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Bumblee_Dee/iStock(WASHINGTON) --  The U.S. Army is providing security assistance to Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, the Army officer who testified Tuesday before a House impeachment hearing. Vindman, currently serving on the White House National Security Council, testified about his concerns about President Donald Trump's July phone call with Ukraine's president.

"The Army is providing supportive assistance to help Lt. Col. Vindman with the public attention," Col. Kathy Turner, an Army spokeswoman, said in a written statement.

"As a matter of practice, the Army would neither confirm nor deny any safety or security measures taken on behalf of an individual; however, as we would with any Soldier, the Army will work with civilian authorities to ensure that he and his family are properly protected," she added.

Another U.S. official told ABC News that there is no imminent threat to Vindman's safety, but that it is important that the Vindman family feel they are safe.

The Army will always do what it has to do to protect a soldier, the official said.

As Vindman has risen to become an important figure in the impeachment proceedings, the Army has undertaken security assessments about his family's physical security. For now, the Army is monitoring his home with "routine physical surveillance from law enforcement," the official told ABC News.

Should additional security concerns need to be addressed, the U.S. official speculated that moving the Vindman family to a military base in the Washington area could become an option.

During Tuesday's hearing, Vindman acknowledged that he has been disparaged on social media because of the testimony he has provided the congressional committees leading Trump's impeachment hearings. In his opening remarks, he said he wanted to recognize the courage of his colleagues who have and were scheduled to testify.

"I want to state that the character of attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible," he told lawmakers. "It is natural to disagree and engage in spirited debate. This has been the custom of our country since the time of our founding fathers, but we are better than personal attacks."

"I also recognize that my simple act of appearing here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world," he added.

He finished his opening statement addressing his father, who immigrated to the United States.

"Dad, I'm sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected professionals, talking to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family," he said. "Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Luka Banda/iStock(WASHINGTON) --  It's week No. 2 in public hearings on the House impeachment inquiry, and the public gets to hear from witnesses who were listening to President Donald Trump's July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Testifying Tuesday morning were Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's Ukraine expert, and Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence. Both witnesses -- called to testify by Democrats -- expressed serious concerns with the phone call, and Trump attacked each as partisan "Never Trumpers."

They were followed by the Republican's pick for witnesses – Kurt Volker, Trump's former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, the outgoing National Security Council official focused on Russia and Europe issues.

Vindman took a patriotic swipe at Trump, says in America 'right matters'

Wearing his Army dress uniform, Vindman thanked his father for having the courage to flee the Soviet Union some 40 years ago to give his young sons a better life. He also said that he joined the U.S. military to repay the country that took him in. Now a top Ukrainian expert at the White House, Vindman said he was grateful that he could speak up without being fearful for his family.

In Russia, "offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost my life," he told Congress in his opening statement.

Then, Vindman directed his comments to his father: "Dad, I'm sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected professionals. Talking to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family."

"Do not worry," he added. "I will be fine for telling the truth."

When asked by Democratic Rep. Jim Himes if he is a "Never Trumper," Vindman responds:

"Representative, I'd call myself a 'Never Partisan.'"

Vindman later solicited applause from the hearing room when he said he assured his "deeply worried" father that he could speak out because "this is America … and here, right matters."

Republicans had a surprise play, and it got testy

Republicans have been reluctant to try to attack Vindman personally. But on Tuesday, it became clear that the GOP suspected Vindman of leaking to the press and had a conflict of interest with Ukraine. GOP counsel revealed during questioning that Vindman had been approached by the Ukrainian government three times with an offer to serve as its defense minister.

Vindman denied ever speaking to the press or mishandling classified material, calling the allegation "preposterous." At one point the room crackled with tension as he directed GOP Rep. Devin Nunes to not address him as "Mr. Vindman" but use his Army title instead.

"Ranking member, it's Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please," he said.

On the job offer from Ukraine, he said it was made in front of other U.S. officials and "the whole notion is rather comical." He said he reported the request to his seniors at the White House and then forgot about it.

"That was a big honor correct?" the GOP counsel asked.

Vindman responded that it was.

"But I'm an American. I came here when I was a toddler and I immediately dismissed these offers, did not entertain them," he testified.

Himes later said of the GOP line of questioning, "That may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, but that was designed exclusively to give the right wing media an opening to questioning your loyalties."

It's possible Vindman tipped off the whistleblower

The hearing also revealed that Vindman may be one of the people who tipped off the whistleblower who filed the formal August complaint, kicking off the impeachment inquiry.

