THE QUESTION THAT’S BURNING UP THE CAPITOL: Will GORDON SONDLAND plead the fifth at all Wednesday? The president’s ambassador to the EU has already had to amend his testimony once, and subsequent witnesses have testified that Sondland called the president on July 26 from a Kyiv restaurant and discussed “investigations.” Sondland did not mention that in his deposition.
THE ARCS … MUCH OF THIS MORNING’S HEARING has been focused on LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN. DEMOCRATS have positioned VINDMAN as a career military official who called out unusual behavior when he saw it. REPUBLICANS have sharply criticized VINDMAN, suggesting he is a subpar, rogue employee who inflated his role and has been inconsistent in his testimony. They even suggested he was linked to the Ukrainian government.
A FEW MOMENTS THAT WILL STAND OUT FROM THIS MORNING’S SESSION …
DEVIN NUNES, the ranking Republican on the Intel Committee, asked WILLIAMS and VINDMAN if they spoke about the TRUMP/ZELENSKY phone call with anyone in the administration. WILLIAMS said no. VINDMAN said he spoke with George Kent and a member of the intelligence community.
NUNES tried to get VINDMAN to say who he told in the intel community, but he declined.
DEMOCRATS thought it was an attempt to out the whistleblower. VINDMAN said he did not know who the whistleblower was, but would not disclose the person he spoke with. It was a “properly cleared individual” with a need to know, he said.
— IT’S POSSIBLE for Vindman to not know who the whistleblower is, and not want to say who he told in the intel community, in case that person became the whistleblower.
— VIRAL MOMENT: NUNES called VINDMAN “Mr. Vindman,” and VINDMAN said, “It’s Lt. Col. Vindman.”
… AND THEN, Republican counsel STEVE CASTOR asked VINDMAN if Ukrainian official OLEKSANDR DANYLYUK asked him to be defense minister of Ukraine. And, in fact, Vindman said yes, three times, he was offered. “I’m an American. I came here when I was a toddler and I immediately dismissed these offers. Did not entertain them.” Vindman said he notified the appropriate counterintelligence officers in the U.S. and his chain of command.
OHIO REP. JIM JORDAN asked VINDMAN why TIM MORRISON, his superior at the NSC, questioned his judgment. VINDMAN read from his employee evaluation, which said “Alex is a top 1% military officer.” VINDMAN said he “never did, never would” leak information. He said that was “preposterous.”
DURING THE DEM QUESTIONING … THE MAIN TAKEAWAYS …
— THE WHITE HOUSE blocked the committee from talking about July 18 call between VP MIKE PENCE and Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY because it was classified. (Williams previously testified that it was perfunctory.)
— VINDMAN said that during a bilateral meeting he told ZELENSKY “to be particularly cautious with regards to Russia and its desire to provoke Ukraine,” and “to stay out of U.S. domestic … politics.” He added: “I was passing the same advice consistent with U.S. policy.”
— VINDMAN reiterated that TRUMP did mention Burisma on the phone with ZELENSKY, even though the transcript did not say it: “This transcript … may have not caught the word Burisma.” He suggested that the transcription software did not pick up the name.
DURING THE GOP QUESTIONING … OTHER MAIN TAKEAWAYS …
— NUNES asked WILLIAMS and VINDMAN if they discussed the July 25 phone call with the press. Both said no. … CASTOR asked VINDMAN if he had ever been told he had been accused of going outside of his lane at work, or accessing information he was not allowed to. Vindman said no.
NUNES did not release his opening statement, but he spent a bunch of time criticizing news outlets. He also said the media has Democratic “puppet masters.” Video
HOW THE PRESIDENT SEES IT … via pooler Michael Collins of USA Today: TRUMP told reporters at a Cabinet meeting that he had watched some of the morning’s hearing and that Republicans “are absolutely killing it.”
— ON NANCY PELOSI and USMCA: “In the meantime we can’t get USMCA approved because Nancy Pelosi is grossly incompetent. She’s incompetent, and you’re about to find that out.”
Good Tuesday afternoon.
