June 11, 2019

House Democrats are turning their subpoena threats up another notch.

On Tuesday, the House voted 229-191 on a resolution to take its subpoenas of Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn to federal court. The party line vote will let the House Judiciary Committee challenge Barr and McGahn's noncompliance with the committee's requests for their testimonies and documents, but doesn't formally charge the two with contempt.

As NPR puts it, Tuesday's vote "clears the way for more lawsuits against Cabinet departments, administration officials, bankers, accountants, and more." But it also represents a retreat from previous promises to hold Barr in contempt after he failed to show up for a House hearing last month. It also pales in comparison to some Democrats' calls to impeach Barr altogether.

The move comes just a day after Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced he'd reached a deal with the DOJ to see previously withheld "key evidence" from the Mueller report. Nadler said in a Monday release that he'd give the DOJ time to comply with the deal before moving to "enforce our subpoena in court," but that didn't seem to apply to the subpoenas issued directly to Barr and McGahn that were in question Tuesday. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:06 a.m.

Is that enough pizzazz for you?

Ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch had barely been in the Capitol for an hour when President Trump "committed a crime while we're watching," journalist Marcy Wheeler tweeted Friday. That's because as Yovanovitch gave her public impeachment testimony, Trump attacked her in a tweet — something Wheeler is joining The New York Times' Michael Schmidt and Fox News' Bret Baier in suggesting amounts to witness tampering.

Republicans' first aim in Friday's impeachment hearing was to avoid attacking Yovanovitch so she didn't earn any more sympathy points from viewers. But Trump destroyed that strategy with one fell tweet, claiming "everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," naming her work in Somalia and then Ukraine as examples. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) had Yovanovitch address the tweet, or "witness intimidation," as he called it, and Yovanovitch agreed it was "very intimidating."

In his live analysis for the Times, Schmidt agreed. "How are Trump's tweets not witness tampering? She’s testifying. He's attacking her. And now she has to respond to it," he wrote. And more surprisingly, Baier seemed to take Yovanovitch's side as well.

A senior GOP source added to Baier's speculation, telling Fox News correspondent Chad Pergram "we didn't need that." And Ken Starr, famously the author of the report that led to former President Bill Clinton's impeachment, appeared on the network to condemn Trump for his "quite injurious" move, saying "sometimes, we have to control out instincts." Kathryn Krawczyk

10:43 a.m.

The ousted former ambassador to Ukraine told Congress Friday she was "shocked and devastated" to learn that President Trump had trashed her to a foreign leader.

Marie Yovanovitch, who was dismissed from her position in May 2019 after what she described Friday as a smear campaign against her, spoke about learning in September that Trump in his July call with Ukraine's president called her "bad news" and said she was going to "go through some things." Yovanovitch explained she was not aware of these comments until the rough transcript of the call was publicly released.

"I was shocked and devastated that I would feature in a phone call between two heads of state in such a manner," she said. "... It was a terrible moment. A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction. Even now, words fail me."

Yovanovitch also said she was concerned about Trump's "go through some things" comment in particular, as it "sounded like a threat." During this very same hearing, Trump was trashing Yovanovitch on Twitter, which she called "very intimidating." Brendan Morrow

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 Schiff (D-Calif.), chair 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 Louisiana rally Thursday night.

Trump spoke 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 dismissed Wednesday's witnesses as "Never Trumpers," a charge they specifically denied. He also targeted Schiff, the committee's top Democrat, with fresh personal insults, mocking his "little 10-inch neck" and doing an impression of Schiff buying a shirt. “What size shirts do you need, Adam,” Trump asked to himself. “I wear a size nine," he responded as Schiff. "Nine! He will not make the LSU football team, that I can tell you."

At another point in the rally, Trump 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

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