Vindman testified that he shared the details of Trump's July 25 phone call with two people outside the National Security Council who had an "appropriate need to know" -- George Kent, the senior Ukraine expert at the State Department, and a member of the intelligence community.

The whistleblower has been identified as an intelligence official, and Republicans repeatedly pressed Vindman to say who he talked to.

 "Please stop," interjected Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who repeatedly intervened to stop Vindman from identifying -- in any way -- the intelligence official.

Nunes suggested identifying the whistleblower wouldn't be possible, unless Nunes knows he talked to that person.

"Per the advice of my counsel, I have been advised not to answer specific questions about members of the intelligence community," Vindman replied.

Vindman testified that he doesn't know who filed the whistleblower complaint -- a point that Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, attacked.

"No one believes you," Jordan said.

Pence aide said she was surprised Trump called her out by name

The other witness on Tuesday was Jennifer Williams an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, who listened to Trump's July 25 phone call.

Williams previously testified behind closed doors that she thought Trump's reference in the call to a 2020 political opponent, "unusual and inappropriate."

That brought a rebuke from Trump via Twitter: "Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released ststement from Ukraine. Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don't know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!"

 Williams testified that she's not sure of the precise definition of a "never Trumper" but that she doesn't identify as one.

When asked about Trump's tweet, she said, "It certainly surprised me. I was not expecting to be called out by name."

Democrats have accused Trump of witness intimidation.

No one testifying Tuesday thought what Trump said on the phone was a good idea

Pence's aide Williams said she thought the president's words on the phone were "unusual and inappropriate" because it involved targeting a political rival, while Vindman said, "I couldn't believe what I was hearing" and that it was his "worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out."

When it came time for the Republican-ordered witnesses to step forward, they too expressed serious concerns.

Morrison, a longtime GOP legislative aide who was only 10 days on the job at the National Security Council when Trump made the July 25 call, said he didn't think it was illegal but "it's not what we recommended the president discuss." Morrison was so concerned with "potential political fallout" if it leaked that he went to White House legal counsel and asked that office to restrict its access.

Volker discredited what he called "conspiracy theories" that former Vice President Joe Biden was corrupt, testifying that the idea was being pushed by a "self-serving" Ukrainian politician and "are not things that we should be pursing as part of our national security strategy."

Volker said he he should have picked up sooner on the idea that calling for an investigation into Burisma, the Ukraine gas company, meant investigating false allegations into Biden.

"In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections," Volker said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) --Day 3 of the House impeachment hearings continued Tuesday afternoon with two witnesses requested by Republicans: Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a National Security Council official who was on President Donald Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine's president.

Republicans want Morrison, a political appointee, to repeat what he said in his closed-door deposition: that he heard nothing illegal on the call, although he was concerned that, if it leaked, there could be political fallout.

Volker, one of the so-called "three amigos" communicated with William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about what Trump wanted from Ukraine, but reportedly will claim he was out of the loop when it came to specific demands about investigations.

Earlier Tuesday, two White House national security aides on the July phone call who expressed concerns about the statements Trump made to Ukraine's leader became the first current White House officials to testify publicly in the Democrats' impeachment investigation.

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's Ukraine expert, testified alongside Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence.

Here is how the afternoon portion of the hearing is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.

8:06 p.m.

A Democratic congressman spoke about the “weighty” decision to advocate for impeaching the president, a decision he said members would “have to grapple with.”

Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., laid out the implications of impeachment in broader terms – and the difficulties that lie ahead.

“Look, none of us wants to be here, despite what's being said. None of us came to this easily. I didn't. I will recall for the rest of my life the 48 hours I spent at our family cabin literally plunged in self-reflection and literally prayerful deliberation about this whole matter,” Heck said. “Collectively we're going to have to grapple with this very grave decision.”

“It's weighty, and it's going to get hard,” Heck continued. “And it's hard in proportion to its importance to our great republic. A republic if we can keep it,” he said, paraphrasing a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

7:25 p.m.

Despite the president’s overtures to Ukraine’s leader for an investigation into the Bidens, Morrison said he never pressed his counterparts in Kiev to implement the president’s wishes.

“You just testified that the president sets the foreign policy objectives for the United States,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said.

“And the one call you listened to between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine, the president of the United States priorities were to investigate the Bidens. And I'm asking you, sir, why didn't you follow up on the president's priorities when you talked to the Ukrainians?”

“Sir, I did not understand it as a policy objective,” Morrison said.

