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Impeachment hearings live updates: Hill said she told Sondland that his efforts in Ukraine would ‘blow up’

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/21/2019 Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner, Colby Itkowitz
Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, takes her seat before she and David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S Embassy in Kiev, testify to a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott © Thomson Reuters Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, takes her seat before she and David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S Embassy in Kiev, testify to a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Former White House adviser Fiona Hill testified Thursday that she had warned Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that his efforts in Ukraine on behalf of President Trump would “blow up.”

Hill, a Russia expert who reported directly to John Bolton when he was national security adviser, testified alongside David Holmes, a top staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, before the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry.

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Democrats are seeking information to bolster the case that Trump sought to leverage U.S. military aid to Ukraine and a White House visit by President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for investigations of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, among others. 

●Fiona Hill testifies in impeachment inquiry about a ‘fictional narrative’ on Ukrainian interference.

●Sondland acknowledges Ukraine quid pro quo, implicates Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others.

● Sondland’s bombshell testimony leaves Trump’s Republican allies scrambling.

●Testimony ensnares Pompeo in Ukraine scandal as he mulls political future.

What’s next in the inquiry | Who’s involved in the impeachment inquiry | Key documents related to the inquiry

1:50 PM: Mulvaney attorney sharply criticizes Hill’s testimony

Robert Driscoll, an attorney for acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, dismissed Hill’s testimony in a statement after the hearing ended.

Driscoll said Hill’s remarks were “riddled with speculation and guesses about any role that Mr. Mulvaney played with anything related to Ukraine,” adding that “no court in this country” would give any weight to her testimony, and “neither should Congress or the public.”

Among other things, Hill had described Bolton characterizing the efforts of Sondland and Mulvaney on Ukraine as a “drug deal.”

“The fact is that Ms. Hill has never met Mr. Mulvaney other than in passing, and has never discussed anything with him regarding Ukraine,” Driscoll said. “We have no idea why Ms. Hill believes Mr. Mulvaney was so heavily involved, especially in light of Ambassador Sondland’s contrary testimony that he only spoke very infrequently to Mr. Mulvaney and had zero substantive conversations with him about Ukraine.”

By: Rosalind S. Helderman

Slideshow by photo services

1:30 PM: White House and Republicans discuss limiting impeachment trial to two weeks

A group of Republican senators and senior White House officials met privately Thursday to map out a strategy for a potential impeachment trial, including proceedings in the Senate that could be limited to about two weeks, according to multiple officials familiar with the talks.

Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wis.), John Neely Kennedy (La.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) met with White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Mulvaney, senior adviser Jared Kushner, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, according to the officials, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

Read more here.

By: Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey

1:20 PM: Schiff gavels hearing to a close

After his fiery closing remarks, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) gaveled the hearing to a close, concluding the week’s testimony.

By: Felicia Sonmez

1:10 PM: Howard Baker has left the building

In his closing remarks, Schiff asked, “Where is Howard Baker?” The line was a reference to the Republican senator whose question during the Nixon impeachment — “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” — was seen as a turning point in those proceedings.

On Thursday, only three Republicans were in the room to hear Schiff ask the question.

The California Democrat delivered a lengthy closing argument, asking who in the GOP would put their duty over party and see Trump’s actions in Ukraine as bribery.

The answer is not many, if any. Even Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), a retiring centrist who some thought might join Democrats in an impeachment vote, stated plainly Thursday that he had not “heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.”

But the image of nearly a full dais of Democrats — compared to only three Republicans present when Schiff asked the question — was a reminder of just how politically split the House will remain on impeachment, and how much more partisan the Trump era is than Nixon’s time.

“What we’ve seen here is far more serious than a third-rate burglary of the Democratic headquarters,” Schiff said, referring to the Watergate affair. “The difference between then and now is not the difference between Nixon and Trump. It’s the difference between that Congress and this one.”

The three Republicans in attendance were Reps. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top Republican on the Intelligence panel; Jim Jordan (Ohio), the ranking member on the Oversight committee; and K. Michael Conaway (Tex.), who ran the GOP’s Russia probe.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) slipped back into her seat after Schiff’s question, before he gaveled out the hearing.

By: Karoun Demirjian

1:00 PM: Hill says it was ‘not credible’ that Sondland didn’t connect Burisma and Bidens

Hill testified that it was “not credible” that Sondland did not equate Burisma to the Bidens when Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, and others spoke of it.

“It’s not credible to me at all that he was oblivious to this,” Hill said, noting that it was obvious the name of the Ukrainian energy company was code for the president’s interest in investigating Hunter Biden.

Hill said Sondland’s effort to pressure the Ukrainians “was improper and it was inappropriate, and we said that in real time.”

She also noted that the July 10 conversation in which Sondland communicated the quid pro quo to the Ukrainians “was the first time it crystallized to me that there was a different channel” regarding Ukraine — a channel to pursue domestic priorities instead of foreign policy.

By: Karoun Demirjian

12:50 PM: Hill denounces attacks calling her a mole for George Soros, calls them anti-Semitic

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) recited a quote made by longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone to the far-right conspiracy theory website Infowars. Stone had called Hill “the globalist leftist George Soros insider who had infiltrated McMaster’s staff,” referring to Trump’s former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

“I think my coal-mining family would be very surprised to hear all of these things about me,” Hill deadpanned.

Stone and others have leveled the Soros conspiracy theories against former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as well. Krishnamoorthi asked Hill whether she believed the attacks “have a tinge of anti-Semitism to them, at least?”

“Well, certainly when they involve George Soros, they do,” she said, comparing the campaign to an early 1900s document propagating lies about Jewish plans for global domination.

