Impeachment Inquiry Depositions: US Envoy to EU Played Role in Ukraine Policy

The House Intelligence Committee overseeing the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump released transcripts of depositions Saturday from two officials who will be questioned in public hearings next week.

Congressional investigators also met Saturday in a closed-door session with Mark Sandy, a longtime career official with the Office of Management and Budget, who could provide valuable information about the U.S. delay of about $400 million in aid to Ukraine last summer.

The transcripts released Saturday were from previous closed-door depositions with former National Security Council official Tim Morrison and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence. Morrison and Williams are scheduled to be questioned in public Tuesday by the House panel.

At the heart of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against the president is whether Trump withheld needed military aid to Ukraine in an effort to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential opponent of Trump’s in the 2020 presidential election, and his son, Hunter Biden. No wrongdoing by either Biden has been substantiated.

Morrison’s deposition largely confirmed testimony offered by other officials so far in the inquiry, but he also answered questions regarding a shadow diplomacy in Ukraine being waged by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.

‘Tried to stay away’

In the transcript, Morrison said he “tried to stay away from” discussions in which U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Giuliani and others tried to persuade Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens and Burisma Holdings, a Ukraine gas producer.

Former top national security adviser to President Donald Trump, Tim Morrison, arrives for a closed door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. …

He also used the term the Burisma “bucket,” which included investigations into the Bidens, and the role of Democrats in the 2016 election. Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma.

Morrison also described witnessing an exchange between Sondland and Andriy Yermak, an aide to the Ukraine president, at a summit in Warsaw.

He testified that Sondland told him Yermak?: “What could help them move the aid was if the prosecutor general would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation.” The prosecutor general is Ukraine’s top legal official.

“It was the first time something like this had been injected as a condition on the release of the assistance,” Morrison? said in his deposition, adding he “did not understand why Ambassador Sondland would be involved in Ukraine policy, often without the involvement of our duly appointed Chief of Mission, Ambassador Bill Taylor.”

The transcript also describes a Sept. 11 meeting, which Morrison said he did not attend but was briefed about, in which Vice President Pence and Ohio Senator Rob Portman “convinced the president that the aid should be disbursed immediately,” and that it was “the appropriate and prudent thing to do.”

Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for Europe and Russia and who is a career Foreign Service officer, arrives for a closed-door interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 7, 2019.

In her testimony, Williams described her role, as a national security adviser to Pence on European and Russian issues, as keeping “the vice president aware and abreast of all foreign policy issues going on in that region,” which includes Ukraine.

Williams, who listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy, was asked if she had any concerns after listening to the conversation.

“I certainly noted that the mention of those specific investigations seemed unusual as compared to other discussions with foreign leaders,” she said according to her deposition. When asked why they were unusual, she said, “I believed those references to be more political in nature and … struck me as unusual and inappropriate.”

Closed-door hearing

On Saturday, Sandy, a senior White House official, was the first agency employee to be deposed in the inquiry after three employees appointed by Trump defied congressional subpoenas to testify. He had received a subpoena to appear.

Sandy was among the career employees who questioned the holdup of the aid to Ukraine, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

His signature is on at least one document that prevented the provision of the aid to Ukraine, according to copies of documents investigators discussed during an earlier deposition. A transcript of the discussion has been publicly disclosed.

Sandy appeared before the House foreign affairs, intelligence, and oversight and reform committees.

In a statement, the three Democratic-led committees said they are investigating “the extent to which President Trump jeopardized national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression, as well as any efforts to cover up these matters.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in the second public impeachment hearing.

Sandy’s deposition comes one day after the ousted former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified at the congressional impeachment inquiry into President Trump that she was “shocked and devastated” over remarks Trump made about her during a call with Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president.

“I didn’t know what to think, but I was very concerned,” she told the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. “It felt like a threat.”

Her testimony was consistent with her closed-door testimony last month when she said she felt threatened and worried about her safety after Trump said “she’s going to go through some things.”

Phone call

Late Friday, after Yovanovitch’s testimony, House impeachment investigators met in closed session with David Holmes, a State Department official. Holmes told lawmakers he was having lunch with Sondland and overheard a phone call between Sondland and Trump, in which the president inquired about the Ukraine president’s willingness to investigate the Bidens.

The phone call occurred one day after the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy, which is the focus of the impeachment probe.

FILE – President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

According to a transcript of his opening statement to investigators, [[ https://www.lawfareblog.com/opening-statement-david-holmes-impeachment-inquiry ]] Holmes said: “I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the president and explain that he was calling from Kyiv. I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine, and went on to state that President Zelenskiy “loves” Trump.

“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,’ adding that President Zelenskiy will do ‘anything you ask him to.’ Even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection that these statements were made,” said Holmes, who is an aide to acting U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine William Taylor.

He said that after the phone call ended, he asked Sondland about Trump’s “views on Ukraine. In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the President did not ‘give a s—t about Ukraine.’ Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not ‘give a s—t about Ukraine.’ I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that the President only cares about ‘big stuff.’

