November 29, 2018

"You know, today's the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office," CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told Anderson Cooper Thursday night, after a week of revelations about the Trump campaign and Russia. "Really?" Cooper asked. "I mean, I think this thing is enormous," Toobin said. He laid out a series of "preposterous" positions now being staked by President Trump, including that lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen negotiated Trump Organization deals in Russia for six months without telling Trump, that Trump and Roger Stone never discussed WikiLeaks, and that Don Jr. never talked to his father about the Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

"All of these are complementary to each other, and all of the stories that Trump is telling about them are preposterous," Toobin said. "And when you combine them all, the question becomes: When do Republicans start to turn on Trump? Because that's the only thing that's going to get Trump out of office, it's not going to be Democrats. And it's certainly not now, but there may be a point where it's too much."

Democratic strategist Paul Begala said he's "not there yet" on believing Trump won't finish out his term, because Trump needs to keep only 34 senators on his side and House Democrats say they won't impeach Trump unless Republicans ask them to. At the same time, he added, "I do worry, honestly, for our country that the president, this president, is too distracted, is too obsessed," and is "having a presidential panic attack" over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. When he worked for Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation, Begala said, Clinton "found the work therapeutic, he would lose himself in the work."

Toobin also spells out the motive Cohen's plea deal reveals for Trump to make nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and you can watch that below. Peter Weber

10:23 a.m.

If Republicans had one goal going into the House Intelligence Committee's hearing with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, it was do not be on the attack. Democrats' strategy on Friday hinged on painting Yovanovitch as a "sympathetic victim of bullying by [Rudy] Giuliani and the president, whose decision to pull her from Ukraine helped set the stage for the campaign to pressure that country's president," The New York Times reports. Republicans, naturally, did not want to give their opponents more ammo.

And then Trump tweeted:

Trump's tweet completely undermined the Republican strategy. For one thing, the tweet made clear that he did in fact single Yovanovitch out — which is exactly what the Democrats' line of question was intended to prove. Additionally, "Republicans did not want to attack Yovanovitch personally, just to portray her as a distraction from the main events," noted The New York Times' Nicholas Fandos. What's more, the Democrats' lawyer specifically undercut Trump's line of attack by asking Yovanovitch if anyone in the State Department "ever expressed concern about your job performance," to which the former ambassador answered "no."

Trump's tweets also directly contradicted the White House, which had claimed earlier in the day that "the president will be watching [Republican Rep. Devin] Nunes' opening statement, but the rest of the day he will be working hard for the American people." Jeva Lange

10:05 a.m.

Ousted ambassador Marie Yovanovitch told Congress Friday that U.S. policy toward Ukraine was "thrown into disarray" and that corrupt foreign interests were able to "manipulate our government" by having her removed.

Yovanovitch spoke on the second day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into Trump, which centers around whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to conduct investigations that might help him in the 2020 election, including into former Vice President Joe Biden.

In her opening statement, Yovanovitch told Congress that she was pushed out as ambassador in May 2019 following a "smear campaign" against her, with false claims being pushed by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Ukrainians who "apparently felt stymied by our efforts to promote stated U.S. policy against corruption."

"How could our system fail like this?" she asked. "How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?"

Now, Yovanovitch told Congress, "shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want." Without mentioning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, she also slammed the State Department's leadership for not "[pushing] back as foreign and corrupt interests apparently hijacked our Ukraine policy," adding, "I remain disappointed that the Department's leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong." Brendan Morrow

10:05 a.m.

The White House has released a very uneventful transcript as a very eventful event begins.

Pretty much exactly as the House Intelligence Committee began its second public impeachment hearing, this one with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, the White House debuted a rough transcript of an April call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. There's not much substance in the congratulatory call, making it appear more like an attempt to distract from one of the most consequential impeachment testimonies yet.

Trump has spent the past week claiming he'd release a memo of a second call with Zelensky that actually took place before his apparently "perfect" July call — the one in which he implied there'd be consequences if Zelensky didn't issue an investigation into the Bidens. And when he did that on Friday, it became even more unclear what Trump was trying to prove. The call is a simple congratulations from Trump to Zelensky in which they discuss possible visits to each others' countries — and in which Trump, contrary to what he previously claimed, does not offer to help Zelensky root out corruption.

Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) unexplainably read off that pizzazzless call as his opening statement before Yovanovitch spoke, somehow not tripping up when Trump mentioned Ukraine's "representation" at his Miss Universe pageants and failing to recognize Yovanovitch was even there. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:54 a.m.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), its top Republican, painted opposing pictures of the purpose of the hearing of former Ukrainian ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, in their opening statements Friday. Yovanovitch appeared before the committee in the second public hearing in the impeachment process to date; she had previously spoken to the lawmakers behind closed doors.

