Trump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting
Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans'
President Trump on Tuesday hailed the third day of public impeachment proceedings as a "great day for Republicans" following a pair of hearings that offered sharply different interpretations of whether the president behaved improperly.
"A great day for Republicans, a great day for our Country!" Trump tweeted as the second of two hearings on the day came to a close.
Trump declared earlier in the day that "Republicans are absolutely killing it" in a show of approval for the performance of his GOP allies.
Four witnesses testified before the House Intelligence Committee over the course of two separate public hearings Tuesday that lasted nearly 11 hours total.
The first hearing featured testimony from Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, who oversees Ukraine policy for the National Security Council (NSC), and Jennifer Williams, a State Department aide focused on Eurasia affairs who is detailed to the vice president's office. Both witnessed Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky firsthand and testified that it was "unusual" and "improper."
Republicans largely skirted around defending Trump on the substance of his conduct during that hearing, instead seeking to call into question Vindman's judgment and paint him as undermining the president's agenda.
The day ended with a pair of witnesses Republicans had sought testimony from, outgoing NSC official Tim Morrison and Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.
Republicans were able to extract some positive storylines from their testimony, including explicit denials that Trump bribed Ukraine and assertions that they were not alarmed by the much-scrutinized July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.
Trump and his allies held up Morrison in particular as a credible witness who aided their argument.
"Tim Morrison was actually on the Ukraine phone call, testified that he had no concerns about it, and confirmed that the transcript of the call is accurate," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.
Morrison told Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) that he did not hear anything on the call that he perceived to be improper or equivalent to bribery.
"I've been trying to stay on the safe side of making legal conclusions, but no, sir, I did not hear him make any sort of demand," Morrison said.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), whom Trump recognized by name in a tweet on Sunday, got Morrison to directly reject that there was any quid pro quo, bribery or talk of withholding aid on the July 25 call.
Republicans also sought to use Morrison to undercut Vindman's credibility. The White House's official Twitter account shared a quote on Tuesday afternoon in which he said he had "concerns" about Vindman's judgment, a direct criticism of one of its own employees.
GOP lawmakers picked up on that thread with Morrison sitting before the committee, getting him to confirm publicly that other members of the National Security Council had come to him with concerns about Vindman.
But under questioning from Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman, Morrison recounted a conversation with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland during which he described military assistance as being contingent on Ukraine launching investigations.
Morrison said that Sondland told him that he communicated to Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak "that the Ukrainians would have to have the prosecutor general make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition to having the aid lifted."
Otherwise, the back-to-back hearings yielded no new evidence to advance Democrats' allegations of a quid pro quo related to Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani's effort to press Ukraine to launch investigations into 2016 election interference and former Vice President Joe Biden.
"Today's second hearing is over, and the Democrats' central allegation in this impeachment sham has again been completely debunked," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. "Specifically, Ambassador Volker confirmed under oath that he had no indication whatsoever of anything that resembled a quid-pro-quo, corroborating his previous deposition testimony that 'there was no linkage like that.' With the Democrats' poll-tested 'quid-pro-quo' and 'bribery' narratives in shambles, the American public should not be forced to endure this charade for one more second."
But Volker's testimony also zeroed in on Giuliani as problematic and highlighted concerns about the July 25 phone call.
Volker, who has denied any involvement in or knowledge of an effort to investigate the Bidens, acknowledged that he should have recognized the push for the Ukraine probe of Burisma - a Ukrainian gas company with ties to Biden's son - as targeting Biden, which he said was "unacceptable."
Volker also described allegations pushed by Giuliani about the Bidens and 2016 election interference as "conspiracy theories" that shouldn't be part of U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
Both officials agreed that it would be inappropriate for foreign governments to investigate domestic political rivals when pressed by Democratic lawmakers.
"To investigate the vice president of the United States or someone who's a United States official, I don't think we should be asking foreign governments to do that," Volker said. "I would also say that's true of a political rival."
Morrison concurred that it would be inappropriate to investigate a political rival when provided with hypothetical examples but reiterated to lawmakers that he did not find anything wrong with Trump's July 25 call in which he raised the Bidens.
And while Volker said that he did not know of "any linkage" between a hold on security assistance to Ukraine and investigations sought by Giuliani "at the time" he was connecting Trump's attorney to Yermak, he acknowledged that more information has come to light since his Oct. 3 closed-door testimony.
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, has described an effort driven by Giuliani to use a White House meeting and security assistance to Ukraine to pressure Kyiv to launch investigations. Sondland, who is slated to testify Wednesday, has also corrected his private testimony to describe his September conversation with Yermak and acknowledge that he "presumed" security assistance to be tied to the push for investigations.
The back hearings set the stage for Sondland's high-stakes testimony on Wednesday, during which he's expected to be grilled on new revelations about a July 26 phone call with Trump during which the president is said to have spoken to him about the "investigation" into Biden he raised on the phone call with Zelensky the day prior.
Trump has sought to distance himself from Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and donor to Trump's inaugural committee, since he began cooperating in the House impeachment inquiry.