Overnight Defense: Dems release first impeachment probe transcripts | White House officials refuse to testify Monday | US, Iran mark 40th anniversary of hostage crisis

Overnight Defense: Dems release first impeachment probe transcripts | White House officials refuse to testify Monday | US, Iran mark 40th anniversary of hostage crisis
© Greg Nash

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


THE TOPLINE: The House's impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE entered a new phase Monday as Democrats released the first set of transcripts from their closed-door depositions.

The trio committees leading the inquiry released the transcripts for former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and top State Department official Michael McKinley, offering the first look at what witnesses told investigators about Trump's contacts with Ukraine.


"As we move towards this new public phase of the impeachment inquiry, the American public will begin to see for themselves the evidence that the committees have collected. With each new interview, we learn more about the President's attempt to manipulate the levers of power to his personal political benefit," the chairs of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees wrote in a joint statement.

"The transcripts of interviews with Ambassadors Yovanovitch and McKinley demonstrate clearly how President Trump approved the removal of a highly respected and effective diplomat based on public falsehoods and smears against Ambassador Yovanovitch's character and her work in support of long-held U.S. foreign policy anticorruption goals," they added.

What Yovanovitch said: Yovanovitch's transcript showed she told House investigators she felt shocked and threatened when she saw that Trump had criticized her during a July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president.

Yovanovitch was asked during her closed-door deposition on Oct. 11 what she thought about Trump calling her "bad news" during the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"I hate to be repetitive, but I was shocked. I mean, I was very surprised that President Trump would -- first of all, that I would feature repeatedly in a presidential phone call, but secondly, that the president would speak about me or any ambassador in that way to a foreign counterpart," Yovanovitch told three House committees, according to the transcript.

Asked what she thought Trump meant when he told Zelensky that she was "going through some things," Yovanovitch replied that she didn't know but that it concerned her.

When asked whether she felt threatened, she replied, "Yes." 

More on the transcripts: The Hill's Cristina Marcos, Scott Wong, Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant have five takeaways from the transcripts here.

And here's the transcript for Yovanovitch, and here's the transcript for McKinley.

Trump says he doesn't know her: Trump said Monday he doesn't know Yovanovitch, a similar reaction to when she first testified.

"I really don't know her," Trump told reporters at the White House before departing for a campaign rally in Lexington, Ky.

"But if you look at the transcript, the president of Ukraine was not a fan of her's either. He did not exactly say glowing things," Trump continued, pointing to a rough transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the center of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

"I'm sure she's a very fine woman, I just don't know much about her," Trump continued.

Trump previously distanced himself from the controversy on Oct. 11 when Yovanovitch originally testified, saying he didn't know her.

Concern about Giuliani's role: The new blow-by-blow transcript accounts provide additional support for some of the central allegations in the whistleblower complaint that sparked the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry in late September, revealing the high degree of concern among State Department veterans — both in Ukraine and Washington — surrounding the administration’s pressure campaign. Central to that campaign was Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiSunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Moussaoui says he now renounces terrorism, bin Laden Democrats launch probe into Trump's firing of State Department watchdog, Pompeo MORE, who worked outside government channels in a multi-pronged effort to oust Yovanovitch; help his business partners win contracts in Kiev; and press Ukrainian leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE, a leading contender in the 2020 presidential race.

More from The Hill's Olivia Beavers and Mike Lillis here.

Monday's witnesses refuse to testify: Two White House officials subpoenaed to testify as part of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry declined to appear at the Capitol on Monday morning, and two others were also no-shows.

John Eisenberg, senior attorney at the National Security Council (NSC), and Robert Blair, senior adviser to acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic Trump taps Brooke Rollins as acting domestic policy chief MORE, were scheduled to testify at 9 a.m. as part of the ongoing investigation into President Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

Democrats had also sought the testimony of two other figures Monday afternoon: Michael Ellis, one of Eisenberg's deputies, and Brian McCormack, associate director for natural resources, energy and science at the Office of Management and Budget.

Lawmakers leaving the closed-door deposition room in the Capitol said they were informed by staff that none of the figures will likely appear.

"It seems like a blanket position that they're taking," said Rep. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchHouse Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia Hillicon Valley: House Dems push for B in state election funds | Amazon suspends over 6,000 sellers for price gouging | Google says 18M malicious coronavirus emails sent daily House Democrats push hard for mail-in voting funds MORE (D-Mass.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. "They will notify us, but right now it's our expectation that no one will show today."

For Eisenberg, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to his attorney, William Burck, on Sunday that the Justice Department had advised him that Eisenberg, as a senior adviser to Trump, is "absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters related to his service as a senior adviser to the President."

"The constitutional immunity of current and former senior advisers to the President exists to protect the institution of the Presidency and, as stated by former Attorney General [Janet] Reno, 'may not be overborne by competing congressional interests," Cipollone wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill.

"Accordingly, in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of the President today and in the future, and in response to your request, the President directs Mr. Eisenberg not to appear at the Committee's deposition," Cipollone wrote.

Burck notified House committees on Monday that his client would not appear for a scheduled deposition that same day, according to another letter. Eisenberg had been issued a subpoena to compel his appearance on Friday.


US, IRAN FLEX ON 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF HOSTAGE CRISIS: Monday marks the 40th anniversary of the takeover the U.S. Embassy in Tehran that started what's become known as the Iran hostage crises.

The Trump administration marked the day by levying new sanctions on close advisers to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The targeted individuals include Ebrahim Raisi, the head of Iran's Judiciary; Mojtaba Khamenei, Khamenei's second son; Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, Khamenei's chief of staff; and Vahid Haghanian, who Treasury said "has been referred to as the Supreme Leader's right hand."

The administration also announced the State Department's Rewards for Justice program is offering a reward of $20 million for credible information leading to the safe return of Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in 2007 while on a CIA-contracted mission in Iran.

The United States believes the Iranian government was involved in his disappearance, though Iran denies the charge.

In Iran: Iranian officials marked the day by announcing they were doubling the amount of advanced centrifuges they are operating.

In a display filmed by state television, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran turned on 30 IR-6 centrifuges, bringing Iran's total to 60.

The nuclear deal between Iran and other world powers limited Iran to 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium. Iran says the IR-6 can produce enriched uranium 10 times faster than the IR-1.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the atomic agency, also announced Iran is developing an IR-9 centrifuge he said will be 50 times faster than the IR-1.


THE POLITICS OF THE BAGHDADI RAID: Over the weekend, The Hill's Ellen Mitchell took a look at how Trump is seeking use the successful raid against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a part of his reelection campaign.

Since the raid, Trump has boasted at campaign rallies and in political ads about the operation that ended with the death of the terrorist leader.

But experts say the payoff at the voting booth is likely to be minimal, partly because Election Day is a year away and because al-Baghdadi was never well known in the U.S.

Read more on the politics here.



The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold the "Building a Peace Regime on the Korean Peninsula" forum at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/2NLzfyq

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump marks Memorial Day at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Fort McHenry Pentagon charts its own course on COVID-19, risking Trump's ire Birx: 'I'm very concerned when people go out and don't maintain social distancing' MORE will speak at the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence's conference at 3 p.m. Livestream at defense.gov/live.



-- The Hill: Cheney to introduce legislation preventing Trump administration from renewing Iran sanctions waivers

-- The Washington Post: In South Korea, military cost dispute and Trump's moves in Syria fuel doubts over U.S. commitment

-- Associated Press: Turkey says it captured slain ISIS leader's sister in Syria

-- Bloomberg: General Dynamics gets a multibillion-dollar Navy sub deal

-- Reuters: At least six killed as security forces open fire on Iraq protesters