The latest news on the impeachment inquiry
- More than 20 Republican lawmakers refused to leave a secure hearing room to protest closed-door impeachment proceedings, delaying a deposition for more than five hours.
- The top Republicans demanded Democrats call the whistleblower to testify publicly.
- In a 15-page opening statement, William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified on Tuesday that he grew increasingly alarmed over efforts by U.S. officials to pressure Ukraine into investigating President Trump's rivals.
- On the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr. Trump urged Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.
Washington -- Two dozen Republicans on Capitol Hill disrupted the House impeachment inquiry by staging a "sit-in" in the secure hearing room where a Pentagon official was set to testify, protesting what they see as the secretive nature of the Democrats' investigation.
The GOP lawmakers, most of whom are not members of the committees leading the inquiry, gained access to the secure area after holding a press conference Wednesday morning. Some members brought their cell phones into the secure room, known as a "SCIF," in violation of security protocols.
The members delayed the deposition of Laura Cooper, a Defense Department official who deals with Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, for more than five hours before it eventually got underway Wednesday afternoon.
House rules stipulate that only committee members and authorized staff members are permitted to attend depositions like the one on Wednesday.
"It's finally reached the point where members just said they're so frustrated at the idea that they can't be a part of this and see what's going on," said Republican Representative Jim Jordan, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee. "So we're at a standstill. We'll see what happens with today's deposition."
Democratic Chairman Adam Schiff has said that transcripts of the closed-door proceedings will eventually be made public, and that Democrats intend to hold open hearings. He has argued that non-public testimony prevents witnesses from coordinating their accounts of events at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
On Tuesday, Democrats said testimony from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine before the committees leading the impeachment probe provided a "damning" and "devastating" account of the Trump administration's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president's political rivals.
William Taylor, the U.S. chargé d'affaires in Kiev, delivered a 15-page opening statement on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, alleging a direct link between a delay in U.S. military aid for Ukraine and the country's willingness to investigate President Trump's political foes.
Taylor testified for more than nine hours behind closed doors, and Democrats emerging from the hearing room expressed shock at his deposition. CBS News obtained a copy of his opening statement later in the day.
In the statement, Taylor described a concerted effort to use U.S. leverage to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to commit to opening investigations into debunked allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as the gas company Burisma, which had hired former Vice President Joe Biden's son in 2014.
House GOP aide lays out impeachment strategy
7:46 p.m.: An aide to the Republican leadership in the House spoke to CBS News about the Republican strategy for handling the impeachment inquiry.
There are daily staff-level meetings with staff from House GOP leadership and relevant committees to coordinate strategy and messaging on the impeachment inquiry, and weekly membership discussions at the regular conference meetings.
The aide, who was granted anonymity to describe internal processes, confirmed reports that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sends out an email every morning to the entire GOP conference with talking points on impeachment. Asked about a reported daily list of talking points from House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney, the source pushed back, saying Cheney sends out a daily fact-based document with a recap of the day's news for the full conference.
The aide said House GOP members have been clear about their message, which has also been the focus of McCarthy's daily talking points: Democrats have been obsessed with impeaching the president from day one; they're ignoring what the American people sent them here to do; and the process is unfair and not transparent, since hearings are being held behind closed doors.
The source also said Republican actions have backed up those talking points, citing an effort to censure Schiff, Wednesday's storming of the SCIF and House GOP letters calling for a fair and open process.
The official touted the White House counsel's October 8 letter saying the executive branch wouldn't cooperate with the probe as one example of something the White House did that was helpful to members, as it gave them something to go on the offensive, particularly regarding the inquiry's process. The source called the letter "very helpful."
But 10 witnesses have testified as part of the impeachment inquiry despite the letter. Asked if Republicans are concerned about the effectiveness of their strategy, the aide was unconcerned, saying the letter was still a tool to prevent many current officials -- such as acting budget director Russell Vought -- from having to testify. And even though there are still some officials who are testifying, the letter serves another purpose, allowing House Republicans to make the case to the American people that the impeachment inquiry is a "scam." -- Sara Cook
Cooper concludes testimony
6:58 p.m.: After 3.5 hours of testimony, Laura Cooper wrapped up her deposition and departed the Capitol. -- Rebecca Kaplan
Republicans demand Democrats call whistleblower to testify publicly
6:34 p.m.: The top Republicans on the House committees pursuing the impeachment inquiry are demanding the public testimony of the whistleblower who reported concerns about President Trump's dealings with Ukraine, as well as other officials referenced in the individual's complaint, according to a letter obtained by CBS News.
The request is the first time Republican lawmakers involved in the impeachment probe have formally asked Democrats to call witnesses, a possible indication they intend to pursue more traditional channels to counter the investigation even as members seek to disrupt the proceedings themselves.
Republicans Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes and Michael McCaul wrote a letter on Wednesday to Democrat Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, demanding to hear from the whistleblower, an employee in the intelligence community whose identity remains unknown.
"As the so-called impeachment inquiry gathers information that contradicts the employee's allegations, we ask that you arrange for the committees to receive public testimony from the employee and all individuals he or she relied upon in formulating the complaint," the lawmakers wrote. As members of the minority, House Republicans do not have the authority to call witnesses themselves, unless given the power to do so by the Democratic majority. -- Arden Farhi, Stefan Becket and Kathryn Watson
Read the full story here
Deposition gets underway after 5-hour delay
4:01 p.m.: Cooper's deposition finally got underway after a delay of more than five hours. Security officers swept the secure hearing room after some Republicans had brought their cellphones inside.
Asked if Republicans planned to disrupt the proceedings going forward, Minority Whip Steve Scalise said he and his colleagues will "continue to highlight the fact that Adam Schiff is running a Soviet-style process behind closed doors, where he is trying to impeach a president of the United States in secret." -- Olivia Gazis
Committee official says Republicans violated House rules
2:36 p.m.: An Intelligence Committee official told CBS News that the House Parliamentarian ruled that the GOP lawmakers who entered the secure hearing room did so "in violation of House deposition rules."
"After yesterday's devastating testimony by Ambassador Taylor, over two dozen House Republican Members sought to prevent another witness from cooperating by forcing their way into the Intelligence Committee spaces in violation of house deposition rules. The stunt, in service of the President's demand that they 'fight harder' to obstruct a legitimate impeachment inquiry, has meant that the witness has had to wait for hours for them to leave," the official said.
"They engage in this circus-like behavior because they can't defend the President's egregious misconduct. The House Parliamentarian has ruled that these members are in violation of House deposition rules," the official continued.
Several members brought cellphones into the SCIF, and the official said those who refused to remove their devices while in the room had committed a "major security breach."
Separately, a staffer told CBS News that Cooper, the witness, is still in the room and Democrats would like her to testify if possible, considering she took the day off work and hired a lawyer. -- Rebecca Kaplan and Grace Segers
Giuliani associates plead not guilty to campaign finance charges
2:10 p.m.: Two business associates of Rudy Giuliani pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges they illegally funneled foreign donations to political committees supporting Mr. Trump and other Republicans.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, wearing dark suits and ties and flanked by their attorneys, were arraigned on the federal indictment in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
"I look forward to defending myself in court," Parnas said outside the courthouse following the arraignment. "I'm certain that in time the truth will be revealed and I will be vindicated. In the end I put my faith in God."
Parnas was joined by his attorney Joseph Bondy who said he looks forward to defending Parnas "based on the evidence ... not a smear campaign driven by misleading self serving leaks apparently from the highest levels of government."
Parnas and Fruman were arrested earlier this month at Dulles International Airport as they were preparing to board oversees flights. They exchanged a few words together as they sat at the defense table with their attorneys. Fruman is represented by Todd Blanche, who is also representing Paul Manafort in a financial fraud case. -- Pat Milton
Read the full story here.
House Democrats demand documents from State Department
12:43 p.m.: The House committees conducting the impeachment investigation wrote a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan Wednesday saying they have identified specific documents as a result of their investigation that were withheld when the State Department refused to comply with a subpoena.
"Because the Committees have gathered evidence about the direct relevance of these documents, including highly significant information contained in these materials that pertain to allegations that the President abused the power of his office for personal political benefit, the Committees may draw the inference that their nonproduction indicates that these documents support the allegations against the President and others," the chairs of three committees wrote in the letter.
The documents requested include write-ups of meetings related to the Ukraine investigation, as well as email correspondence, text messages, diplomatic cables and memoranda by State Department officials. -- Rebecca Kaplan and Grace Segers
Testimony delayed by House Republicans' protests
11:45 a.m. Several dozen House Republicans held a press conference Wednesday morning to protest their lack of access to the closed-door nature of the interviews being conducted by the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees in the impeachment inquiry.
Most of those who attended do not sit on those committees, which is why they aren't being allowed access - though Republicans who sit on those committees are allowed in the interviews.
After speaking to reporters, the group walked into the House secure facility where the Laura Cooper deposition was set to begin, delaying the start of Wednesday's deposition.
