1/ Two national security officials testified publicly that Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president was “improper,” “unusual,” and overtly political. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Mike Pence on Russia and Europe, both listened in on Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump ignored official talking points about fighting corruption to instead “demand” an investigation tied to Joe Biden. Vindman told the House Intelligence Committee that “What I heard was inappropriate and I reported it […] out of a sense of duty,” because “the connection to investigate a political opponent was inappropriate and improper.” Vindman also testified that he interpreted Trump’s request that Zelensky open investigations as a demand, saying “the power disparity between the two leaders – my impression was that in order to get the White House meeting, President Zelensky would have to deliver these investigations.” In her opening statement, Williams said she found the call “unusual” because it “involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.” Vindman and Williams are the first White House officials to testify in public as part of the impeachment inquiry. (Politico / Wall Street Journal / The Guardian / Washington Post / CNN / Bloomberg)

2/ The former special envoy to Ukraine testified that he didn’t realize the push for a probe into a Ukrainian gas company was connected to Joe Biden and his son. Kurt Volker attempted to reconcile his previous closed-door testimony, which conflicted with subsequent witness testimony, saying “I have learned many things that I did not know at the time of the events in question.” Specifically, Volker said he “did not know of any linkage between the hold on security assistance and Ukraine pursuing investigations” while he was working with Rudy Giuliani and a Zelensky aide to pressure Ukraine into launching an investigation into Burisma, the gas company that employed Hunter Biden. Volker said that “In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently,” and that he now understands an investigation into Burisma was intended as an investigation into the Bidens. Volker called the allegation that Biden acted corruptly with Ukraine while he was vice president a “conspiracy theory” that is “self-serving and not credible.” Separately, Fiona Hill, then the senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, and Vindman, previously testified that John Bolton, then the national security adviser, abruptly ended a July 10 meeting when Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, brought up the investigations. Volker never mentioned the exchange in his original testimony, but told lawmakers today that “as I remember,” Sondland made a comment about investigations into Trump’s political rivals, which “all of us thought it was inappropriate.” (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / NBC News / The Guardian / CNN / New York Times / Politico / Vox)

3/ Tim Morrison testified that he was “not concerned that anything illegal was discussed” during Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky, but worried it would cause a political storm if the transcript became public. Morrison, the former senior director for Europe and Ukraine at the National Security Council, told the committee that “I feared at the time of the call on July 25 how its disclosure would play in Washington’s climate.” He continued: “My fears have been realized.” Morrison also said Sondland told him that “the Ukrainians would have to have the prosecutor general make a statement” about investigations as a “condition” for receiving security aid. When asked if he agreed that pressuring “a foreign government to investigate a domestic political rival [was] inappropriate,” Morrison replied: “It is not what we recommend the president discuss.” (Politico / Washington Post / Bloomberg / Wall Street Journal / CNN / New York Times)

  • Morrison approached White House lawyers after Trump’s July 25 call about restricting access to the rough transcript, because he feared that a leak of the conversation could be politically damaging. Morrison spoke to the top lawyer on the White House National Security Council, John Eisenberg, and his deputy, Michael Ellis, about closely guarding the transcript, but said it was a mistake that it wound up on the highly secure server. The whistleblower complaint references an effort within the White House to “lock down” access to the transcript of the call shortly after it ended. (Wall Street Journal)

👀 Impeachables.

  1. A counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine testified that the Ukrainians “gradually came to understand that they were being asked to do something in exchange” for a White House meeting or military aid. David Holmes overheard a call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, in which Sondland assured Trump that Zelensky “will do anything you ask him to,” including conduct the investigation that Trump wanted. (Washington Post)

  2. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman privately met with Rudy Giuliani and Trump at the White House last December. Parnas confided to two acquaintances after the meeting that “the big guy” (aka Trump) tasked him and Fruman with “a secret mission” to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden and his son. Trump publicly stated that he did not know Parnas and Fruman when the two men were arrested at Dulles International Airport last month and charged with conspiring to violate campaign finance laws that prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to U.S. campaigns. (CNN)

  3. An executive at Ukraine’s state-owned gas company is scheduled to meet voluntarily with the Justice Department as part of an ongoing probe into the business dealings of Giuliani, and his two associates Parnas and Igor Fruman. Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Giuliani and whether he failed to register as a foreign agent. (Associated Press)

  4. John Bolton met privately with Trump in August as part of an effort to release the $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine. Trump’s national security adviser attempted to convince Trump that it was in the United States’ best interest to unfreeze the funds so Ukraine could defend itself against Russia. (New York Times)

  5. More than $35 million of the roughly $400 million in aid to Ukraine has not been released. The defense funding for Ukraine remains in U.S. accounts, according to a Pentagon spending document. (Los Angeles Times)

  6. poll/ 65% of Americans said the impeachment hearings won’t change their position on impeachment. 30%, meanwhile, said it’s possible. (NPR)

  7. poll/ 48% of voters support the impeachment inquiry into Trump, while 50% oppose. (Politico)

✏️ Notables.

  1. A New York state judge denied Trump’s request to throw out a defamation lawsuit by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos. Trump’s legal team argued that a stay is necessary to prevent “irreparable harm” “given the novel and important Constitutional issues involved.” Zervos was among the more than 10 women who came forward during the 2016 presidential campaign and accused Trump of sexual assault and misconduct. Trump called Zervos and the other women “liars,” prompting Zervos to file a defamation lawsuit in 2017. (CNN)

  2. The Supreme Court temporarily blocked a ruling requiring Trump’s accounting firm from turning over his tax returns to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Trump’s attorneys petitioned the justices last week in a separate case involving his tax returns, seeking to overturn the ruling of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals requiring Trump’s accountants to provide his returns to the Manhattan district attorney. (CNBC / CNN)

  3. The U.S. broke off talks with South Korea over the cost of the military alliance. Trump demanded that South Korea pay nearly $5 billion to station 28,500 U.S. troops in the country – a fivefold increase in funding. The top U.S. negotiator, James DeHart, cut negotiations short, blaming South Korea for making proposals that “were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden sharing.” South Korea responded by agreeing to a bilateral defense agreement with China. (Washington Post / Telegraph / Reuters)

  4. Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria allowed the Islamic State to strengthen its position, the Pentagon’s inspector general said in a new report. The withdrawal combined with Turkey’s subsequent assault on Kurdish forces, allowed ISIS to “reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad.” (Politico)

  5. The House passed a short-term spending resolution to keep the government funded through Dec. 20. Mitch McConnell said the Senate will pass a stopgap measure and the Trump administration said it supports the continuing resolution. Government funding runs out after Nov. 21. (Politico / Wall Street Journal / New York Times)