“This is the longest-running anti-Semitic trope that we have in history,” Hill said. “And the trope against Mr. Soros — George Soros — was also created for political purposes.”

“I’m sorry you’ve been kind of wrapped up in these crackpot conspiracy theories,” Krishnamoorthi said.

By: Colby Itkowitz

12:40 PM: Republican lawmaker says Trump actions were ‘inappropriate,’ but no evidence of bribery or extortion

Hurd, the rare GOP lawmaker to occasionally criticize Trump, went further than most Republicans in objecting to the actions uncovered so far in the impeachment inquiry.

Hurd zeroed in on Trump’s use of the word “favor” and naming the Bidens in his call with Zelensky in July. He said the testimony revealed that doing so was “inappropriate, misguided foreign policy. And it’s certainly not how the executive – current, or in the future – should handle such a call.”

Without citing specifics, Hurd also generally criticized the pressure campaign to get Ukraine to launch investigations as having “undermined our national security and undercut Ukraine, a key partner on the front lines against Russian aggression.”

He said the effort seemed particularly ill timed, sending “confusing and conflicting messages” to Kyiv. But that’s as far as Hurd would go. He said the congressional inquiry still lacked critical testimony from figures like Giuliani, who many witnesses have testified pressed Trump’s interests through U.S. officials.

“An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear and unambiguous. And it’s not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I have not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion,” Hurd said.

By: Aaron C. Davis

12:25 PM: Swalwell raises questions about reported ties between Nunes, Parnas

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) raised questions about purported ties between the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Giuliani.

The Daily Beast reported Wednesday night that Parnas helped arrange meetings and calls for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in 2018, citing an interview with Parnas’s lawyer, Ed MacMahon. Swalwell asked that the article be entered into the record of the impeachment inquiry.

“Mr. Chairman,” he said, directing remarks to Schiff, “you have been falsely accused throughout these proceedings by the ranking member [Nunes] as being a ‘fact witness.’ Now, if this story is correct, the ranking member may have actually been projecting. In fact, he may be the fact witness, if he is working with indicted individuals around our investigation.”

The Daily Beast article stated that a spokesperson for Nunes did not respond to requests for comment before publication.

By: Elise Viebeck

12:10 PM: Hill says Americans need to come together in the face of election interference

Hill expressed concern that foreign election interference has shaken Americans’ faith in their own democracy. She urged lawmakers to help citizens differentiate fact from fiction for the good of the country.

She said voters should go to the polls in 2020 “without any fear that this is being interfered in by and from any quarter whatsoever.”

Hill said she agreed to join the Trump administration because she believed in Trump’s desire to bring about closer relations to Russia.

“I heard President Trump say that he wanted to improve the relationship with Russia,” she said. “I believe we have to.”

She then made the case for stabilizing the U.S. relationship with Russia, saying it is crucial in order to “stop them from doing what they did in 2016 again in 2020.”

By: John Hudson

12:00 PM: Hill says Giuliani, Sondland were uninterested in nuts-and-bolts of Ukraine policy

Hill testified that Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine posed a “huge complication” to long-term reforms and anti-corruption work that U.S. officials were trying to encourage in the country’s energy sector.

Hill said officials like herself and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman had worked for two years on an interagency action plan, but that “clearly Rudy Giuliani and other people didn’t care at all about this.”

“Ambassador Sondland wasn’t particularly interested in it, either,” Hill added. “It was quite boring, wouldn’t make for good copy in the press.”

By: Karoun Demirjian

11:50 AM: Hill’s ‘steely’ turn as Richard III

In a more lighthearted moment, Hill confirmed a story reported by the New York Times about how when she was 11 years old, a boy set her pigtails on fire while she was taking a test – and she simply snuffed out the fire with her hands and finished the exam.

“It is a true story,” Hill said, noting she was “surprised to see that pop up” as it actually ended with “unfortunate consequences.”

“Afterwards, my mother gave me a bowl haircut,” Hill lamented. “So for the school photograph later in that week, I looked like Richard III.”

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who had raised the anecdote, said she thinks it “underscores the fact” that Hill is “steely,” noting that she respected that.

By: Karoun Demirjian

11:45 AM: Turner accuses Holmes of undermining Zelensky by airing contents of call

Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) accused Holmes of embarrassing the Ukrainian president with his testimony about Trump’s phone call.

On the call, Sondland told Trump that Zelensky “loves your ass” and would do “anything you want.”

Turner dismissed the ambassador’s remarks, noting, “Who cares that Ambassador Sondland said that?” He argued that “that information had nothing whatsoever to do with the subject matter of any of these hearings.”

Democrats see Sondland’s characterization that Zelensky would do anything for Trump as relevant to the question of whether the U.S. president had leverage over his Ukrainian counterpart, and whether Trump used tools of diplomacy and national security to serve his personal political ends.

But Turner argued that Holmes had undermined Zelensky’s leadership by airing Sondland’s words. “You know he got asked this question in his own country and people are hearing that statement as if it is true,” he said.

By: Karoun Demirjian

11:35 AM: Ratcliffe misstates Sondland testimony about Ukraine meeting

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) was mistaken Thursday when he said Sondland testified that the topic of investigations “did not come up” on July 26 when he met with an aide to Zelensky in Kyiv.

In fact, Sondland testified Wednesday that he believes “the issue of investigations was probably a part of the agenda” when he sat down with Andriy Yermak that day.

Ratcliffe sought to emphasize his point while questioning Holmes, asking the embassy aide when on July 26 Sondland had asked the Ukrainians about the status of the investigations requested by Trump the day before.