“I noted that there was ‘big stuff’ going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant ‘big stuff’ that benefits the President, like the ‘Biden investigation’ that Mr. Giuliani was pushing,” he said, according to this statement.

Next week, the House panel will hold public hearings again. The schedule for testimony includes:

Tuesday: Williams; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, former director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, Ambassador Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine; and Morrison.

Wednesday: Sondland; Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs; and David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs.

Thursday: Fiona Hill, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia.

UK’s Johnson Says All Conservative Candidates Vowed to Back His Brexit Deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says all Conservative Party candidates in the upcoming election have pledged to back his Brexit deal. 

“All 635 Conservative candidates standing at this election — every single one of them — has pledged to me that if elected they will vote in Parliament to pass my Brexit deal so we can end the uncertainty and finally leave the EU,” Johnson told London’s Telegraph newspaper in an interview published late on Saturday. 

“I am offering a pact with the people: If you vote Conservative you can be 100% sure a majority Conservative government will unblock Parliament and get Brexit done,” he said. 

The December 12 election was called to end three years of disagreement over Brexit that has sapped investors’ faith in the stability of the world’s fifth-largest economy and damaged Britain’s standing since it voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the European Union. 

Johnson, 55, hopes to win a majority to push through the last-minute Brexit deal he struck with the EU last month after the bloc granted a third delay to the divorce that was originally supposed to take place March 29. Voters in a 2016 referendum narrowly voted in favor of leaving the EU. 

Johnson’s Conservatives lead Labour by sizable margins, four polls published Saturday show. 

A YouGov poll showed support for the Conservatives at 45%, the highest level since 2017, compared with Labour at 28%, unchanged. The pro-European Union Liberal Democrats were at 15%, and the Brexit Party was at 4%, unchanged. 

A separate poll for SavantaComRes also said support for the Conservatives was the highest since 2017, at 41%. Labour’s support was at 33%. 

The Conservatives have a 16-point lead over Labour, according to an opinion poll published by Opinium Research, and a poll by the Mail on Sunday said Johnson’s party had a 15-point lead over Labour. 

Germany Arrests Citizen Accused of IS Membership Upon Return Home

A federal judge on Saturday ordered that a German citizen arrested on her return to the country on suspicion of being a member of Islamic State should remain in custody, prosecutors said. 
 
Authorities said the suspect, identified only as Nasim A., left Germany for Syria in 2014, married a fighter and moved with him to Iraq. There she was paid to maintain an IS-controlled house and carried a weapon. 
 
She and her husband later moved to Syria, where she also maintained a house, prosecutors said. Kurdish security forces arrested her in early 2019. 
 
The woman was arrested Friday evening in Frankfurt upon her return to Germany. 
 
The judge determined Saturday that she remain in detention because of “suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organization in a foreign country,” prosecutors said. 

В МВС хочуть розширити капеланську діяльність за підтримки США

У Міністерстві внутрішніх справ України хочуть розширити капеланську діяльність за підтримки США, повідомила пресова служба МВС.

Наразі служба військового духовенства створена в Національній гвардії і Державній прикордонній службі, проте незабаром буде розширена і на Національну поліцію України, сказав міністр внутрішніх справ Арсен Аваков під час зустрічі з капеланами силових структур США, мовиться в повідомленні департаменту комунікації міністерства.

«У Нацгвардії впроваджено структуру капеланського служіння, яка відповідає структурі більшості військових формувань багатьох країн світу. Ми ввели у батальйонах штатні посади військових священників. На випадок, коли гвардієць виконує бойові завдання у польових умовах, ми розробили і виготовили мобільний комплекс духовної підтримки», – сказав Аваков.

При цьому він наголосив, що такої допомоги потребують не тільки бійці Національної гвардії.

«Правоохоронцям теж потрібна допомога і підтримка, саме тому капеланська діяльність буде розширена у тому числі й на поліцію», – сказав міністр.

Своєю чергою, капелани силових структур США висловили готовність допомогти зміцнити інститут капеланства в Україні, мовиться в повідомленні.

У сучасній Україні створення капеланської служби (служби військового духовенства) у Збройних силах, Національній гвардії і Державній прикордонній службі було передбачене розпорядженням Кабінету міністрів у липні 2014 року.

Five Morales Supporters Killed in Clashes in Bolivia

Five supporters of former president Evo Morales were killed Friday in violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Bolivia, according to an AFP correspondent who saw the bodies at a hospital.

Authorities did not report any deaths in the riots outside Cochabamba, though it said 100 people were detained. Media reports said eight were wounded.

Clashes had broken out Friday in the suburbs of Cochabamba, where thousands of coca growers were trying to reach the city center 11 miles (18 kilometers) away to join a protest against interim leader Jeanine Anez.

But they were blocked by police, who stopped them from crossing a bridge.

Injured demonstrators are seen inside an ambulance in Sacaba, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia, November 15, 2019…
Injured demonstrators inside an ambulance in Sacaba, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia, Nov. 15, 2019.

