November 8, 2019

President Trump and his allies have been conducting a dogged mole hunt for impeachment-curious Republicans who might vote with Democrats to either impeach Trump or convict him in the Senate, Tim Alberta reports at Politico . So even before "good soldier" Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) sent shockwaves through Washington by suggesting, first privately then on CNN, that impeaching Trump might be appropriate, "the once-invisible congressman was the subject of constant surveillance."

GOP leaders in Washington started "orchestrating a whisper campaign" in Rooney's "bloody red" Florida district so that "if and when Rooney broke ranks, the uprising back home would appear instant and organic," serving as a cautionary tale for other Republicans, Alberta reports. "Rooney knew the trap was being laid, but he didn't bother avoiding it," and when the fierce blowback started, he quickly decided to retire.

"There is a sizable number of Republican senators and representatives who believe Trump's actions are at least theoretically impeachable, who believe a thorough fact-finding mission is necessary, who believe his removal from office is not an altogether radical idea," Alberta reports, citing dozens of interviews. But even Rooney is skeptical that any House Republican will vote to impeachment Trump.

No one in Washington thinks 20 Republicans senators will vote to convict Trump, either, "and yet, Trump cannot stand to be embarrassed — and there is no greater embarrassment to a president than being impeached, much less with the abetting of his own tribe," Alberta reports. In the Senate, the White House considers Mitt Romney (R-Utah) "a lost cause" and wouldn't be surprised to lose Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Three mavericks jumping ship "might not move the needle much in political circles," Alberta writes, but "it's not far-fetched to imagine as many as five Republican senators ultimately taking the leap together," sending treachery-sniffing, loyalty-obsessed Trump "an institution-defining rebuke." Read more about the game of cat-and-mouse, and the mice Trump is worried about, at Politico. Peter Weber

5:28 a.m.

Washington was consumed with Day 3 of the impeachment hearings on Tuesday, but "there's an even bigger scandal rocking D.C. today, and — just a warning — if you have small children at home, you should probably bring them over to the TV to watch this," Trevor Noah said on Tuesday's Daily Show. "This" was a clip of Rep. Eric Swalwell's (D-Calif.) Monday night interview on MSNBC's Hardball being interrupted by what sounded an awful lot like very loud flatulence.

"That was a fart on live TV, and it was a loud fart, too," Noah cringed. He played it again. "Yeah, that was unmistakably a giant fart," he said, adding that to be fair to Swalwell, "it could have been the host, Chris Matthews. In fact, this is the viral argument that everyone has been talking about online: Who let it rip?" MSNBC blamed it on a mug scraping across the desk and Swalwell claimed "TOTAL EXONERATION!" Correspondent Desi Lydic didn't buy it. Along with his body language, "Swalwell's quick denial is the biggest tell of all," she said. "Might I remind you, Trevor, that the law says: 'He who denied it, supplied it.' It's right there in the Constitution."

Stephen Colbert had the same joke on The Late Show.

Though that joke apparently never made it out of rehearsal.

The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon ran with it, a little sheepishly. "The other big political story is that the hashtag #Fartgate was trending yesterday after people thought Rep. Eric Swalwell may have passed gas on live TV," he said. "I guess we finally know who the whistleblower is." He showed other poorly timed TV farts and managed to work in Baby Yoda. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:02 a.m.

At the center of the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump's Ukraine dealings is the nearly $400 million in congressionally allocated security aid that Trump ordered withheld from Kyiv for still-unclear reasons. House Democrats are investigating whether Trump was using the $250 million in Pentagon funds or $141 million in State Department aid as leverage to force Ukraine's president to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate.

Trump's Republican allies argue that there was no quid pro quo — aid for investigations — because the Trump administration lifted its hold on the money Sept. 11. "Ukraine in fact received the aid and there was no investigation into the Bidens," Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said during Tuesday's impeachment hearings.

"But $35.2 million — earmarked for grenade launchers, secure communications, and naval combat craft — has not left the U.S. Treasury," the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday, citing Pentagon spending documents and lawmakers. And the Pentagon isn't saying why it has not sent Ukraine the money. Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla Gleason told the Times only that the remaining $35 million will be disbursed "over the next several weeks."