Holmes said he assumed Sondland had raised the issue during a private meeting with Yermak.

Ratcliffe said he wanted to make it “clear that yesterday Ambassador Sondland testified that the topic of conversations did not come up on that day.”

In fact, Sondland said Wednesday: “While I do not recall the specifics of our conversation, I believe the issue of investigations was probably a part of the agenda.”

By: Elise Viebeck

11:25 AM: Holmes defends relevance of Sondland-Trump call

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) challenged Holmes to explain why William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, did not bring up Sondland’s call with Trump. Jordan suggested the call — in which Trump loudly asked about “investigations” — wasn’t relevant.

“You’re their closing witness, and he can’t remember a call from a guy he works with every single day?” Jordan said, challenging Taylor’s assertion that he told several people about the call at the time.

Taylor did not testify behind closed doors about the call Holmes observed between Sondland and Trump; he raised it during his public hearing last week as something that had come to his attention since his deposition.

But Jordan’s argument leaves out several chronological and substantive details. First: Holmes observed the July 26 call between Sondland and Trump a full two months before the transcript of Trump’s July 25 transcript of the call between him and the Ukrainian president was released.

And though Holmes briefed the deputy chief of mission about the July 26 call immediately, he did not do the same with Taylor, because, as Holmes noted Thursday, “he was on the front lines that afternoon” — later assuming Taylor had heard about it from others.

“My vivid recollection of an event I was involved in was a touchstone experience that to me validated what we believed. Ambassador Taylor was not in that call,” Holmes argued. “[Taylor] was involved in a number of other interactions as you outlined that brought him to the same conclusion.”

By: Karoun Demirjian

11:20 AM: Hill denounces dual loyalty attacks against Vindman, says immigrants are ‘what makes America great’

Hill denounced the dual loyalty attacks leveled against Ukrainian-born Vindman, the White House official who expressed grave concerns about the U.S. pressure campaign against Ukraine.

The former White House official said such criticisms, which appeared on Fox News following his sworn deposition, were “very unfortunate” and “deeply unfair” because the United States is a “country of immigrants.”

Hill, a British-born former White House official who is a naturalized citizen of the United States, then repurposed Trump’s iconic 2016 campaign slogan and declared that immigrants are “what makes America great.”

“Everyone immigrated to the United States at some point in their family history,” she said.

Hill said her own allegiance to Britain changed after she decided to become a U.S. citizen.

“I do not believe my loyalty is to the United Kingdom,” she said. “It’s here to the United States.”

By: John Hudson

11:15 AM: A new sign from Republicans — but perhaps not the one they intended

As the proceedings resumed after a break, a new sign was being displayed by House Republicans, who have frequently criticized Democrats over the manner in which they have conducted the impeachment hearings.

The message — targeting the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee — might not be the one Republicans intended, however.

“Days Since Adam Schiff Followed House Rules,” reads the text of the sign, which is displayed on an easel behind Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio).

Above the text is a big red zero.

By: Felicia Sonmez

11:10 AM: Hill defends Vindman’s judgment, praises his performance

Hill challenged a piece of testimony from her successor that Republicans have used to undercut Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official who served as a witness for the impeachment inquiry earlier in the week.

Calling Vindman a “highly distinguished, decorated military officer,” Hill said that she conveyed to her successor, Tim Morrison, that Vindman “wasn’t as well-suited” for positions that required more sensitive antennae on issues related to domestic politics.

“Not everyone is suited for that,” Hill said. “That does not mean in any way that I was questioning his overall judgment, nor was I questioning in any way his substantive expertise. He is excellent on issues related to Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, on Russian defense issues.”

Morrison testified in the impeachment inquiry that Hill shared his concerns about Vindman, the director for European affairs at the National Security Council, and his judgment.

Hill said her comments to Morrison came as she said she spoke about the “way things were trending in Ukraine policy” — that is, in a more political direction.

“We were evaluating and looking at [Vindman] in the context of what his future positions would be,” she said. “And I was concerned that if, for example, Colonel Vindman might decide to leave the military, that perhaps he wasn’t as well suited for something that would be much more political.”

Hill said Vindman was “justifiably alarmed” when he “realized that there was this highly political aspect of the meeting that we were looking for eventually with President Zelensky.”

By: Elise Viebeck

10:45 AM: ‘I think this is all going to blow up,’ Hill says she told Sondland

Hill said she told Sondland that “this is all going to blow up” when confronting him about the two divergent channels of diplomacy toward Ukraine.

Speaking to lawmakers, Hill said she became angry with Sondland because he was not coordinating with the National Security Council as he met with Ukrainian leaders and others about U.S. policy toward the country.

Reflecting on her anger, Hill said she did not realize at the time that Sondland was part of a different effort altogether.

“He was being involved in a domestic political errand,” Hill said of Sondland. “And we were being involved in national security, foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.”

“I had not put my finger on that at the moment,” Hill said, “but I was irritated with him and angry with him that he wasn’t fully coordinating. And I did say to him, Ambassador Sondland, ‘Gordon, I think this is all going to blow up.’ And here we are.”

Hill was candid with lawmakers that she had had “a bit of a blow up” and “a couple of testy encounters” with Sondland, particularly when she asked who gave him the authority to manage policy toward Ukraine.

“I’ll admit I was a bit rude,” she said. “And that’s when he told me ‘the president,’ which shut me up,” she said.

By: Elise Viebeck

10:40 AM: Nunes returns to the ‘black ledger’

“Have you ever heard of the black ledger?” asked Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee.

“I have,” Holmes said.

Nunes then asked if the black ledger is seen as credible information.

“Yes,” Holmes said.