6:48 p.m.

Volker had previously called the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s leader “unacceptable.”

On Tuesday, under questioning by Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., Volker said “it is the reference to Vice President Biden” that he found unacceptable.

In the July 25 phone call, the president repeatedly invoked Biden’s name, and asked Zelenskiy to “look into it … it sounds horrible to me.”

6:26 p.m.

Ahead of Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony on Wednesday, Morrison described a turn of phrase used by his predecessor on the NSC, Fiona Hill, to describe Sondland’s role in executing the alleged quid pro quo: "The Gordon problem."

“Among the discussions with Dr. Hill were about Ambassador Sondland – I think she might have coined it ‘the Gordon problem,’” Morrison said.

“I decided to keep track of what Ambassador Sondland was doing … he wanted to get a meeting [between Zelenskiy and Trump]. I understood what the president wanted to do – and had agreed to – a meeting. I was tracking we needed to schedule a meeting.”

Morrison was describing his use of the word “tracking” in an email to Sondland in July 2019, which he said Tuesday referred to his tracking of the efforts to coordinate a meeting between Trump and Zelenskiy.

Schiff pushed Volker on the account of the July 10 meeting he initially provided lawmakers.

"We were asking you specifically about what you knew about these investigations. You didn't remember that Gordon Sondland had brought us up in the July 10th meeting with Ukrainians and ambassador Bolton called an end to the meeting. Ambassador Bollton described that meeting as a some drug deal that Sondland and Mulvaney cooked up. You have no recollection of that?" Schiff asked.

"I did not remember that at the time of my October 3rd testimony," Volker answered. "I read the account by Alex [Vindman] and that jogged my memory. I said yes, that's right. That did happen. I do not, still to this point, remember it being an abrupt end to the meeting," Volker said. "The meeting was essentially over. And we got up, we went out to the little circle in front of the white house. We took a photograph. It did not strike me as abrupt."

“I learned over things, including seeing statements from Alex Vindman and Fiona Hill, and that reminded me that yes, at the very end of that meeting, as was recounted in Colonel Vindman's statement, I did remember that, yes, that's right, Gordon did bring that up, and that was it.”

Other elements of Vindman’s testimony did not reflect Volker’s memory of events.

“I do not still to this point being an abrupt end to the meeting,” Volker said, despite what others have testified.

5:45 p.m.

Schiff orders a short break.

Just before, Morrison, who oversaw Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s work on the National Security Council, said he wished Vindman had come to him with concerns about the July 25 call before alerting in-house legal counsel.

“If he had concerns about something, about the content of the call, that's something I would have expected to have been notified of,” Morrison said.

Morrison, who also approached lawyers about the call, added that “since we both went to the lawyers … an economy of effort may have prevailed” had Vindman brought the matter before Morrison.

During his testimony this morning, Vindman said he went straight to the NSC legal staff after listening to the president’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader. Vindman said he “attempted to report [his concern] to Mr. Morrison,” but that Morrison “didn't avail himself.”

5:08 p.m.

Morrison recounted his concern with Ambassador Sondland’s conduct with regard to “requirements” the Ukrainians needed to meet in order to receive the U.S. security aid.

In relaying what he said Sondland told him about his conversations with the Ukrainians, Morrison said Sondland told him “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.”

“I was concerned about what Ambassador Sondland was saying were requirements,” Morrison added. "I was concerned about what I saw essentially as an additional hurdle."

At the outset of Republicans’ questioning period, Nunes said he had “bad news” for the two witnesses.

“TV ratings are way down, way down,” Nunes said. “Don't hold it personally. I don't think it's you guys. Whatever ‘drug deal’ the Democrats are cooking up here, the American people aren't buying it.”

Nunes’ reference to a “drug deal” referred to testimony from former NSC aide Fiona Hill, who said that former national security adviser John Bolton instructed her to inform NSC lawyers that he would not take “part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” referring to the alleged quid pro quo arrangement and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

4:49 p.m.

Morrison testified that he approached NSC legal counsel John Eisenberg and Eisenberg’s deputy, Michael Ellis, to review the transcript of Trump's July 25 phone call and to limit who would have access to it.

He testified that he was concerned about "potential political fallout" if the call's contents were leaked.

Morrison also said he later learned that the transcript had been moved into a highly classified, separate server, but upon asking Eisenberg why, Morrison said he was told that was a "mistake."

4:45 p.m.

Kurt Volker testified that he did not think Ukraine’s cooperation in launching investigations was a “necessary condition” to earning a White House meeting, but that it would have been “very helpful.”