Democratic lawmakers say the Defense Department is stonewalling them, too. "We've raised the question and we have not received an answer," said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee's readiness subcommittee. "We're going to have to find out why." Senate Democrats wrote Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday arguing that "speeding the delivery of this critical aid, which Congress specifically appropriated to improve the security of Ukraine, is important to affirm our commitment to Ukraine in the wake of the chaotic, undisciplined, and deeply concerning approach the administration has taken toward our important partner."

Congress approved the funds a year ago, but because the White House kept them on ice until right before the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, lawmakers gave the Pentagon another year to spend the $250 million. Peter Weber

3:08 a.m.

President Trump responded to Day 3 of the House impeachment hearings into his Ukraine dealings by gushing that "the Republicans are absolutely killing it." On CNN, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin didn't exactly disagree, but he took the death metaphor in a different direction. "Today was a graveyard for Republican talking points," he said Tuesday night, tackling three GOP arguments: That all the testimony is second-hand, the idea that there could be no U.S. military aid-for-investigations quid pro quo because Ukraine didn't know the aid was being withheld, and that this is no big deal because Ukraine got the money without announcing an investigation of the Bidens.

"The reason that the president had to give the aid is because he got caught," Toobin said. "The whistleblower complaint comes in Sept. 9, they get notice that they've been busted, and it's only then that the aid is released" on Sept. 11.

Jen Psaki, former White House communications director for President Barack Obama, said she was struck by the afternoon testimony where Tim Morrison and Kurt Volker, the Republican witnesses, "basically acknowledged that everything that was done was wrong and they just didn't know about it." Psaki was skeptical of their ignorance, she added, but "they said Biden didn't do anything wrong, they said that the Ukraine Crowdstrike is a conspiracy theory, and they both acknowledge that the president of the United States should not be seeking political dirt on an opponent" from foreign governments.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) wanted to give Trump — or at least the "adults" minding him — the benefit of the doubt, but panel-wide, doubt prevailed. Peter Weber

2:07 a.m.

Tuesday was Day 3 of the House's public impeachment hearings, and the star witness was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Counsel and decorated war veteran whose family fled the Soviet Union when he was a child. "Vindman used his opening statement to send a message to his father, who is still alive," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show, playing the clip. "That's moving, and true, but you know it's really going to enrage Trump, because it features his two least-favorite things: immigrants and fathers who love their sons."

Vindman lauded America's virtues, which Colbert endorsed: "Yes, in America, right matters — you know, unless you're one of the congressmen on the right, then not so much these days." He played several clips highlighting the GOP's attacks on Vindman, Vindman's well-prepared pushback, and a moment of twin-talk between Vindman and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas).

"It is safe to say that, politically speaking, these hearings have been very bad for President Trump," Seth Meyers said at Late Night. "And Trump's reaction to the impeachment hearings has only made things worse." After Trump's previous contemporaneous attacks of witnesses raised witness-tampering concerns, "in advance of today's hearings, anchors on Trump's favorite TV channel, Fox News, begged him not to tweet or even watch the hearings at all."

"In fact, the public hearings are going so badly for Trump that Republicans who spent weeks complaining the initial depositions were being held in private are now going back to saying this should all be handled behind closed doors," Meyers said. "And after this morning's hearings, you could see why." Trump and his allies "have tried to impugn the integrity and character of Lt. Col. Vindman," before and during Tuesday's hearings, he said, proving "once again" that "Republicans have no defense, all they can do is attack the witnesses because that's what Trump wants."

Does it matter? "We went out in the street today, we found people who said they were fans of Donald Trump, we asked them how they felt about some stuff that Trump has done — except none of it was stuff Trump has done," Jimmy Kimmel said on Kimmel Live. "All of the events we described were about Richard Nixon." Watch his head-pounding "Watergate edition of Lie-Witness News" below. Peter Weber

1:59 a.m.

A humpback whale population in the South Atlantic that was nearly hunted to extinction has made an astonishing rebound, researchers say.

In a new study published this month in the Royal Society Open Science, the authors write that the Western South Atlantic (WSA) humpbacks were "the first major target of commercial whaling in the Antarctic." Worldwide, 300,000 humpback whales were killed by hunters between the late 1700s and mid-1900s, Smithsonian reports, and by 1958, just 440 WSA humpbacks were left.

