Committee that it would be "crazy" for the U.S. to withhold military aid.

"I wrote that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be crazy," he said. "I believed that then, and I believe it now."


He also questioned the influence of Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

"By mid-July, it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskiy wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections," Taylor said in his statement. "It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani."

Taylor also said it was difficult for him to decide whether to return to Kyiv after how former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was treated before being removed. He said he consulted both a mentor and his wife, saying his wife was "strongly opposed to the idea."

Kent told the House Intelligence Committee that in 2015 he warned of a perceived conflict of interest after former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, took a job as a board member on a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma.

"As a general principle, I do not believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power, because such (actions) undermine the rule of law," he said in his statement.


He also addressed unsubstantiated claims from Giuliani that Biden might have been working in his son’s best interests when leading U.S. policy in Ukraine as vice president.

Kent added that he never witnessed "any effort" by a U.S. official to "shield Burisma from scrutiny."

He concluded his opening remarks with a defense of public officials, including Yovanovitch and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who faced criticism for testifying: "It is my honor to serve with all of these patriotic Americans."

As he did in his closed-door testimony, Kent said Giuliani targeted Yovanovitch with a "campaign of lies."

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YinYang/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not on the bench for oral arguments Wednesday due to a stomach bug, according to the court.

The court's oldest justice, 86, is recovering at home, a spokesperson said.

"But she will participate in the consideration and decision of the cases on the basis of the briefs and the transcripts or recordings of the oral arguments," Chief Justice John Roberts said from the bench at the open of the day's court session.

Notably, Ginsburg is missing the justices' Wednesday conference to discuss and decide cases argued Tuesday -- which were those challenging President Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which President Barack Obama created in 2012 to provide temporary legal status and work permits to immigrants.

At issue in the DACA case is whether the Trump administration followed federal law requiring agencies to base policy changes on sound reasoning that is explained to the public. Lower courts ruled that the decision to end DACA was "arbitrary and capricious," in violation of law.

During Tuesday's oral arguments, the court's conservative members -- including the newest members of the court, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch -- seemed inclined to overturn the lower court decision. Overturning the decision would allow the Trump administration to carry on with canceling DACA.

Ginsburg and her fellow liberal colleagues, however, pushed back. Ginsburg herself argued with the Trump administration's Department of Homeland Security's assumption that DACA is unconstitutional, as outlined in two memos by two now-former homeland security secretaries.

"Her whole memo is infected by the idea that this is, one, illegal. It leaves substantial doubt about its illegality," she said, referring to the memo by Kirstjen Nielsen. "If we take that out, then -- the independent ground that you're asserting, then she would be saying, we stand up and say this is the policy of our administration. We don't like DACA and we're taking responsibility for that, instead of trying to put the blame on the law."

Trump Solicitor General Noel Francisco replied that he "very much disagree[d]" with that assessment.

Justice Stephen Breyer, meanwhile, suggested a possible middle ground by crafting an opinion that buys time for policymakers to address DACA recipients' status.

This is Ginsburg's second absence from a public court session in the past year. Last December she took leave after undergoing cancer surgery, which was the first time in her 26 years on the bench she missed an argument. She was also treated for a localized malignant tumor on her pancreas in August before the court convened for the new term.

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ilbusca/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Cameron Koffman, 22, recently announced his run for the New York State Assembly. If elected, he would be the youngest New York assemblyman since Theodore Roosevelt, who joined at age 23, according to Koffman's campaign.

“I’m running to bring a new generation of leadership to Albany,” Koffman, who identifies as a Democrat, told ABC News. “I grew up in this district, and I’ve been listening to its residents for my entire life. We want change and we recognize that there’s no time to waste.”

Koffman is running on a progressive platform, in favor of paid family leave, full legalization of marijuana and President Donald Trump’s impeachment. He’s running to represent the 73rd district of New York, which is much of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the same area of the city where Trump Tower is located.

“It would be an honor to represent my home district in the Assembly at any age,” Koffman said on Tuesday. “But with the threats of climate change and a diminishing quality of life, we need a representative who recognizes the urgency of this moment.”

Koffman joins a growing trend of young people who have entered state legislative races since the last major election cycle. In 2018, over 700 millennials ran in state legislative races across the country, according to the group Run for Something. But Koffman, born in 1996, is technically part of Generation Z. Will Haskell, 23, from Connecticut and Jena Powell, 24, from Ohio, are examples of other younger politicians who ran for their state legislatures and won.

