Who is Kurt Volker? Impeachment inquiry first witness.

We are allegedly soon to begin the second of our two hearings today. Coming up: Tim Morrison – former National Security Counsel official in charge of overseeing Russia and Europe policy Kurt Volker – former Special Representative to Ukraine Mute this if boring to you…

You’ll be happy to know that I wolfed down a cheeseburger and beer during the break. It was good but the pace of consumption made it less than satisfying. There will be a follow-up round required after this next hearing. Maybe I’ll get a salad.

While we wait, Rep. Jim Himes just said on MSNBC that there is talk that one of the Intel Committee’s deposed witnesses may be poised to amend their testimony. If this is true, it would seem likely the witness would be Volker revising the record to match what he will say today.

Okay, apparently the media reports indeed suggest Volker has or will be amending his prior testimony. Folks, affix your chinstraps. We’re about to pick up some speed here. Volker amending and testifying today. Sondland tomorrow. We are in for some high-octane incrimination.

If I had known we were going to drag past 3 pm before starting this second round, I would have savored that burger and beer. Alas, an opportunity lost.

This afternoon’s witnesses are now seated in chambers and we are underway. Schiff calls the room to order. Here we gooooo…

Schiff makes clear Morrison and Volker are witnesses requested by the Republican minority on the Intel Committee. This should be interesting. Volker’s prior testimony wasn’t terribly damaging for Trump but felt less than fulsome. He’s a mini-Sondland. Moment of truth for him.

As has been the case in the prior hearings, Schiff is setting the table with a playback of key facts. Among the setup nuggets: – Morrison was on the 7/25 call – Both Morrison and Volker worked on a draft statement to be delivered by Zelensky

One key area of inquiry today will be the events around the drafting of that statement. We know Giuliani provided edits and feedback – including insisting that Burisma be named specifically. We’ll see how much Volker and Morrison cough up about that set of events…

Schiff turns it over to Devin Nunes. I love you people. I really do. Yet, having now listened to Nunes’ opening and closing remarks and his questioning block, it is not reasonable to ask me to attentively endure this prattle factory’s ignorant, masturbatory tripe.

I will use the remainder of Nunes’ time to list out some of my favorite things. – bacon – beer – when Devin Nunes shuts up Shuuuuuuuut up.

Hunter Biden. Drink! Alexandra Chalupa. Drink! All I need is “Steele Dossier” for Devin Nunes Bingo.

Schiff now introducing the witnesses and their bios. Volker – served under five presidents – both D’s and R’s Morrison – served on the Hill as a congressional staffer and aid to a Republican House committee before joining the National Security Counsel

Tim Morrison is apparently about 12 feet tall. The dude is tall. He had at least two feet on Volker. Nobody dunks on Tim Morrison.

Morrison opens with prepared remarks. Stresses that Ukraine is on the front lines of a soft war between Russia and the West. Describes their ongoing conflict with Russia as “fighting over there so we don’t have to fight over here.”

Kurt Volker opens with prepared remarks. Emphasizes that he testified first voluntarily and is doing so again today. Began public service under Reagan. Served under George HW Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush. Came back on an unpaid basis under Trump.

Volker lays out how he led the effort to bluntly classify Russian aggression toward Ukraine as an “invasion and occupation”. This is setting up as the statement of someone looking to put maximum daylight between his diplomacy and Trump’s extortion of an ally.

Volker pivots to the meat… While he was working hard to advance our interests and those of Ukraine and was succeeding, Trump was getting an earful from bad actors poisoning his opinion of Ukraine. Chief among them: Giuliani

Volker has now mentioned “Giuliani” at least five times in two minutes. He has also repeated over and over Trump’s “negative view” of Ukraine was at the root of the problem – a negative view he had been spoonfed by… Rudy Giuliani.

Y’all, having read Volker’s earlier testimony, whether this is a change in content or tone or just the power of hearing it versus reading it, this is substantially more harsh and indicting than I took from his prior testimony. Translation: Volker brought the lumber today.

