August 22, 2019

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has some thoughts on the backlash to his Dancing with the Stars casting, arguing that having contestants like himself on the show will actually help "bring the country together."

Spicer spoke in an interview with Mediaite after on Wednesday being announced as one of the cast members of the ABC competition series' latest season, drawing criticism including from host Tom Bergeron. Hours after Spicer's casting was unveiled, Bergeron released a statement slamming the choice and saying he asked the executive producer to avoid "inevitably divisive bookings from any party affiliations" this season.

Spicer now says he hopes that Bergeron changes his mind about this.

"My overall hope is that at the end of this season that Tom looks at this and says, bringing people together of very diverse backgrounds, whether it's in politics or other areas, and allowing them to show America how we can engage in a really respectful and civil way, is actually a way to help bring the country together as opposed to bring it apart," Spicer said.

He also responded to criticism of his hiring from others, such as The New York Times' James Poniewozik, who wrote that booking Spicer would allow him to "tap-dance out of infamy." Spicer said this isn't "what I want" and that he's just going on the show "to enjoy myself and if more people like me, then that's great."

Spicer is the only contestant from the world of politics joining Dancing with the Stars this season, although in the past, some of the eponymous dancing stars have included former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). The new season, likely to be filled with plenty of awkwardness should Bergeron not have a change of heart about Spicer's ability to "bring the country together" with his tap dancing, will kick off on Sept. 16. 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 an obvious 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

10:05 a.m.

Ousted ambassador Marie Yovanovitch told Congress Friday that U.S. policy toward Ukraine has been "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 testimony, 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

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

6:41 a.m.

Two U.S. diplomats will testify Friday in the House impeachment inquiry of President Trump, one publicly and one behind closed doors. House impeachment investigators will depose David Holmes, an aide to acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, about his assertion he overheard Trump ask U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about the status of proposed Ukrainian "investigations" into former Vice President Joe Biden.

Taylor's predecessor, career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch, will testify in public before the House Intelligence Committee about the shadow campaign, apparently led by Trump lawyer and fixer Rudy Giuliani, that led to her dramatic late-night recall from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. Yovanovitch testified in October that Ukrainian officials had warned her to "watch my back" and she felt personally targeted by Trump. Months after her ouster, Trump told Ukraine's president that "the woman" Yovanovitch "was bad news" and "she's going to go through some things," according to the White House partial transcript of that July 25 call.

On Friday, Yovanovitch will face "Trump's fiercest congressional defenders, nearly all men, about a campaign by other male allies of the president to force her from her post," The Washington Post notes. "The symbolism of that conflict underscores the significance of the historic probe, which was initiated by the female speaker of the House — Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — and made possible by female voters who helped deliver the House to Democrats in the last election."

"Seeing someone like Masha Yovanovitch come forward is going to be an extremely difficult moment for Trump," Nancy McEldowney, a former ambassador to Bulgaria who now teaches at Georgetown University, tells the Post. "What I suspect the world will see when she walks into that hearing room is an individual who is not tall physically but really is a towering figure of integrity, inner strength, and unswerving devotion to public service and telling the truth." Peter Weber

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