It didn’t seem to be the answer Nunes was expecting: “The black ledger is credible?”

“Yes,” Holmes said, again.

You may be asking: What’s the black ledger?

In August 2016, the New York Times reported that the name of Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, appeared in a so-called “black ledger” located in Kyiv, next to notations indicating that Manafort had received more than $12 million in off-books payments during his time as a consultant for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

At the time, Manafort denied receiving off-books or cash payments but he resigned from Trump’s campaign.

Some Ukrainians have subsequently alleged that the black ledger is a forgery and Republicans have alleged that it was leaked to hurt the Trump campaign, part of what they say was an effort by Ukrainians to hurt the Republican candidate.

They have accused an investigative journalist and former Ukrainian parliamentarian, Serhiy Leshchenko, of being behind the leak and claimed he was interfering in U.S. politics.

In an editorial published this week, however, Leschenko wrote that though he was the first to publish other pages of the black ledger, he did not have any pages that included Manafort’s name and played no role in its release to the New York Times.

“If I had that information, I would have been the first to publish it,” he wrote in a Kyiv Post column headlined, “Republicans keep lying about me at impeachment hearings.”

At Thursday’s hearing, Nunes kept pressing Holmes: “So, the motivation for Leschenko … was to go after a Trump campaign official and undermine Trump’s candidacy. Are you aware of that?”

“I think Leschenko’s motivation was the same motivation he’s always expressed, which is to expose corruption in Ukraine,” Holmes replied.

By: Aaron C. Davis and Rosalind S. Helderman

10:30 AM: Hill disputes points of Sondland’s testimony, as well as his claim to be in charge of Ukraine policy

Hill disputed Sondland’s testimony that Bolton had endorsed the idea of a phone call between Trump and Zelensky, saying Bolton shared her concerns that Trump was “not properly prepared” to take full advantage of the opportunity to “make sure there was a fulsome bilateral agenda.”

Hill added that Bolton “never indicated in any way” that he accepted Sondland’s claims that he was in charge of the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy — authority Sondland claimed he had from Trump, who he said had given him “very broad authority.”

Hill’s last day at the National Security Council was July 19 — one day after finding out that the Office of Management and Budget had frozen military assistance funds for Ukraine, and six days before the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.

By: Karoun Demirjian

10:25 AM: McCarthy says no need for Trump to testify

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday that he doesn’t think it’s necessary for Trump to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

“I don’t see what the president would have to answer,” McCarthy said at his weekly news conference. “The president gave his transcript. What more would you need?”

McCarthy also said he believes Sondland’s testimony exonerated Trump, telling reporters: “I think it was very clear. There was no quid pro quo.”

However, in his testimony Wednesday, Sondland detailed what he characterized as an explicit quid pro quo with Ukraine at Trump’s ultimate directive.

“Was there a quid pro quo? ... With regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes,” Sondland said.

Asked directly what he thinks was the reason the military aid to Ukraine was finally released, McCarthy said he thinks it’s because Trump “had more confidence in the change in government in Ukraine” after Zelensky’s election.

“You had a new leader inside Ukraine,” he said.

By: Felicia Sonmez

10:05 AM: Grisham discounts importance of hearing witnesses

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham sought to discount the importance of Thursday’s two witnesses and accused Democrats of being motivated by a “sick hatred” for Trump.

“As has been the case throughout the Democrats’ impeachment sham, today’s witnesses rely heavily on their own presumptions, assumptions and opinions,” Grisham said in a statement distributed shortly after the hearing resumed. “These two witnesses, just like the rest, have no personal or direct knowledge regarding why U.S. aid was temporarily withheld.”

She added: “The Democrats are clearly being motivated by a sick hatred for President Trump and their rabid desire to overturn the 2016 election. The American people deserve better.”

By: John Wagner

10:01 AM: Hearing resumes after break for votes on House floor

The Intelligence Committee hearing has resumed after a break to allow members to participate in votes on the House floor.

Questions will be posed by Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top Republican on the panel, and a lawyer for the Republicans for the next 45 minutes.

By: John Wagner

9:30 AM: White House says Democrats are ‘playing right into Russia’s hands’ despite Hill’s testimony to the contrary

The White House distributed talking points Thursday claiming that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Democrats are “playing right into Russia’s hands” by “trying to undermine the legitimacy” of Trump through the impeachment inquiry.

But during her testimony, Hill actually made the opposite point. She emphasized that Russia has sought to throw U.S. politics into “chaos” through disinformation efforts, with the end goal of delegitimizing whichever candidate was elected president in 2016 — whether it had been Trump or former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

“This is exactly what the Russian government was hoping for,” she said. “They seed misinformation, they seed doubt, they have everybody questioning the legitimacy of a presidential candidate, be it President Trump or, potentially, a President Clinton. … And that’s why I wanted to make such a strong point at the very beginning.”

Those efforts continue to pose a threat to U.S. democracy, she added, warning Republicans “not to give them more fodder that they can use against us in 2020” by promoting conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election.

By: Felicia Sonmez

9:00 AM: Pelosi says Democrats aren’t waiting for courts to compel Mulvaney, others to testify

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday ruled out waiting for the courts to compel Mulvaney, Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others to testify in the impeachment hearings.

“Absolutely not,” Pelosi said when asked whether she was suggesting a slower timeline. “We cannot be at the mercy of the courts. Courts are very important in all this. These cases will continue, but I never said we cannot proceed without the courts, because that’s a technique on the part of the administration — just keep, just keep ratcheting up to a higher court.”

A judge is expected to rule in the case of former White House counsel Donald McGahn no later than Monday.

Pelosi also repeated her invitation for Trump to submit testimony, which the White House has suggested is unlikely.