“I wouldn't have called it a condition. It's a nuance, I guess,” Volker said. “But I viewed it as very helpful. If we could get this done, it would improve the perception that President Trump and others had and we would get a date for a meeting.”

4:32 p.m.

Morrison described his disappointment after listening in live to President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, noting that he “was hoping for a more full-throated statement of support from the president concerning president Zelenskiy’s reform agenda.”

He added he advocated for records of the call to be placed in a “highly classified system” for fear of leaks and the subsequent “political consequences.”

Asked whether he found it improper that the president advocated for an investigation into the Bidens, Morrison said, “It’s not what we recommended the president discuss.”

4:12 p.m.

As Schiff began his questions, Volker reiterates his past testimony that he does not suspect Democrat Joe Biden did anything wrong.

"It is not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as Vice President," Volker says.

 Volker says he also didn't believe accusations against Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. He says those were not credible either.

“I have known former Vice President Biden for a long time. I know how he respects his duties of higher office, and it's just not credible to me that a vice president of the United States is going to do anything other than act as how he sees best for the national interest,” Volker says.

3:27 p.m.

The afternoon session begins with statements from Chairman Adam Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes.

“Welcome back to Act Two of the circus, ladies and gentlemen,” Nunes said at the beginning of his opening statement.

Nunes and his Republican colleagues have staunchly defended the president’s conduct towards Ukraine and sought to cast the impeachment inquiry as a partisan attack.

The two witnesses were then sworn in and made their opening statements.

In opening remarks, Kurt Volker made note of “a great deal of additional information” he has learned since his Oct. 3 closed-door deposition in front of impeachment investigators, including details of the alleged quid pro quo effort conducted by President Trump.

“At the time I was connecting [Ukrainian chief of staff Andriy] Yermak and Mr. Giuliani, and discussing with Mr. Yermak and Amb. Sondland a possible statement that could be made by the Ukrainian President, I did not know of any linkage between the hold on security assistance and Ukraine pursuing investigations,” Volker said.

He insisted he never “knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.”

Volker said he was not aware of many key revelations that have come to light since his first appearance before the committee in October, including Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s phone call with President Trump during which the president allegedly said his priority in Ukraine was “the investigations.”

He also said he has never used the term “The Three Amigos,” which other witnesses in the impeachment probe have used to describe Volker, Ambassador Sondland, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Volker said he does not think the Ukrainians were aware of a hold on military aid until Aug. 29, a day after Politico reported that the money had been frozen.

Other witnesses testified in separate closed-door hearings that their Ukrainian counterparts had figured it out earlier than that. The State Department's Catherine Croft couldn't give an exact date the Ukrainians found out, other than it was "earlier than I expected them to."

Bill Taylor, the U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified last week in open testimony that he thinks “there’s still some question as to when they may have heard.”

When exactly Ukraine knew the money was on hold is a key point for Republicans, who contend that Trump can't be accused of personally imposing a "quid pro quo" in his July 25 phone call because, they say, Ukraine had no idea that military aid was on hold at that time.

1:40 p.m.

As the first part of Tuesday's hearing ended, Schiff thanked Williams and Vindman for their testimony.

"We have courageous people like yourself who come forward, who report things, who do what they should do, who have a sense, as you put it, colonel, of duty, of duty. Not to the person of the president, but to the presidency and to the country. And we thank you for that," Schiff said.

He added that even though other witnesses have testified about remarks the president didn't care about Ukraine outside the investigations of the Bidens, members of Congress still care about the longstanding U.S. policy in Ukraine.

"The president may not care about it, but we do. We care about our defense, we care about the defense of our allies. And we darned well care about our constitution," Schiff said.

In his closing remarks, Republican Rep. Rep. Devin Nunes says "Act One of today's circus is over ... the Democrats are no closer to impeachment than where they were three years ago."

1:25 p.m.

Democrat Rep. Sean Maloney asked Vindman what went through his mind when he heard Trump on the July 25 call.

"Frankly, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was probably an element of shock that maybe in certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out, how this was likely to have significant implications for U.S. National security," Vindman said.

"And you went immediately and reported it, didn't you?" Maloney asked.

"I did," VIndman answered

"Why?" Maloney then asked.

"Because that was my duty," Vindman responded.

Maloney then asked Vindman to again read the passage of his opening statement that mentioned his father.