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission prohibited commercial hunting, and it was estimated in the mid-2000s that the WSA population had only recovered by about 30 percent. Researchers decided it was time for a new estimate, taking into consideration the historical decline of the whales and data from recent aerial and boat surveys. They were shocked by what they calculated: there are now 24,900 WSA humpbacks in the region, nearly 93 percent of the population size before hunting began.

Although climate change is a threat — it is forcing krill, the whales' primary food source, to move south — the study's authors say there is a "high probability" that by 2030, the population will be at 99 percent of pre-hunting numbers. "This is a clear example that if we do the right thing, then the population will recover," whale expert Alexandre Zerbini told USA Today. "I hope it serves as an example that we can do the same thing for other animal populations." Catherine Garcia

1:24 a.m.

Runaway bride? Yes. Runaway slave? No.

In an essay published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, Harriet screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard recounts a meeting that took place in 1994, several months after he was commissioned to write a screenplay about Harriet Tubman, the famous abolitionist who used the Underground Railroad to rescue other slaves. Howard had just finished the first draft of Freedom Fire (which would ultimately become Harriet), and the then-president of a studio sub-label said it was "great." Instead of stopping there, the studio chief added, "Let's get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman."

The president was reminded that Tubman was black, Howard said, and he (or she) responded: "That was so long ago. No one will know that." The script wasn't picked up by the producers who commissioned it, and Howard said it was rejected by all of the people he went on to pitch. It wasn't until 12 Years a Slave won the Best Picture Oscar in 2013 that he knew Hollywood was ready for Harriet. "Hollywood has a herd mentality," he wrote. "There was no herd around the story of a former slave girl who freed other slaves."

The fact he found a producer and Harriet was released this fall shows the push for diversity in Hollywood is working, and the "important thing is there was no longer hostility to the idea," he said. Howard, who has been a screenwriter for decades, said he's "enjoying the warmth of the Hollywood climate change, and the diverse stories that are bathing in that sunlight, happy that Harriet's other journey is now finally complete." Catherine Garcia

12:18 a.m.

Four witnesses testified in the House Intelligence Committee's marathon public impeachment hearings on Tuesday.

The witnesses — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's Ukraine expert; Tim Morrison, the former NSC director for Russia and European affairs; Jennifer Williams, a Russia adviser for Vice President Mike Pence; and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker — testified for a combined 9.5 hours over two separate hearings. Here's a look at five key moments:

White House attacks Vindman during his testimony

The White House, following Trump's lead, tweeted an attack against Vindman while he testified Tuesday. The White House tweeted that Morrison, briefly Vindman's boss at the NSC, testified he had "concerns" about "Vindman's judgment." Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pounced on this quote, and Vindman responded by reading parts of a glowing evaluation written by his other former boss, Fiona Hill. "He is brilliant, unflappable, and exercises excellent judgment," Hill wrote.

Former Ukraine envoy revises earlier testimony

Volker had previously testified to House impeachment investigators that during a July 10 meeting with a Ukrainian defense leader, nobody discussed investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. In his opening statement Tuesday, Volker said he now remembers that the meeting was "essentially over" when U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland "made a generic comment about investigations." He also backtracked on Trump's freeze of $400 million in military aid, saying he never told Ukraine there were strings attached to the money, but he "did not know" if others "were conveying a different message to them around that same time."

Former National Security Council official confirms Ukraine quid pro quo

Morrison revealed that Sondland told him that in a Sept. 1 meeting with Andriy Yermak, a Ukrainian official, he had informed Yermak that "the Ukrainians would have to have the prosecutor general make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition of having the aid lifted."

Vindman sends a touching message to his father

At the end of his testimony, Vindman — who came to the United States from the Soviet Union as a small child — praised America and spoke directly to his father: "Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision."

Williams and Vindman react to being called 'Never Trumpers'

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) gave Vindman and Williams the opportunity to respond to accusations — from Trump and some of his allies — that they are "Never Trumpers," out to get the president. Williams said she's not "sure I know an official definition of a 'Never Trumper,'" but she wouldn't classify herself as one and was "surprised" Trump characterized her that way. Vindman said he would call himself "Never Partisan." Catherine Garcia

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