“If the other side has a counter to it, under oath the president can come submit his counter to that, under oath,” she said.

By: Paul Kane

11:45 AM: Justice Department inspector general’s report on FBI’s Russia probe to be delivered Dec. 9

The Justice Department’s inspector general plans to release a long-awaited report on the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign and Russian election interference on Dec. 9, setting the stage for another partisan fight over the president’s conduct and the Justice Department.

Trump and Republicans have been clamoring for the release of the report, particularly as House Democrats have held high-profile impeachment hearings this month.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he had received a letter from Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz that he planned to release the report Dec. 9. Graham said he plans to hold a hearing with testimony from Horowitz two days later.

Read more here.

By: Devlin Barrett

11:30 AM: Witnesses say it was ‘very apparent” that investigating Burisma meant investigating Biden

The U.S. effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate an obscure Ukrainian energy company called Burisma was always an effort to target Biden, both Hill and Holmes testified.

“It was very apparent to me that was what Rudy Giuliani intended,” Hill said, referring to the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Holmes also agreed that Burisma was “code word” for Biden, and testified that anyone involved in Ukraine matters in the spring and summer would have understood that.

The testimony contrasts with remarks earlier this week from two of Trump’s political appointees who helped orchestrate the pressure campaign: the former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker and Sondland.

Volker, in particular, expressed ignorance about knowing about Trump’s intentions regarding Burisma until the White House released a rough transcript of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president.

“I was not made aware of any reference to Vice President Biden or his son by President Trump until the call was released on Sept. 25,” Volker said.

Biden’s son served on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm, a fact several diplomats said created the appearance of a conflict of interest. But they also testified that it would be improper to use government resources to investigate a political rival.

By: John Hudson

11:20 AM: The Ukraine problem continues, witnesses say

In early questioning from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and the Democratic counsel, Hill and Holmes repeatedly sought to stress that the abuse of power questions at issue in the impeachment inquiry are still sending aftershocks across Eastern Europe.

Ukraine and Russia are set to hold a peace summit next month in Paris, Holmes noted, and since talks broke down over the president’s sought-after investigations by Ukraine, the United States has yet to take expected steps ahead of those talks to put Zelensky on equal footing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In essence, the Ukraine issue did not end with Trump lifting a freeze on military assistance in September. To the contrary, Ukraine still understands it may have to take unusual steps to ingratiate itself with Trump, Holmes said.

Ukraine understood that the investigations were “something the [Trump] wanted and they still wanted important things from the president” like the visual of a White House visit to demonstrate support for Zelensky’s administration, Holmes said.

“That continues to this day,” he added.

Ahead of the first face-to-face meeting between Zelensky and Putin, the Ukrainian president “needs President Putin to understand that America supports Zelinsky at the highest levels,” Holmes said.

“Ukraine still needs us,” Holmes said. The country is “still fighting this war this very day.”

Hill, meanwhile, raised the specter of Russia using the impeachment process itself to interfere in the next U.S. presidential election.

She implored members of Congress not to give rise to conspiracy theories that could be used to drive wedges between Americans.

“We need to be very careful as we discuss all of these issues, not to give them more fodder that they can use against us in 2020,” Hill said.

By: Aaron C. Davis

11:15 AM: Pelosi declines to address impeachment timeline

At her weekly news conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to say whether she has heard enough from the witnesses to make a determination on impeachment, offering only, “We will go where the facts take us.”

Pelosi said it’s up to the House committees leading the inquiry to decide on a timeline and on whether testimony from any additional witnesses is needed.

“When we see a violation of the Constitution, we have no choice but to act,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol. “And the evidence is clear that the president, the president, has used his office for his own personal gain — and in doing so, undermined the national security of the United States by withholding military assistance to Ukraine, to the benefit of the Russians.”

Pelosi also mentioned a conversation with Trump in which the president told her his call with Zelensky was “perfect.”

“I said to him, ‘The call was perfectly wrong,’ ” Pelosi said.

By: Felicia Sonmez

11:10 AM: Russian, U.S. support for 2016 conspiracy theory has ‘started to fuse together,’ Hill says

Hill testified that the conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has support in both Russia and the United States and that the support has “started to fuse together.”

Her remark came in response to a question from Democratic lawyer Daniel Goldman, who asked if Trump was “adopting Vladimir Putin’s view over his own senior advisers and intelligence officials” by pushing the idea of Ukrainian election interference.

“I think we have to be very careful about the way that we phrase that,” Hill said.

“This is a view that President Putin and the Russian security services and many actors in Russia have promoted,” she continued. “I think that this view has also got some traction, perhaps in parallel, and separately, here in the United States. Those two things have, over time, started to fuse together.”

Support for the theory is fanned by conservative media and Republican lawmakers, including those involved in the impeachment inquiry.

By: Elise Viebeck

11:05 AM: Holmes describes Sondland call to Trump on July 26

Holmes spent part of his early testimony describing a pivotal July 26 call from Sondland to Trump in a Kyiv restaurant, calling it a “distinctive experience” that he remembers clearly.

Holmes said the call began with Sondland clarifying for Trump that he was in Ukraine.

“Then Ambassador Sondland said [Zelensky] ‘loves your ass, will do whatever you want,’ ” Holmes said.

Daniel Goldman, the lawyer for the Democrats, asked Holmes to confirm that he heard Trump ask Sondland, “Is he going to do the investigation?”

Holmes said yes.

“What was Ambassador Sondland’s response?” Goldman asked.

“He said, ‘Oh yeah, he’s going to do it, he’ll do anything you ask,’ ” Holmes said.

Holmes said he had “never seen anything like this in my Foreign Service career.”

“Someone at a lunch in a restaurant making a call on a cellphone to the president of the United States — being able to hear [the president’s] voice, he has a very distinctive personality ... very colorful language was used. They were directly addressing something that I had been wondering about and working on for weeks and even months, a topic that had led to the recall of my former boss,” Holmes said.

Holmes worked for Yovanovitch, who was removed after a smear campaign by Trump’s allies.

Goldman also asked Holmes to confirm a subsequent conversation in which Sondland told him Trump only cares about “big stuff” in Ukraine like the investigation into the Bidens that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was pushing.

“Correct,” Holmes said.

By: Elise Viebeck

11:00 AM: Impeachment testimonies fall on anniversary of start of Ukrainian protests

Thursday’s impeachment hearing falls on the anniversary of the start of protests in Kyiv that would eventually oust the country’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and prompt a standoff with Moscow.

Those protests began after Yanukovych announced on Nov. 21, 2013, that Ukraine had ditched its plans to sign a pact with the European Union that would have drawn the country closer to the West and further out of the orbit of the Kremlin.

Though Yanukovych was forced out just a few months later, his gilded mansion seized, the Ukrainian revolution saw Russia respond with the seizure of Crimea. Moscow has also supported a separatist conflict in Ukraine’s east that has led to an estimated loss of 13,000 lives.

By: Adam Taylor

10:55 AM: William Taylor has resumed his ambassador duties and has a message for Ukraine

A week after his public testimony in the impeachment inquiry, Taylor has resumed his duties as the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine with a message on the six-year anniversary of the Kyiv Euromaidan protests.

“Ukrainians wanted an end to corruption,” Taylor said in a video posted on Twitter by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. “Reform is difficult. It takes time, it takes commitment, it takes persistence. This is an important time for Ukraine to come through with those commitments that began six years ago and continue today.”

“The United States will continue to stand with Ukrainians as they work to achieve the goals of the Euromaidan,” he added.

Ukraine’s history with corruption has come up often throughout the impeachment inquiry as a Republican rationale for why it wasn’t improper for Trump to ask Zelensky to investigate Burisma, a natural gas company that employed Hunter Biden on its board while his father was vice president.

Holmes referred to the six-year anniversary of the Euromaidan protests in his opening statement Thursday morning.

“Ukrainians want to hear a clear and unambiguous reaffirmation that our long-standing, bipartisan policy of strong support for Ukraine remains unchanged and that we fully back it at the highest levels,” he said.

By: Isabelle Khurshudyan

10:50 AM: Hill says she found July 25 call ‘surprising’

Hill called the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky “surprising,” noting that while she was not present for the conversation, she read the transcript summary once it was released.

Hill did not immediately comment on the call, at first invoking executive privilege.

“I think that as a threshold matter there are issues of classification regarding head of state communications,” her lawyer said.

Then Hill said she would only comment on the July 25 call, which has been declassified.

“I will just say that I found this particular call, its subject matter and the way it was conducted, surprising,” she said.

Hill testified that she and Bolton had opposed a call “for some period” unless groundwork was laid for Trump and Zelensky to speak about issues of mutual agreement and interest.

“I saw in this call that this was not the case,” she told lawmakers.

By: Elise Viebeck

10:45 AM: Impeachment hearings shine spotlight on stories of immigrants


One surprising aspect of the impeachment hearings is that they have shone a spotlight on the stories of officials who were born elsewhere and immigrated to the United States in search of a better life.

Three of the officials who have testified so far — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council expert on Ukraine; former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch; and Hill — are naturalized U.S. citizens.

Vindman was born in Ukraine, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. He immigrated to the United States as a child. Yovanovitch is the Canadian-born daughter of Russians who fled the Soviet Union.

And Hill came to the United States from northeast England, where her poor background and working-class accent were obstacles to her advancement. In her testimony Thursday morning, she described herself as “an American by choice.”

“I grew up poor, with a very distinctive working-class accent,” she said. “In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement. This background has never set me back in America.”

By: Felicia Sonmez

10:15 AM: Pelosi joins veterans calling for impeachment

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined a demonstration Thursday at which several dozen veterans advocated for Congress to set aside politics and hold the president accountable.

The organization, Defend American Democracy, unfurled a banner outside the Capitol that read “Veterans for Impeachment” and waved signs that called for “Country Over Politics.”

“We all take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Pelosi said. “This isn’t about politics, it’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s not about partisanship. It’s about patriotism.”

Pelosi’s appearance showed “veterans’ voices matter in this process,” said Alan Pitts, a U.S. Army veteran who was wounded while serving in Iraq in 2004.

Pitts said the veterans’ rally was asking Congress “to do the right thing, do their job, uphold their oath, get the facts out on the table.”

Defend American Democracy describes itself as a “bipartisan campaign to call on Congress to put politics aside when it comes to impeachment and hold the president accountable for his abuse of power.” Representatives of the group have visited five House districts to call on lawmakers to do just that and recently announced a “seven figure ad buy” in 14 congressional districts.

By: Kayla Epstein

10:00 AM: Holmes says he heard Trump demand ‘investigations’ from Ukrainians

In his prepared opening statement, Holmes, a career Foreign Service officer based in Kyiv, testified that on July 26, he overheard Trump ask Sondland whether Zelensky would open the “investigations.” The call came as Sondland called the White House on his personal cellphone from an open-air cafe in Kyiv.

Holmes said the president was speaking loudly enough on the call to be overheard and that Sondland replied that Zelensky would do anything Trump asked. After the call concluded, Holmes testified that he asked Sondland what Trump thought of Ukraine.