Within hours of launching his campaign, Koffman raised over $100,000 from at least 200 donors, according to Koffman’s campaign manager.

“I’m thrilled that the residents of this district have had such a positive initial response to our campaign,” he told ABC News. “I’m grateful for the grassroots support of this campaign from people of all ages.”

Koffman, who graduated from Yale University in May, is challenging incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Dan Quart, who was elected in 2011.

Over the course of his tenure, Quart made criminal justice reform central to his agenda.

“Although we just had one of the most progressive and productive sessions in recent memory, there is much work left to be done," Quart told ABC News in a statement. "During my time in Albany, I have fought for working families, to reform our criminal justice system, and most importantly, for my constituents."

Quart said it's been an honor to serve his constituents in Albany.

"I hope to earn their votes once again," Quart added in the statement.

While Quart is currently running for re-election to the state assembly, in September he also joined the 2021 race for Manhattan District Attorney. If Quart is able to keep his Assembly seat by winning more votes than Koffman in the primary and general election, he would have to vacate the seat if he is later elected to the district attorney position.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office is currently embroiled in two nationally important lawsuits: one against Harvey Weinstein on sexual assault allegations and the other against Trump, who was subpoenaed in early October to turn over his financial records.

Koffman said his district deserves a full-time representative.

The primary election will be held on June 23, 2020.

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Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- Despite high tensions in U.S.-Turkish relations over more than half a dozen issues, President Donald Trump will host Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House Wednesday in what is expected to be another friendly meeting between the two leaders.

To his critics in Washington, including Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Erdogan is an increasingly authoritarian ruler who has strengthened ties with Russia and attacked America's key partner in the fight against the Islamic State, the Syrian Kurds. But Trump has repeatedly praised Erdogan as a close ally with whom he has a warm bond.

"He's a friend of mine, and I’m glad we didn’t have a problem because, frankly, he's a hell of a leader, and he's a tough man, he's a strong man," Trump said of Erdogan on Oct. 17, just hours after the Turkish leader signed a joint declaration with Vice President Mike Pence to pause Turkish operations against Syrian Kurdish forces and eventually agree to a ceasefire if those forces withdrew from a buffer zone.

But while the Trump administration says that the ceasefire has held and kept Syrian Kurds safe, the military leadership of the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said as recently as Tuesday that Turkey continued to violate the ceasefire and attack Syrian Kurdish positions.

"We call on the international community, primarily the United States and the Russian Federation, to put pressure on Turkey and force it to abide by the agreements made with them to stop military operations," the Syriac Military Council, a division of the SDF said in a statement.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a stalwart Trump ally in Congress, called Erdogan's invitation to the White House "problematic."

"He invaded Syria and he put an ally at risk, and I don't see where he's changed his behavior to warrant an invitation, but that's up to the president," he told reporters Thursday.

Critics charge that Trump gave Erdogan a "green light" to invade northeastern Syria in the first place and attack the SDF, which Erdogan considers a terrorist organization. While Trump pulled U.S. forces back from the border and then called for all troops to withdraw, the White house has said it opposed the offensive -- and Trump has since ordered several hundred troops to stay in Syria.

But after sanctioning three senior Turkish officials and two ministries for just days, Trump lifted any economic penalty for Erdogan, even in the face of allegations Turkish forces and their Syrian opposition allies committed war crimes.

Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said Tuesday, "It is absolutely critical that the White House send a message that these actions and this unlawful behavior on the part of Turkish forces is stopped and that folks are held accountable for the violations that they've caused."

A senior administration official told reporters late Tuesday that they "will continue to raise those issues at the highest level and make sure the Turkish government is fully aware of how important that is to the United States."

Beyond Turkey's offensive into Syria, there are several other issues that have damaged the relationship despite the personal bond between the two presidents.

Trump and Erdogan are expected to discuss Turkey's purchase of a Russian missile defense system, the S-400, which led to Turkey's expulsion from the F-35 fighter jet program and should have triggered U.S. sanctions. So far, Trump has declined to do so -- infuriating lawmakers who mandated such sanctions as part of a law meant to crack down on Russia.

A second senior administration official said, "We, as allies, need to resolve this issue of the S-400. One has to move, and then the other has to move" -- implying there could be a way forward without sanctions and that could include Turkey's readmission to the F-35 program, although it's unclear whether lawmakers will go along with that, especially after the House voted on Oct. 29 to impose new sanctions on Turkey over its northern Syria offensive.

In a move that infuriated senior Turkish officials, Congress also passed a resolution on the same day that recognized the 1915 mass killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, the precursor to modern-day Turkey, as a genocide. Turkey has long denied any genocide and said Armenians were not specifically targeted in the larger violence of World War I.

On Turkey's side, Ankara has accused the U.S. of supporting Kurdish terrorists by arming the SDF, as well as harboring a terrorist leader who Turkey says plotted a July 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan's government. Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric and lawful, permanent resident living in Pennsylvania who was once a close Erdogan ally, has denied any responsibility for the coup, and so far, the U.S. has denied extradition requests from Turkey for Gulen.

Erdogan has also pushed the U.S. to drop charges against an executive at the state-run Halkbank, which the Justice Department indicted on Oct. 15 for circumventing U.S. sanctions. ABC News confirmed that during a 2017 Oval Office meeting, Trump pressured then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to push the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, who was being represented by Rudy Giuliani, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. The source told ABC News that many top-level aides, including Tillerson and then-chief of staff John Kelly, told the president he could not get involved in the matter. The DOJ never did, and the man later cooperated with prosecutors and implicated Erdogan in the sanctions evasion scheme.

In a move that infuriated senior Turkish officials, Congress passed a resolution on Oct. 29 that recognized the 1915 mass killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, the precursor to modern-day Turkey, as a genocide. Turkey has long denied any genocide and said Armenians were not specifically targeted in the larger violence of World War I.

During Erdogan's last visit to the White House, his security officials assaulted peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington where Erdogan was staying. A lawsuit by 15 of the victims in May 2018 detailed several injuries, including against 62-year-old Murat Yasa, who was kicked repeatedly in the face, suffered a concussion, had teeth knocked out and had recurring symptoms including memory loss, while one unidentified female victim was beaten to the point of having multiple seizures.

Federal prosecutors charged 15 Turkish security officials, but in March 2018, all charges were dropped against 11 of them after four had their charges dismissed in November 2017. The announcement that charges were dropped came one day before Tillerson met Erdogan and his foreign minister in Ankara without any aides, raising eyebrows.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the widow of Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, is running for her late husband’s congressional seat.

Her campaign officially launched Tuesday in Baltimore.

Earlier this week, in an interview with The Baltimore Sun published on Monday, Rockeymoore Cummings, the Maryland Democratic Party chairwoman, made clear her intention to run on a platform that continues Cummings’ legacy, which was capped by an over two-decade-long career in the House of Representatives.

“I’m going to run this race and I’m going to run it hard, as if he’s still right here by my side,” she said in an interview with the newspaper.

Cummings was deeply involved in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump as the former chairman of the House Oversight Committee. He died in October at age 68 due to complications from longstanding health challenges, according to his office.

Rockeymoore Cummings, during an appearance on MSNBC on Monday, said her husband urged her six months ago to succeed him in Congress.

“And so with that, you know, he would have expected it of me, and I’m going to continue the fight,” she said.

Ahead of her campaign launch, Rockeymoore Cummings said in her interview with The Sun that she planned to resign as chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party at the onset of her run to “avoid any appearance of favoritism.”

She joins a crowded race for Maryland’s 7th district, of which candidates include former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume -- who held the seat for five terms until 1997 -- Maryland Delegate and Majority Whip Talmadge Branch and pulmonologist Mark Gosnell.

Rockymoore Cummings ran for governor of Maryland in 2017, but had to drop out of the race due to her husband’s health issues, according to her campaign website.

In her interview with The Sun, Rockeymoore Cummings also announced her decision to undergo a double mastectomy later this week, which she said would delay her appearance on the campaign trail by up to four weeks.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in October announced a special primary election to fill Cummings’s seat on Feb. 4, with the special general election to be held April 28.

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Luka Banda/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The House Intelligence Committee will hold public impeachment hearings with eight additional witnesses next week, the panel announced Tuesday night, on the eve of the first public hearings in the Ukraine impeachment inquiry.