UH-OH … CONNOR O’BRIEN: “Trump’s pullout from Syria allowed ISIS to gain strength, intel agency reports”: “The withdrawal and incursion allowed ISIS to “reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad,” the quarterly report from the lead inspector general on the U.S. military campaign against ISIS stated. The report cited information from the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“‘The DIA also reported that without counterterrorism pressure, ISIS will probably be able to more freely build clandestine networks and will attempt to free ISIS members detained in [Syrian Democratic Forces]-run prisons and family members living in internally displaced persons … camps,’ the inspector general added.” POLITICO … The report
THE LATEST IN ISRAEL — “U.S. gave Benny Gantz a heads up on settlements announcement,” by Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 13 news: “Before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement yesterday on the legality of Israeli settlements, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman notified Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political rival, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me.
“Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, effectively tied with Netanyahu in Israel’s election two months ago. Gantz was asked to form a government after Netanyahu failed to do so, but his mandate expires on Wednesday. There was speculation that the U.S. announcement was timed to help Netanyahu politically. Gantz did not object to the content or timing of the U.S. announcement, according to the officials.” Axios
TRACKING TRUMP’S COURT CASES — “Judge Narrows Path for House to Obtain Trump’s New York State Tax Returns,” by WSJ’s Byron Tau: “President Trump won a court ruling on Monday evening that would limit the ability of the Democratic-led House of Representatives to obtain his state tax returns from New York until a federal court could decide whether the request was lawful.
“Calling the case ‘extraordinary,’ U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols issued an order directing the House to tell Mr. Trump if it plans to request his tax returns from New York state officials. Judge Nichols further ordered that the House would have to wait 14 days after a request for the records while a federal court considers the central question in the lawsuit: whether the House can lawfully request and obtain Mr. Trump’s state tax returns.” WSJ
— CNN: “Judge denies Trump’s request to dismiss Summer Zervos defamation case,” by Veronica Stracqualursi and Athena Jones: “A Manhattan judge has again denied President Donald Trump’s request to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by former ‘Apprentice’ contestant Summer Zervos against him, clearing the way for the President to be deposed by January 31.
“Trump’s legal team had argued that a stay is necessary ‘given the novel and important Constitutional issues involved,’ the ‘special considerations due’ their previous requests to dismiss the case, and to prevent ‘irreparable harm.’” CNN
EPSTEIN UPDATE — “Jeffrey Epstein Suicide: Two Jail Workers Charged,” by NYT’s William Rashbaum, Danielle Ivory and Michael Gold: “Two federal workers who were on duty the night Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan jail were charged on Tuesday in connection with their alleged failure to check on him every half-hour. The two federal Bureau of Prisons employees were expected to appear in United States District Court in Manhattan. …
“The indictment charged the workers, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, with making false records and conspiring to defraud the United States. Specifically, the indictment said the two workers failed to make their rounds to check on detainees and instead ‘sat at their desk, browsed the internet and moved around the common area.’” NYT
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION — “Bipartisan Senate Panels Urge White House to Appoint 5G Coordinator,” by WSJ’s Dustin Volz and Drew FitzGerald: “Citing a lack of ‘coherent national strategy,’ a bipartisan coalition of senators is pressing the Trump administration to create a new White House position to coordinate policy on 5G wireless technology.