Worth noting that Volker, 54, is of a different ilk than prior witnesses. He has been a public figure in prior roles and is not cowed by the setting of testifying to Congress. He is a career Repub more senior than many of the R’s on the Committee. He is more man than the boys.

Going to be interesting to watch Jim Jordan and co. try to take a run at him. That likely won’t go well. Anyway, Volker now reading out his efforts to broker a meeting between the White House and Zelensky. He is trying hard to shade the truth here.

Volker is basically suggesting he was right in the thick of discussions about everything from unfreezing relations between US and Ukr and issuing a statement mentioning Burisma but somehow remained in the dark about the extortion connecting the two. Not. Remotely. Plausible.

“In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently… and if I had, I would have raised my own objections.” Well, gosh, if I had known the fellas in the ski mask were robbing the bank, I would have never volunteered to drive them home. My bullshit meter is smoking.

And we’re on to the 45-minute blocks of committee counsel questions. Schiff suggests he’s poised to just yield to minority counsel – which would be odd – no block for Dan Goldman? Or would he go second since these were Repub witness requests?

Schiff opens by asking about former Ukrainian prosecutor, Lutsenko, who Giuliani saw as a useful partner in cooking up fake investigations. Volker basically describes Lutsenko as out of a job and thirsty after the election of Zelensky. A shady dude looking to make shady friends.

Okay, ignore the point above. Schiff kicks it over to Dem counsel, Dan Goldman. This is going to be good because Volker’s depiction strains credulity which will likely be revealed under cross. And Goldman gets going by drawing an admission Volker knew Burisma had Biden ties.

Just to be clear on Volker’s position thus far: 1) He thinks the Bidens did nothing wrong 2) He thinks the Ukrainian Giuliani ally, Lutsenko, is full of shit 3) He didn’t realize all of this was about targeting the Bidens for dirt

Goldman now displaying texts to and from Volker in which they discuss what certainly appears to be the subject of Trump’s demand for an announcement of investigations. Again, Volker is trying to thread a needle here… “I realize it was shady now but didn’t know that then.”

The above is a paraphrase not a quote. Morrison now detailing what we’ve heard from other witnesses ad infinitum in different ways: the consensus of all involved in the State Dept and diplomatic corp was that Ukraine very much deserved full throated support. Only Trump objected

Goldman following the same line of questions he used this morning with Williams and Vindman re: Trump’s comments on the 7/25 call with Zelensky Punchline: Trump was off-script and spouting positions and views he wasn’t briefed on and weren’t the views of State, the NSC, etc.

Important moment. Goldman presses Volker to explain what he meant by earlier testimony saying the push for investigations was in Trump’s personal interests not our national interests. Volker dissembles somewhat but basically repeats the above in a more abstruse and rambling way.

Another important moment: Tim Morrison testifies: 1) He was on the 7/25 call 2) Trump was off-script 3) He was concerned 4) So he spoke to the NSC counsel (John Eisenberg) but… 5) He was only worried about domestic political fallout not that there had been wrongdoing

Then, Morrison goes on to allege that the documentation of the call (the transcript that wasn’t a transcript…) was only put on a different, more private server because of… an administrative error. Tim Morrison strikes me as lying like a goddamn rug. Dude, come on.

Judging from Morrison’s apparent willingness to sling some Grade A implausible horseshit, the cross-exam here could be a mess. Entirely possible he is going to happily try to rehab Trump in his testimony. Not loving where this is going. Hope I’m wrong.

Lots of questions about the messaging back and forth between Volker, Sondland, et al, about efforts to get an announcement from Zelensky of Trump’s requested investigations. Volker still alleging he was waist deep in the dirty planning while somehow not getting wet.(eyeroll.gif)

As a programming note, I may not make it all the way through the full 6.5 hour go-round here. Or maybe I will run for coffee somewhere in there and press on. We’ll see. This is a lot. And with Jim Jordan on deck, my vim and vigor are neither vimful or vigorous.

See, that should have been neither/nor. I’m flagging. Coffee is needed. I’m sorry. Anyway, back to it.

Morrison now testifying about his attendance at the meeting between Pence and Zelensky and that Ukraine was clearly concerned about the hold on aid. Said it was Zelensky’s first topic. Says Pence characterized Trump’s concern about “corruption”.

Morrison is not great at shading the truth to help Trump. Says Pence told Zelensky we were “reviewing the aid”. Goldman: Was there a review of the aid going on? Morrison: (long rambling answer saying ‘well, we have a whole review process’) Goldman: yeah, but that was done.

Morrison is trying so hard to not bury Trump but he just can’t pull it off without incriminating himself so he is coming off as a guy trying as hard as possible to make damning testimony sound less damning.

Morrison essentially just testified that by early September he knew the Ukraine aid was being held up over the shakedown for investigations into Biden. He knew that because Sondland told him… and Sondland knew that because, according to Sondland, Trump had told him.

Morrison strikes me as a relatively smart dude TBH. He isn’t throwing Trump under the bus with prejudice. He clearly doesn’t want to… Yet, his testimony is delivering lacerating cuts to Trump’s alibi and defenses. This is an insider confessing to the mob bosses crimes.

Goldman wraps up. Schiff kicks it to Nunes for the minority’s 45-minute block. Nunes opens with “I have some bad news. TV ratings are way down.” Fuck this asshole. I’m going to get coffee. Back shortly.

Minority counsel Steve Castor gets Volker to testify that he did not know the reason for the delay in the release of aid. That is not dispositive. It helps Volker by distancing him from the chicanery. It does nothing to exonerate Trump.

Further, Volker testifies he didn’t see automatic reason for alarm in the 55-day delay. He merely assumed there was an issue in need of resolution. Remarkably incurious whose sole function was to advance interests he testified previously supported such a release.

Per the prior point, Volker’s lack of insight into the reasons for the delay, even if true, serves only to distance Volker from the corrupt scheme in play. It does nothing to exonerate Trump. It provides no alternative narrative for how the delay might be other than corrupt.

This entire vector – which Castor and others have pursued with multiple witnesses – amounts to nothing more than “If some people gullible knew no better, we should ignore the testimony of people who knew exactly what happened and why.”

Morrison chimes in to offer the alibi he was given for the delay while making clear it was just that – a rationale fed to him by others. Explains he was told the aid was being held during explorations of Europe providinf greater support – which Morrison would have known if true.

What is remarkable here is that these are two witnesses Republicans believed would help Trump. Thus far, each has managed to insulate themselves from liability while in no meaningful way helping Trump.

Since each quickly resigned and testified willingly, Trump likely expected a less than super helpful defense from them. However, he will nonetheless be more angered by these two far more than by Vindman. Expect rage-tweeting.

As a side note, I did indeed get coffee. The above were a combination of stoplights, waiting in line and tweets from the parking lot. Lord, I am tired of typing today.

Volker now explaining that at some point he came to feel like he owed Zelensky a straight answer about why he wasn’t getting a White House meeting and things weren’t advancing. Volker testified that he told Zelensky that Giuliani’s badmouthing was poisoning the well. Ooof.

Volker adds that he suggested to Zelensky that he should call Trump directly to try to build some goodwill and break through Trump’s negative view – which, again, Volker attributed to Giuliani feeding him conspiracy theories and horseshit.

Let that marinate for a bit. The Special Envoy to a key strategic ally was left with no choice but to suggest a foreign leader that he should try to talk the President of the United States out of false beliefs he had been fed by someone outside government. Insanity. INSANITY.

Castor asks Volker if he believes he was a witness to bribery or extortion. Volker testifies that he was not aware of what he regarded as either. Again, that does not exonerate Trump. It exonerates Volker.