As lawmakers prepare to hear from former ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and State Department official George Kent on Wednesday, the committee announced five hearings between Tuesday, Nov. 19, and Thursday, Nov. 21.

On Tuesday morning, Jennifer Williams, Vice President Mike Pence's special adviser for Europe and Russia, will testify alongside Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council.

Later that day, former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Timothy Morrison, the NSC's Russia expert, will appear before the Intelligence Committee, which has led the impeachment inquiry.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who amended his closed-door testimony to lawmakers last week, will appear on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 20. He's followed by Laura Cooper, a senior Defense Department official, and David Hale, a top State Department official, Wednesday afternoon.

Fiona Hill, the NSC's former Russia expert under former national security adviser John Bolton, is scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill the morning of Thursday, Nov. 21.

Together with hearings this week -- tomorrow's hearing, and Friday's hearing with Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine -- the panel has scheduled 11 public hearings with witnesses who have previously testified behind closed doors.

Committee Republicans had requested hearings with several of the witnesses, including Hale, Volker and Morrison. In their release announcing the new slate of hearings, Democrats said they had accepted "all of the Minority requests that are within the scope of the impeachment inquiry," ruling out public hearings with either Hunter Biden, the former vice president's son, who Republicans had sought to question about his ties to a Ukrainian energy company. They accepted three of the nine witnesses Republicans requested.

They also appeared to rule out a public hearing featuring the whistleblower behind the initial complaint about President Trump's phone call with Ukraine's president.

Democrats, who initially mulled bringing the whistleblower in with safeguards to mask their identity, have more recently argued that the whistleblower's testimony is unnecessary for their inquiry, given the additional witnesses with knowledge of the call who have corroborated many of the details in the complaint.

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BasSlabbers/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, said in a Tuesday interview on BBC Radio 5 Live that she's under "enormous pressure" to consider a 2020 run, but it's not something she is interested in at the moment.

"As I say, 'Never, never, never say never.' I will certainly tell you, I'm under enormous pressure from many, many, many people to think about it. But as of this moment, sitting here in this studio talking to you, that is absolutely not my plans," Clinton said.

Clinton said she often thinks about "what kind of president" she would have been.

"I feel a sense of responsibility partly because, you know, my name was on the ballot. I got more votes, but ended up losing to the current incumbent in the White House, who I think is really undermining our democracy in very fundamental ways," Clinton said. "And I want to retire him. I want him to be retired."

Clinton has largely ruled out a run in 2020, but has remained in the public eye as she promotes her new book, "The Book of Gusty Women," which she co-authored with her daughter. She did say, though, that she plans to work to help elect a Democrat in 2020.

A few senators weighed in Tuesday on Clinton being pressured to run, and possibly entering the race.

GOP Sen. John Kennedy told ABC News it's a "free country" and Clinton can do as she pleases.

"It's a free country. If the secretary thinks it's something she ought to do, I'm not going to criticize her," Kennedy, of Louisiana, said. "I believe competition is a moral good."

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., lent Clinton some credibility, saying she would be a tough opponent to beat versus some of the other more progressive candidates who are currently running.

"From a Republican point of view, people laugh, but I'm not so sure I would be laughing, you know, she lost in a close race," Graham said.

"I think President [Donald] Trump feels that he's gonna win because he's done a good job," he continued. "But the thing about her candidacy that would be different: She hasn’t promised crazy stuff. She hasn't promised to give illegal immigrants free health care. She hasn’t promised to decriminalize illegal entry into the country. I don't think she supports the Green New Deal or Medicare for All. In that regard, it would be more difficult for the Republicans to have somebody not as wacky."

Clinton said Tuesday she thinks it is "inexplicable and shameful" that the British government won't publicly release a report on Russian interference in their elections.

"I'm saying that Russia played in your Brexit election, just like Russia played in our 2016 election. Who did what, what they knew, where the money went, where it came from, what it influenced, that is something that should be investigated and revealed to the British public. Just like it should have been before our election."

"I'm dumbfounded that this government won't release the report ... because every person who votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens," Clinton said. "There is no doubt ... that Russia in particular is determined to try to shape the politics of Western democracies, not to our benefit but to theirs."

A Senate Intelligence Committee report did find that there was Russian interference, often in the form of bot activity, in the 2016 presidential election.

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