“In a Tuesday letter to Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s national security adviser, the Republican and Democratic leadership of four Senate committees called for the designation of a ‘senior individual focused solely on coordinating and leading the nation’s effort to develop and deploy future telecommunications technologies.’” WSJ
DEPT. OF DUH … “Stephen Miller planted anti-Rubio stories in Breitbart during 2016 campaign, leaked emails show,” by NBC’s Ben Collins and Anna Schecter: “White House senior adviser Stephen Miller had more editorial influence over the right-wing news website Breitbart during the 2016 presidential campaign than previously known and attempted to push articles attacking then-presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., according to a new batch of leaked emails shared with NBC News. …
“On Oct. 3, 2015, Miller sent a chart that claimed that ‘For Every 1 New Amerian Added to the Population, Immigration Will Add 7 More’ to [Katie] McHugh, Breitbart’s Washington political editor Matthew Boyle, and [Steve] Bannon. ‘Also how should we run this? Under Senator Sessions’ byline? Or under “Breitbart News” byline?’ Boyle asked in a reply. Miller responded that the chart and accompanying article should be run under a Breitbart News byline, in effect disguising his involvement.” NBC
ROBOCALLS CRACKDOWN — “Suspicious robocalls pitching health insurance surged in October. Now, the feds are scrambling to act,” by WaPo’s Tony Romm: “While the calls may be offering perfectly legitimate services, they also appeared to come from a single originator that cycled through a series of names, such as ‘Executive Health’ and ‘Whitestone Health,’ according to people tracking the campaign, delivering a prerecorded pitch using the same male voice. … Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are set to unveil as soon as this week a new, bipartisan bill that will empower law enforcement to get even tougher on the worst offenders, according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post.” WaPo
HEADS UP — “Sweden drops Assange rape investigation after 9 years,” by AP’s David Keyton in Stockholm
THE POLICY PRIMARY — AP: “Warren unveils a plan to combat white nationalist crime”
CLIMATE FILES — “As Climate Risk Grows, Cities Test a Tough Strategy: Saying ‘No’ to Developers,” by NYT’s Christopher Flavelle and John Schwartz in Virginia Beach, Va.: “As the Trump administration reverses efforts to fight global warming, local officials around the country are forced to grapple with more intense flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. That pressure is colliding with development, which provides jobs, homes and taxes but which also can increase the future risk of disaster as construction spreads into floodplains or forests that are prone to calamity.
“The outcome of that battle will shape Americans’ vulnerability to climate change for generations — and so far, development seems to be prevailing. In many coastal states, homes are going up at the fastest rate in the most flood-prone areas. The number of new houses in what experts call the wildland-urban interface, where the wildfire threat tends to be greatest, increased 41 percent nationwide between 1990 and 2010.” NYT
SPOTTED: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (N.J.) separately on the Acela from New York to D.C. on Monday afternoon.
FROM DANIEL LIPPMAN: ADVOC8, the D.C.-based event and creative agency, recently trimmed eight jobs from its ranks. One source said the company eliminated those positions as they continue to restructure from a production company to an experiential marketing firm.
ADVOC8’s clients include Facebook, Axios, Google and CNN to produce events in D.C. and outside of the Beltway. Within the last three months, Advoc8, which had $14 million in revenue last year, was named the fastest growing company in D.C. by Inc. Magazine and one of Adweek’s 100 fastest-growing agencies in the world.
ADVOC8 said it has “experienced rapid growth, which means constantly evaluating our business model, existing capabilities and skill sets against our growth strategy. As part of that exercise, we’ve restructured several teams to most efficiently align with the company we have grown into, and to stay one step ahead of evolving client needs and industry trends. As we recompose our teams, we’ve eliminated some positions, and added others. The decision to part ways with such talented colleagues is a difficult one, and we are incredibly grateful for their contributions.”
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Tyler Houlton has been named acting deputy COS at DHS, where he’s on a 60-day detail from his senior adviser post at the State Department. He’s staffing acting Secretary Chad Wolf because he’s worked with Wolf previously and knows the department well, as a former DHS press secretary.
TRANSITION — Mazen Saleh is now associate VP of policy management at the R Street Institute. He most recently was senior business director at the National League for Nursing.
WEEKEND WEDDING — Michelle Rutter, government relations manager for the National Cannabis Industry Association, and Patrick Friberg, owner of Saving Grace Pet Care, got married Saturday at Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison, Va.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Amanda Priest, communications director for Arkansas A.G. Leslie Rutledge and an NRCC alum, and Curtis Priest, an Air Force captain, welcomed Theodore “Teddy” Elijah Priest early Thursday morning. He came in at 7 lbs, 1 oz and 20 inches. Pic … Another pic
BONUS BIRTHDAY: Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Louis Susman is 82
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine