tl;dr The first public hearings in the Trump impeachment inquiry started today as the House Intelligence Committee heard testimony from Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official. Taylor, in closed-door testimony, previously linked Trump to the quid pro quo at the heart of the impeachment probe. Kent previously told investigators that he was uneasy with attempts by Rudy Giuliani to influence Ukraine policy and smear the now-ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

1/ The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine testified that Trump asked about “the investigations” during a call with the U.S. ambassador to the European Union on July 26 – the day after Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son while he was holding U.S. military aid from Ukraine. Bill Taylor told the House Intelligence Committee that a member of his staff overheard Trump mention “the investigations” to Sondland, and that “Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.” Taylor called Trump’s decision to withhold “security assistance in exchange for help” with investigations to benefit his personal political interests both “alarming” and “crazy,” because Ukraine is a “strategic partner” and supporting them against Russian aggression is “clearly in our national interest.” Taylor also testified that “Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden” than Ukraine. The staffer who heard the conversation, David Holmes, will testify behind closed doors Friday in the House’s impeachment probe. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / NBC News)

2/ George Kent testified that Rudy Giuliani conducted a “campaign to smear” the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine by leading an effort to “gin up politically motivated investigations.” Kent testified that Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman tried oust Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, by “peddling false information” and that he “became alarmed” during the late spring and summer of 2019 as those efforts “bore fruit.” Kent also said that by mid-August, Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Zelensky to open investigations into Trump’s rivals were “infecting” the Trump administration’s relationship with Ukraine.” Kent – a career State Department foreign service officer – also rejected the notion that Joe Biden improperly interfered in Ukrainian domestic politics for the benefit of his son’s company. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Politico)

3/ Adam Schiff referenced Mick Mulvaney’s “get over it” admission of a quid pro quo during his opening statement. The House Intelligence chairman opened the hearing by laying out what he called a “simple” and “terrible” case that would show “impeachable conduct” by Trump, asking “must we simply ‘get over it?’” Last month during a White House briefing, Mulvaney told “everybody” to “get over it” while confirming that Trump blocked military aid to Ukraine to force Kiev to investigate his political rivals. Mulvaney called the quid pro quo exchange “absolutely appropriate” and that “we do that all the time with foreign policy.” (New York Times / Bloomberg / Politico)

4/ Devin Nunes accused career diplomats testifying of working against Trump as part of a “politicized bureaucracy.” During his opening statement, Nunes also called the hearings a continuation of the “Russia hoax” that were one-sided and unfair to Republicans. Nunes claimed – without evidence – that the witnesses had been chosen after a “closed-door audition process in a cult-like atmosphere” and they had been convinced, “wittingly or unwittingly,” to be part of what he called a “televised theatrical performance, staged by the Democrats.” (Politico / New York Times)

5/ Former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is scheduled to testify before the same committee on Friday. David Holmes, an official working at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and Mark Sandy, an official working in the Office of Management and Budget are also scheduled for closed-door depositions this week. The House Intelligence Committee also announced eight witnesses for public appearances next week: On Tuesday, Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Pence, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top Ukraine aide on the NSC, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, and Timothy Morrison, a Europe and Russia aide on the NSC, will testify. On Wednesday, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Laura Cooper, a senior Pentagon official who handles Russia and Ukraine matters, and David Hale, the under secretary of state for political affairs, will testify. And, on Thursday, Fiona Hill, the former Russia chief on the NSC, is expected to testify. (Politico / Axios)

😳 Impeachables.

  1. Trump attacked House Democrats on Twitter hours before the first public impeachment hearings were set to commence, complaining that Democrats have “stacked the deck” against him and accusing House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of being a “corrupt politician.” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, meanwhile, called the impeachment hearing “not only boring” but also “a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money” in a tweet. Trump later told reporters that he was “too busy” to watch the impeachment hearings. (Politico / Washington Post / NBC News)

  2. Rudy Giuliani wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wasn’t an impeachable offense. Giuliani argued that the focus of the call was only “Ukrainian corruption broadly” and that only a fraction of the call was spent asking Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son. “Out of a five-page transcript,” Giuliani wrote, “Mr. Trump spent only six lines on Joe Biden.” (Wall Street Journal / HuffPost)

  3. Republicans want to distance Trump from his association with Giuliani as one of their defensive strategies in the House impeachment inquiry. “So the point is,” said a Republican on one of the impeachment committees, “as long as [Giuliani] is a step removed, [Trump]’s in good shape.” (Axios)

  4. Trump’s senior advisers have been trying to convince him not to fire acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Trump, who has been threatening to fire Mulvaney for weeks, was especially upset by Mulvaney’s Oct. 17 press conference, during which Mulvaney admitted that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was withheld as a way to pressure Zelensky to launch investigations that could benefit Trump politically. (Washington Post)

  5. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Trump at the White House. It is the first time Erdogan has visited the U.S. since Turkey attacked U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria following Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region. Trump and Erdogan are expected to discuss how to maintain the tentative ceasefire that exists in Syria, as well as the fate of the Islamic State fighters who remain detained in that country. (NPR / Associated Press / NBC News / CNN)

  6. Erdogan threatened purchase Russian military fighter jets ahead of his White House meeting with Trump. Turkey, a NATO ally, discussed purchasing the fighter jets Putin two weeks ago in Sochi. The Trump administration previously banned the sale of U.S.-made F-35 jets to Turkey in response to Erdogan’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system. (NBC News)

  7. Jared Kushner wants to set up webcams along the U.S.-Mexico border so people can livestream the construction of Trump’s border wall. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials object to the plan because it will make contractor’s “proprietary” construction techniques visible to their competitors. Officials were also concerned that the cameras would show U.S. work crews violating Mexican sovereignty if they stray south of the border to maneuver vehicles and equipment. (Washington Post)

  8. poll/ 81% of voters say there’s little or no chance they’ll change their minds about impeachment after the public hearings. 50% of voters support the impeachment inquiry, compared with 41% who oppose it. (Politico)

📅 Timeline regarding Trump’s call with Zelensky:

Source: Washington Post

July 25

  • 7:54 a.m. – Sondland called U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who was in Ukraine having lunch with Andriy Yermak, a senior aide to Zelensky.

  • 8:36 a.m. – Volker sent a text message to Yermak to say he “Heard from White House,” and “Assuming President [Zelensky] convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!”

  • 9:03 a.m. – Trump and Zelensky spoke with Zelensky promising Trump that “all the investigations will be done openly and candidly.” Trump replied “Good […] I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call […] Whenever you would like to come to the White House feel free to call.” The call ended about 9:30 a.m.

  • 10:15 a.m. – Yermak texted Volker to say the call “went well” and that Zelensky had picked three dates in September “for the White House visit.” Volker then updated Sondland to say he “think[s] everything in place.”

July 26

  • Sondland traveled to Ukraine and during a TV interview linked to the Ukrainian government said he spoke with Trump “just a few minutes before he placed the call” with Zelensky. Sondland called it “a nothing call.”

  • Acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor and Volker met with Zelensky, who said “he was happy with the call but did not elaborate.”

  • Sondland called Trump to tell him about the meetings in Kiev. A member of Taylor’s staff heard Trump on the phone asking Sondland about “the investigations.” The staffer, David Holmes, asked Sondlan what Trump thought about the meeting. Sondland, according to Taylor’s testimony, said that “Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”