Okay, this is funny to me… Wonky and insidey but funny. In last week’s testimony, Castor tried to raise the issue of Burisma adding Hunter Biden to their board as if it suggested wrongdoing. The witness testified Burisma also added the President of Poland. Castor was stumped

So, with Volker and Morrison, he tried to resuscitate that point, spin it anew, and kick it back in play. Asked Volker if he was aware of the Board appts. Volker testifies he was aware Burisma was looking to clean up their image. Ooops… again… another miss.

Castor then suggests that maybe Burisma WASN’T cleaning up its image… Maybe it was only cleaning up its board so they could continue to be dirty! AHA! Maybe they installed security cameras to only make you THINK they were against robbery. Lord, this guy is a tedious dope.

We must be nearing the end of Castor’s block of time. As I have thought after each of the first three of these, I am left half-thinking Castor is terrible at this and half-thinking that being boring and irrelevant might actually be his goal – and if so, he is spectacular at it.

Castor tries to use Morrison to discredit the testimony of Vindman regarding the whitewashing of the call “transcript”. Asks Morrison about Vindman’s testimony that the call memo was incomplete and purposely edited out. Morrison answers all questions with “Not that I recall.”

Rather than eliciting a compelling denial of Vindman’s claims, he instead got back what played as more of a CYA denial of recollection. More and more Morrison plays like a guy shielding himself from liability while taking no pleasure in doing harm to Trump.

Castor then tries to take Morrison down a path of badmouthing Vindman by discussing alleged concerns about his performance and trustworthiness. For perhaps the first time today, Morrison’s attorney steps in and shuts it down. Says it is out of scope and they won’t go there.

Translation: You aren’t going to use my client to dumpster-dive for oppo on Lt. Col. Vindman having nothing to do with these matters. That was interesting. Morrison and his counsel apparently saw the smear tactic R’s developed based on his deposition and wanted no part.

Okay, Castor’s block is now complete and we are on recess. We will allegedly be back in 5-10 minutes for the 5-minute round robin of questions from the committee. With 21 members, that’s nearly two hours of additional testimony. At $0 dollars per hour, I am woefully underpaid.

While we wait, two takeaways from Volker and Morrison so far: 1) Each entirely laughed off the idea Biden was in any way dirty or deserving investigation 2) Each threw Rudy under the bus with both hands Trump is going to simmer about Biden getting a better buff job than he did.

And one more, actually… We have heard from two kinds of witnesses: 1) Ones who were in on it 2) Witnesses The one who were in on it all serve up a wholly contradictory couplet of a) adamant support for the Ukraine aid; and b) complete incuriousness when it was delayed

It makes for a weird, self-impeaching phenomenon. “OMG, I LOVE UKRAINE. WE SHOULD ABSOLUTELY HELP THEM!” “Gosh, the aid critical to their survival just got kinda stuck in accounting or something. weird. I didn’t think about it much.”

Okay, so, while we wait… while you folks able to check your timelines probably know this, Volker has apparently amended testimony in a way similar to Sondland. Now says that while he didn’t know it at the time, he now knows Ukraine aid was being used to solicit a Biden invest.

Interesting… a bit of a left turn here. Adam Schiff announces that we will now be going to a supplemental 15-minute round by counsel again. In other words, Dan Goldman is getting a chance to follow-up with add’l questions. There must be a good reason…

This is going to be good. I can feel it in me bones.

Goldman immediately drills into Volker’s prior testimony that the 7/25 call had gone exactly as he expected… …and then he pulls up Volker’s text messages the day before the call directly discussing Zelensky needing to please Trump with promises of investigating corruption.

…and then he pulls the call transcript and points out that Trump did not, in fact, mention “corruption”. He mentioned Biden, the DNC, etc… Volker stammers a bit. Goldman just caught him. Volker used euphemisms in texts, etc, but knew the game all along. That’s my take.

Goldman is bringing the wood. His de facto cross-exam here is harder hitting than his earlier round He is peeling away the various layers of Volker’s denials that he knew or understand what was afoot. This is less about nailing Volker and more proving the jig was well known.