Holmes said the ambassador, who had taken an informal role leading Ukraine policy, responded that Trump did not care at all about Ukraine and only cared about the “big stuff” that affected him personally — namely, “the Biden investigation.”

Holmes’s public testimony on Thursday matched information he provided to the committee previously behind closed doors. But he repeated his account even after Sondland testified Wednesday that he did not believe he had specifically referenced Biden while speaking to Holmes after the phone call.

Sondland has insisted that while he was aware Trump was pushing the Ukrainians to open investigations into the 2016 campaign and an energy company called Burisma, he did not realize Trump wanted the Ukrainians to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, which he now thinks is inappropriate.

Burisma employed Hunter Biden on its board.

By Holmes’s account, Sondland and others pressing the Ukrainians understood early that what Trump wanted was the announcement of an investigation into his political rival, not just about corruption in Ukraine.

Holmes’s meaty opening statement otherwise tracked a lengthy narrative describing how U.S. officials in Kyiv began to understand how Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani came to have “a direct influence on the foreign policy agenda.”

Holmes testified that he learned a White House meeting for Ukraine’s new president, desperately sought by the Ukrainians, was being conditioned on Zelensky opening the political investigations Trump wanted.

By early September, Holmes testified, he had developed a “clear impression” that stalled military assistance dollars was also being held up by Trump “either as an expression of dissatisfaction that the Ukrainians had not yet agreed to the Burisma/Biden investigation or as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so.”

By: Rosalind S. Helderman

9:30 AM: Trump seeks to undercut Holmes’s testimony

Shortly before Holmes was recognized for his opening statement, Trump took to Twitter to try to undermine his testimony.

Holmes is expected to testify about an overheard cellphone call between Trump and Sondland in which Trump asked about “investigations.”

“I have been watching people making phone calls my entire life,” Trump tweeted. “My hearing is, and has been, great. Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!”

By: John Wagner

9:30 AM: Schiff suggests testimony of Hill, Holmes will bind together various events

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) suggested the testimony of Hill and Holmes would serve as glue to bind together the various events of interest in the impeachment inquiry.

In his opening statement, Schiff wove their observations into a timeline touching on the actions of Sondland and Trump and the reactions of Bolton and others. It was an effort to show a methodical campaign to press Zelensky into promising politically charged investigations that would benefit Trump.

Both Hill and Holmes are Ukraine experts who were posted to their offices in Washington and Kyiv before the launch of the so-called irregular Ukraine campaign led by Giuliani and the self-styled “three amigos,” and both observed some of the pivotal events to the impeachment probe.

The disjointed nature of testimony from previous hearings have left Democrats open to criticism from Republicans.

In his opening statement, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the committee, called the proceedings “a carousel of accusations” and a “wrenching attempt to overthrow the president.”

Nunes also challenged Hill’s expected testimony, taking issue with her criticism of some GOP members for making light of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“It’s entirely possible for two separate governments to engage in election meddling at the same time,” Nunes said, referring to Russia and Ukraine.

Holmes and Hill are both expected to debunk charges of Ukrainian election interference.

By: Karoun Demirjian

9:25 AM: Schiff foreshadows decision ahead on impeachment

In his opening statement, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) foreshadowed the decision ahead on whether to move forward with impeaching Trump.

“In the coming days, Congress will determine what response is appropriate,” he said. “If the president abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe a vulnerable ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts — a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid — it will be up to us to decide, whether those acts are compatible with the office of the presidency.”

By: John Wagner

9:20 AM: Trump tweets as Schiff delivers opening statement

As House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) delivered his opening statement, Trump took to Twitter again, writing, “Read the two Transcripts of Ukrainian calls!”

Trump has argued that he did nothing wrong in a July call with Zelensky because he did not explicitly condition the resumption of withheld military aid on investigations that could benefit him politically.

An earlier call in April, shortly after Zelensky won his election, has not been central to the impeachment inquiry.

By: John Wagner

9:05 AM: Schiff gavels hearing open

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) has gaveled the hearing open and is proceeding with an opening statement.

By: John Wagner

8:25 AM: Hill, Holmes arrive for scheduled testimony

Hill and Holmes have arrived at the Longworth Office Building on Capitol Hill ahead of their scheduled 9 a.m. appearances before the House Intelligence Committee.

By: John Wagner

8:15 AM: Trump lashes out again at the inquiry, calls Democrats ‘human scum’

Trump lashed out again at the impeachment inquiry in morning tweets on Thursday, including one in which he referred to Democrats participating in the process as “human scum.”

In his tweets, Trump urged fellow Republicans to stick by him and directed scorn in particular toward House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).

“Corrupt politician Adam B. Schiff’s lies are growing by the day,” Trump tweeted. “Keep fighting tough, Republicans, you are dealing with human scum who have taken Due Process and all of the Republican Party’s rights away from us during the most unfair hearings in American History. But we are winning big, and they will soon be on our turf.”

With “our turf,” Trump was seemingly referring to a trial that would take place in the Republican-led Senate if he is impeached in the Democrat-led House.

While Trump has repeatedly complained of a lack of rights for Republicans, they are participating in questioning of all witnesses. The Democrats control which witnesses can appear, however. In a Senate trial, Trump would have the ability to call witnesses.

In another tweet, Trump wrote, “I never in my wildest dreams thought my name would in any way be associated with the ugly word, Impeachment!”

He continued to insist his July call with Zelensky, which is central to the inquiry, is “PERFECT.”