The ousting of Yovanovitch by President Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, "helped set the stage for an irregular channel" that allowed the president to pursue "the 2016 conspiracy theory and most important, an investigation into the 2020 political opponent he apparently feared most, Joe Biden," Schiff said. "And the president's scheme might have worked but for the fact that the man who would succeed Ambassador Yovanovitch, whom we heard from on Wednesday, Acting Ambassador [William] Taylor, would eventually discover the effort to press Ukraine into conducting these investigations, and would push back. But for the fact, also, that someone blew the whistle."

Nunes, by contrast, set the stage for Republicans to tiptoe around Yovanovitch; rather than reference her directly, he painted Friday's hearing as another of the Democrats' "Watergate fantasies" and "daylong TV spectacles, instead of solving the problems we were all sent to Washington to address." In fact, the only mention of Yovanovitch in Nunes' opening statement at all was in the title, Bloomberg's Steven Dennis noted.

Instead, Nunes pivoted attention to what he described as an effort to "topple a duly elected president," and muddied the waters with "three crucial questions" that re-framed conspiratorial conservative talking points concerning Hunter Biden, Ukrainian election meddling, and Democrats' alleged coordination with the whistleblower, despite such claims having been repeatedly disproved. Jeva Lange

9:10 a.m.

President Trump lashed out at House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and complained that the impeachment inquiry has been hard on his family at a wild post-public hearing Louisiana rally.

Trump spoke Thursday night after the first two witnesses spoke publicly in the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday, decrying the "deranged impeachment witch hunt" and telling supporters that impeachment has been "very hard on my family."

"Impeachment to me is a dirty word," he added. "It's been very unfair, very hard on my family. My whole life is crazy."

Trump also dismissed Wednesday's witnesses as "Never Trumpers," which they specifically denied being, and targeted Schiff, the intelligence committee's top Democrat, with personal insults as he has in the past, mocking his "little 10-inch neck" and this time even doing an impression of him buying a shirt.

“What size shirts do you need, Adam,” Trump asked to himself. “I wear a size nine," he responded back as Schiff. "Nine! He will not make the LSU football team, that I can tell you."

At another point in the rally, Trump also re-upped his call for Schiff to be prosecuted while providing no examples of anything illegal he's done, centering his complaint around the Democrat's paraphrase of his Ukraine call. The impeachment inquiry, meanwhile, on Friday is continuing with its second day of public hearings. Brendan Morrow

8:16 a.m.

The second day of public impeachment hearings into President Trump is about to begin.

After Wednesday's hearing featuring testimony from William Taylor, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, on Friday, ousted former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is set to provide public testimony.

David Holmes, the official who Taylor testified overheard Trump talking with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about "the investigations" over the phone, will also speak before Congress, but this will be behind closed doors.

Yovanovitch previously provided closed-door testimony before Congress, telling lawmakers Trump had her removed from her position earlier this year based on "false claims" pushed by people with "questionable motives." She also told Congress she felt threatened and "very concerned" after Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky she was "bad news" and that "she's going to go through some things."

Yovanovitch's hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Eastern, and it can be streamed live on YouTube via CSPAN. Brendan Morrow

7:47 a.m.

The House Ethics Committee disclosed Thursday that two Florida congressmen, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D) and Rep. Ross Spano (R), are under investigation. Hastings, who has been in the House for 26 years, is being investigated by the Ethics Committee for his long-term relationship with a member of his staff, Patricia Williams. Former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) resigned last month after denying she had an intimate relationship with a member of her staff while admitting she had such a relationship with a campaign staffer.

Williams has been on Hastings' staff since 2000, and they bought a house together in 2017, the Palm Beach Post reports. He downplayed any impropriety this fall, telling the Post, "However it looks, it's been looking like that for 25 years."

With Spano, the House Ethics Committee announced it is deferring its investigation at the request of the Justice Department, which, the committee revealed, has opened a criminal investigation into possible campaign finance violations. Spano, 53, claimed last year that he loaned his campaign $175,000 from personal funds when in fact he had received $180,000 in loans from personal friends, Politico reports. Spano's lawyer informed the Federal Election Commission of the erroneous campaign finance report soon after Spano won the race.

"Today, the House Committee on Ethics deferred their review of my self-reported filings with the FEC," Spano said in a statement. "We plan to cooperate fully with the Justice Department on this matter." Peter Weber

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