I love this… Volker revised his testimony to acknowledge that he now knows that there had been an illicit quid pro quo all along. Goldman is making him now play back every call, meeting and discussion to acknowledge he now knows the real topic had been the corrupt ask.

That was pretty powerful IMHO. Earlier, we had Volker talking about meetings blithely as if there had been nary a clue anything was wrong. So Goldman made him walk the plank and admit the topic had been dirty whether he knew it or not.

And now Goldman is homing in on Morrison’s implausible denials of what he knew and when. Morrison just looked like a deer in the headlights. Goldman has shifted gears rather sharply from earlier to now. He was a velvet glove earlier. Now he’s brass knuckles.

That was riveting. Goldman’s best moment during the hearings. While Morrison and Volker aren’t exactly hostile witnesses, they aren’t fully cooperating witnesses either. Goldman was incisive, sharp, and in command. Well done. Damn well done.

Schiff hands control over to Nunes. Nunes whines like the PAB he is for five minutes. What a whiny shitbag. Minority Counsel Steve Castor now back at the mic.

In keeping with the protocol, I am listening to Castor while deriving not even the slightest hint of intelligent strategy behind the questions. Thankfully, he wrapped it up. The dude is the proverbial tree falling in the woods with no one there. It makes no sound.

Schiff picks up the questioning. Immediate jumps in to probe disparities between Volker’s original testimony and his now amended testimony and testimony today. Drills right in on Volker allegedly not remembering a highly memorable event…

Volker originally alleged there hadn’t been anything inappropriate or remarkable about the 7/10 meeting with Bolton, Sondland, et al… Numerous people have since testified: 1) Sondland brought up the shakedown 2) Bolton promptly shut the meeting down

It was after that meeting that Bolton called Sondland’s scheme “Giuliani’s drug deal”. Vindman testified this morning that the meeting was ended so abruptly there were agenda topics left untouched. Schiff outed Volker’s selective amnesia.

Man, this second half is more riveting than the first. Schiff, like Goldman, brought out the knives. Schiff now lasering in on Morrison’s prior testimony about the 7/25 call and handling of it. Makes Morrison look like he is covering his ass rather than telling the truth.

Up comes Mike Turner, (R-OH). I expect little will come of these follow-up sessions. There isn’t much to work with here. All Volker and Morrison have done is distance themselves from the conspiracy not rebut that it occurred.

Right on cue, Turner tries to pull a sleight of hand and spin Volker’s and Morrison’s denials as if they were evidence nothing untoward occurred. White noise. Doesn’t withstand scrutiny. This just won’t get the job done. All Turner can do is talk fast and hope to create fog.

I have to say, this hearing has muddied up the landscape for Sondland. Volker has done a pretty good job of reducing the heat under his own ass by feigning ignorance. Sondland is far more squarely in the crosshairs. Still, he’s going to be tempted to try to pull a Volker.

Tomorrow, in some ways, is the whole shooting match… Trump is getting impeached. We know that. He is absolutely getting impeached by the United States House of Representatives. He will likely not be convicted in the Senate. The battle is for the public’s hearts and minds.

Sondland, as the key figure at the heart of the conspiracy, cannot help Trump in any meaningful way. The testimony and corroboration is so plentiful and consistent, he has no room to rewrite the script. However, he can definitely make it far worse for Trump.

Anyway, more on that later. Rep. Jim Himes at the mic now hammering away at how open the discussions were of Giuliani and Sondland going rogue while Mike Pompeo was somehow in the dark and uninvolved. Not plausible but nothing but blank stares from Morrison.

Mike Conaway (R-TX) up now. The man is useless. I won’t waste either of our time.

Rather than write just to write, I’ll add comments as meaningful things occur through the rest of these member rounds. Not much new or significant occurring in these so far. Might get a bit more meat from Swalwell, Castro, Maloney.

Jim Jordan is now yelling. I am sure you are shocked by this. I have no more to say about that.

The Hoarse Whisperer

Updated: December 18, 2019 — 6:10 pm