The Republicans claimed the leadership is negotiating an accommodation, but no Democratic leadership aides have responded to indicate that's the case. -- Rebecca Kaplan
Mike Pence blames Washington "swamp" for State officials stepping forward with testimony
9:45 a.m.: Vice President Mike Pence suggested that some career diplomats who have chosen to ignore White House orders to not comply with House subpoenas as part of their ongoing impeachment probe show the depths of the so-called "swamp" in Washington.
"We have some extraordinary men and women in our diplomatic corps who know their work and who are strong and are out fighting for America's interest. But there's no question that when President Trump said we're going to drain the swamp, that an awful lot of the swamp has been caught up in the State Department bureaucracy, and we're just -- we're just going to keep fighting it. And we're going to fight it with the truth," Pence told Fox News' Laura Ingraham Tuesday night.
Pence was adamant that the Trump administration was doing more than the Obama administration had in providing Ukraine with the military aid it needs to fend off Russian aggression, despite its move to temporarily withhold the funds for that aid. -- Emily Tillett
"The explanation made no sense"
Wednesday, 6:00 a.m.: In his statement, Taylor recounted conversations in September with Sondland and Volker, who both deployed similar anecdotes to explain the president's behavior.
"Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check," Taylor said, adding that Volker said something similar several days later. "I argued to both that the explanation made no sense: the Ukrainians did not 'owe' President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was 'crazy.'"
The delay in aid was eventually lifted, and the money was released on September 11. Taylor received assurances from Zelensky's office that he would not give CNN an interview to announce the investigations.
He did not learn details of the president's July 25 phone call with Zelensky until September 25, when the White House released a summary of the call.
"Although this was the first time I had seen the details of President Trump's July 25 call with President Zelenskyy, in which he mentioned Vice President Biden, I had come to understand well before then that 'investigations' was a term that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland used to mean matters related to the 2016 elections, and to investigations of Burisma and the Bidens," Taylor wrote.
Read the full statement here.
White House denounces "triple hearsay"
Tuesday, 7 p.m.: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement blasting Taylor's testimony and House Democrats.
"President Trump has done nothing wrong -- this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution," the statement said. "There was no quid pro quo.
"Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats' politically-motivated, closed door, secretive hearings.
"Every day this nonsense continues more taxpayer time and money is wasted. President Trump is leading the way for the American people by delivering a safer, stronger, and more secure country - the do-nothing Democrats should consider doing the same."
Graham to introduce resolution condemning "illegitimate" House practices
Tuesday, 5:08 p.m.: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that he would introduce a resolution condemning "illegitimate" practices in the House impeachment inquiry, calling the process a "sham." Graham also said he would not comment on Taylor's testimony because he condemned the House's process.
"I will not comment on anything coming out of the House until they do it the right way. This is a sham. This is un-American," Graham said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Graham said that he agreed with Mr. Trump's characterization that the impeachment inquiry was a "lynching." -- Grace Segers
McConnell denies telling Trump his Ukraine call was "innocent"
Tuesday, 3:29 p.m.: McConnell denied telling Mr. Trump his July phone call with the Ukrainian president was "innocent," as the president indicated earlier this month.
Asked on Tuesday whether he believes the president has handled the U.S. relationship with Ukraine "perfectly," McConnell told CBS News he had not spoken to the president about the July 25 call.
When CBS News asked on Tuesday if the president was lying about the supposed interaction, McConnell replied, "You'd have to ask him. I don't recall any conversations with the president about that phone call." -- Nancy Cordes
Read the full story here.
Taylor's testimony was "damning" and elicited gasps from both parties
Tuesday, 1:32 p.m.: Taylor's opening statement was "lengthy," and his testimony was "very dramatic" and "detailed," according to members of the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry. Another source said that Taylor's testimony was "damning."
A source who was in the room confirmed to CBS News that there were sighs and gasps -- from both Democrats and Republicans -- in reaction to Taylor's opening statement. -- Rebecca Kaplan, Olivia Gazis and Nancy Cordes
White House spokesman defends Trump's "lynching" comment
12:16 p.m.: Hogan Gidley, the principal deputy White House press secretary, claimed the president was not equating the impeachment inquiry with the brutal killing during Jim Crow.
"The president is not comparing what's happened to him with one of our darkest moments in American history," Gidley told reporters on the White House driveway. "What he is explaining clearly is the way he has been treated by the media since he announced for president."
"What the president has done for the African American community is something no president has ever done in my lifetime," Gidley claimed. -- Stefan Becket