The protesters carried “weapons, guns, Molotov cocktails, homemade bazookas and explosive devices,” Cochabamba police commander Colonel Jamie Zurita said.

“They used dynamite and deadly weapons like the Mauser 765 (rifle). Neither the armed forces nor the police are equipped with such a caliber, I am worried,” he said.

The crowd was dispersed after dark by riot police, who were supported by the army and a helicopter.

Morales resigned and fled to Mexico after losing the support of Bolivia’s security forces following weeks of protests over his disputed Oct. 20 reelection.

With the five protesters killed Friday, the death toll from the unrest rises to 15 with more than 400 wounded.

Hong Kong May Be Considering Emergency Measures to End Unrest

The Hong Kong government is probably considering measures to strengthen its crackdown on anti-government protesters after Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a direct warning, urging the city to “end violence and restore order,” analysts say.

Stepping up the suppression, however, may backfire, fueling tensions in the city and further hurting its economy if protesters refuse to back down, they add.

Xi told a summit in Brazil Thursday that “persistent radical and violent crimes have seriously trampled on the basic principle of ‘one country, two systems’ scheme” in Hong Kong, the state news agency People’s Daily reported.

Xi’s warning

“Stopping the violence and restoring order is Hong Kong’s most urgent task at present,” he said.

Xi also expressed support for the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong police, and its judiciary in punishing what he called “violent criminals.”

“The Chinese government is unwavering in safeguarding its sovereignty, security and developmental interests, implementing the ‘one country, two systems’ scheme and deterring any interference by foreign forces in Hong Kong affairs,” he added.

While a reiteration of Beijing’s long-held stance, Xi’s remarks are effectively a direct order for Lam to get tough and end the city’s five months of political unrest, said Sang Pu, a critic and Hong Kong commentator.

“This [stance] was reiterated by Xi Jinping in his statement in Brazil and this Brazil statement makes sure that suppression overrides and prevails everything else. And this suppression will not go away very easily,” Sang said.

On Friday, protesters continued to paralyze parts of Hong Kong for a fifth day, forcing schools to close and blocking some main roads, as university students barricaded campuses and authorities struggled to calm the violence.

Lam also condemned an “attack” in London on Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng during a confrontation with protesters, during which Cheng suffered “serious bodily harm,” according to Hong Kong government statement. Lam said the incident was barbaric and violated the principles of a civilized society, the Hong Kong government said.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam addresses a news conference in Hong Kong, China November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam addresses a news conference in Hong Kong, Nov. 11, 2019.

More emergency measures?

Sang said he believes Lam is considering emergency measures such as curfews or cutting off the Internet, as Xi’s statement followed a short-lived tweet by China’s tightly censored Global Times, saying that the city government was expected to announce a curfew this weekend.

The tweet was quickly deleted as by editor-in-chief Hu Xijin because there wasn’t sufficient information to back it up.

Media speculation was rife in Hong Kong that a meeting of ministers chaired by Lam late Wednesday was devoted to discussing emergency measures including the curfew. That led the city government to issue a press statement Thursday to clarify what it calls “rumors … totally unfounded.”

Sang said he believes the deleted tweet was meant to test the level of tolerance or fear for curfews among Hong Kongers while Lam gauges pressure from the outside world in deciding her next move.

Were Lam to step up the suppression against protesters, the city’s political crisis would worsen, as protesters would not back down, Sang said.

“Even if they’re tired, even this battle will not be the winning battle, they will still stride on because actually they have no other choices,” he said.

The reason is, he said “that if they now step back and then forgo any resistance anymore, the real suppression will come.”

“Many people including me myself and many other Hong Kongers will be arrested at home and even disappear suddenly,” he said.

A man inspects a Bestmart store which was vandalised during Sunday's anti-government protest in Hong Kong, China, October 21,…
FILE – A man inspects a Bestmart store that was vandalized during anti-government protests in Hong Kong, Oct. 21, 2019.

Escalation to hurt economy

The city’s political crisis appears to be deteriorating as internal conflicts aren’t easy to resolve, but any further escalation of tensions will badly hurt the city’s economy, said Liao Qun, chief economist at China CITIC Bank International.

Hong Kong “has already slipped into a recession in the third quarter and I expect to see another negative growth in the fourth quarter,” he said.

The recession will continue if the unrest fails to cool, he said, “However, if things cool down, we may begin to see a mild rebound.”

The economist warned that the city’s economy would take another hit if legislation under consideration in the U.S. Congress to impose sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong were to become law, but that would not force China to change how it rules Hong Kong, said Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Renmin University.

The act, he said, “will definitely have a serious adverse impact on the China-U.S. relations, the Chinese economy and Hong Kong’s financial stability.”

“No matter how large an impact there is, the People’s Republic of China government’s determination to safeguard its sovereignty over Hong Kong and the city’s stability won’t waver,” he said.

Shi added that Beijing will firmly support the Hong Kong government’s decisions to solve its political crisis even if Lam decides to invoke her emergency powers.