By: John Wagner

7:45 AM: Hill to warn of ‘fictional narrative’ on Ukraine

Hill is expected to open her testimony before the impeachment inquiry with a withering condemnation of House members seeking to sow doubt about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services,” Hill says in her opening statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

The statement amounts to an apparent rebuke of Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, and others who have used hearings to advance claims that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that waged information warfare against the United States in 2016.

Hill’s remarks also appear to be aimed at Trump, who has been depicted by numerous witnesses as either convinced that Ukraine sought to defeat him in 2016, or advancing that conspiratorial claim as a way of deflecting attention from Russia’s involvement.

“The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions,” Hill says. “It is beyond dispute.”

Read more here.

By: Greg Miller

7:30 AM: Hill and Holmes scheduled to testify at 9 a.m.

Hill and Holmes are scheduled to appear side-by-side starting at 9 a.m., and Democrats hope they will provide more damaging testimony about Trump’s alleged efforts to condition military aid and a White House meeting on investigations that could benefit him politically.

Hill could provide a window into the thinking of Bolton, who has so far refused to testify. She and other officials have testified that Bolton was quite upset about how Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, were handling Ukraine policy and sidestepping the national security and diplomat apparatus.

In earlier closed-door testimony, Hill described in detail two July meetings at the White House where Sondland brought up to the Ukrainian investigations wanted by Trump, which she said alarmed national security officials. She said Bolton abruptly ended the meeting in his office with his Ukrainian counterpart after Sondland blurted out a reference to “the investigations.”

Hill also described Bolton characterizing the efforts of Sondland and Mulvaney on Ukraine as a “drug deal.”

Hill was also the supervisor of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council expert on Ukraine, and she was succeeded in her position by Tim Morrison. Both Vindman and Morrison testified Tuesday.

Holmes, meanwhile, is one of the few witnesses who heard Trump ask about “investigations” that he wanted Zelensky to undertake.

In his closed-door deposition on Saturday, Holmes described a lunch with Sondland the day after Trump’s July 25 phone call in which he asked Zelensky for “a favor.” Holmes testified that during the lunch he overheard a call between Sondland and Trump in which he could hear Trump ask: “So, he’s going to do the investigations?”

According to Holmes, Sondland replied: “He’s going to do it,” adding, “Do anything you ask him to.”

By: John Wagner and Amber Phillips

7:15 AM: Trump to honor actor, musician, novelist and others as impeachment proceedings continue

As the impeachment inquiry proceeds on Capitol Hill, Trump has one event on his public schedule Thursday: the presentation at the White House of the National Medal of the Arts and the National Humanities Medal to eight recipients.

Medal recipients include actor Jon Voight, musician Alison Krauss and novelist James Patterson. The event is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in the East Room.

By: John Wagner

7:00 AM: In Ukraine, the impeachment hearings are met with a big yawn

KYIV — Ukraine is at the center of the impeachment inquiry against Trump. But here at the middle of the storm, there’s scarcely any knowledge of what is unfolding in Washington.

Ukrainian leaders have done their best to stay out of it, seeing only peril in commenting for fear Democrats or Republicans could use them as fuel in their partisan brawl. Local media is filled with domestic intrigue about leaked corruption-related recordings, uncertain prospects of peace in eastern Ukraine, and questions about where Ukraine’s comedian turned president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is taking the nation. And in the capital Kyiv, ordinary citizens are far more focused on their own pocketbook concerns.

In the United States, “it seems there is no interesting topic other than Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told The Washington Post on Tuesday at the end of a news conference. “Ukraine was always proud of support from both sides in Congress, and we would like to preserve that support. We need to solve the conflict in the east, and we don’t need to be involved in a conflict on the other side of the world.”

Despite a day of dramatic testimony in Washington in which Sondland declared flatly that Trump demanded that Zelensky investigate his political opponents in exchange for a sought-after White House meeting, and said that he likely told Trump that Zelensky “loves your ass,” there was no mention of it Thursday in a daily roundup of the “main news” from prominent media outlet Ukrainska Pravda. Nor have the hearings been featured prominently in television coverage.

Read more here.

By: Michael Birnbaum and David L. Stern

6:30 AM: Impeachment a lively topic at Democratic debate

Impeachment was among the topics covered in Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta, where five of the 10 candidates who appeared on the stage were U.S. senators who may ultimately have to decide whether to convict Trump during a trial that could coincide with voting in the early nominating contests next year.

“The president felt free to break the law again and again and again,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. “We have to establish the principle: No one is above the law. We have a constitutional obligation, and we need to meet it.”

“We have a criminal living in the White House,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) said.

Following the debate, the Trump campaign fired back.

“Tonight, 2020 Democrats were short on solutions and heavy on their unhealthy obsession with taking down President Trump via an illegitimate coup,” campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement, in which she accused Democrats of trying “to defeat [Trump] in the halls of Congress rather than at the ballot box.”

Read more about the debate here.

By: John Wagner

6:00 AM: Trump shares favorable moments from Sondland testimony

As part of the White House’s efforts to contain damage from earlier testimony, President Trump shared a video on Twitter late Wednesday night titled “5 MOMENTS DEMOCRATS DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE.”

The video featured five exchanges with between Sondland and House Intelligence Committee lawyers and members.

During his testimony, Sondland described how he came to believe there was a campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in exchange for a coveted White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military aid. But Sondland repeatedly said he never heard directly from Trump that the military aid was conditioned on the investigations.

The exchanges highlighted the latter point.

“I don’t recall President Trump ever talking to me about any security assistance, ever,” Sondland said in one of the exchanges.

The video closed with a clip of Trump saying, “That means it’s all over,” followed by a tweet of his from Wednesday that read, “If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!”

By: John Wagner

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