After Maloney asked why he told his dad not to worry about his safety for testifying, Vindman said, "Congressman, because this is America. This is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served and here, right matters."

A number of people in the audience then began applauding.

1:21 p.m.

Democratic Rep. Sean Maloney lamented the political attacks against Vindman in the hearing during his time for questioning.

"We've even had a member of this committee question -- this is my favorite -- question why you would wear your dress uniform today. Even though that dress uniform includes a breast plate that has a combat infantry badge on it and a purple heart medal ribbon," he said.

"It seems like if anybody gets to wear the uniform, it's somebody who's got a breastplate with commendations on it."

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart noted that Vindman was wearing his dress uniform "knowing that's not the uniform of the day" earlier in the hearing, even though active duty military officers are required to be in uniform when appearing in an official capacity.

Vindman told Stewart he felt the attacks against him have "marginalized" him as a military officer. A spokesperson for the Army told ABC News they are supporting Vindman with concerns around his family's security as he testifies in the impeachment inquiry.

12:59 p.m.

Referring to a theory put forth by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, and President Trump that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Vindman called it a “Russian narrative that President Putin has promoted.”

“And are you aware of any part of the U.S. Government, its foreign policy or intelligence apparatus that supports that theory?” Rep. Castro, D-Texas, asked Vindman.

“No, I'm not aware,” Vindman said.

The theory that Ukraine framed Russia in election interference in 2016 has been widely criticized. Tom Bossert, Trump's former Homeland Security Adviser and now an ABC News Contributor, took aim at Giuliani in September on ABC's "This Week," telling ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos that the theory is “completely false.”

12:55 p.m.

Under questioning from Democratic Rep Jackie Speier, Vindman suggests he may have already experienced retaliation from the White House.

"In both your situations since you have given depositions and have you seen your experience in your respective jobs change or have you been treated any differently?" Speier asked. Williams said she had not but Vindman said he was excluded from meetings since he raised concerns about the July 25 call.

"I did notice I was being excluded from several meetings which would have been appropriate for my position," Vindman said.

"So, in some respects there have been reprisals?" Speier said.

"I'm not sure I could make that judgment. I would say it's out of the course of normal affairs to not have me participate in some of these events," Vindman said.

12:47 p.m.

Down Pennsylvania Avenue from the hearing at the Capitol, President Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, struck a dismissive tone when asked whether he thinks Lt. Col. Vindman is a credible witness, making note of the moment when Vindman corrected Nunes for referring to him as “Mr. Vidman” and also seemed to question his motives in wearing a military uniform to testify.

“I don't know him, as he says Lieutenant Colonel, I understand someone had the misfortune of calling him 'mister' and he corrected them. I never saw the man, I understand now he wears his uniform when he goes in. No, I don't know Vindman at all,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting, ABC's Jordyn Phelps reports.

A U.S. official told ABC News' Elizabeth McLaughlin at the Pentagon that Vindman testifying before Congress means he is serving in his official capacity and therefore is required to wear the uniform.

Separately, an Army spokesperson told ABC's Luis Martinez: "A soldier performing duties in an official capacity will normally be in uniform. In cases where a soldier is detailed to an agency outside of DoD, the individual would follow the policies of that agency."

12:43 p.m.

Asked whether Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma may have presented the appearance of a conflict of interest, both Vindman and Williams responded in the affirmative.

“Certainly the potential, yes,” Vindman said.

“Yes,” Williams chimed in.

Republicans have called on Hunter Biden to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry, but Democrats have thus far declined to call him before the committee.

12:17 p.m.

Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe started his question time by referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Thursday news conference at which she said the president was engaged in “bribery."

Ratcliffe, piling copies of all the deposition transcripts on the desk in front of him, claimed that not once have any witnesses used that word to describe what the president did, even if they were concerned.

Chairman Schiff then came back to this argument and defended using the term.

"I want to make one thing clear for folks watching today. Bribery does involve a quid pro quo. Bribery involves the conditioning of a specific act for something of value," Schiff said.

He added "The reason we don't ask witnesses, who are fact witnesses, to make a judgment about whether a crime or bribery has been committed. …. For one thing, you may not be aware of all the facts brought forward in this investigation."

11:54 a.m.

Democrat Rep. Jim Himes also insinuated that Republicans were accusing Vindman of disloyalty to the U.S. in his line of questioning about when Vindman was offered the position of defense minister for Ukraine, which Vindman said he denied.

"That may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, but that was designed exclusively to give the right wing media an opening to questioning your loyalties," Himes said.

"And I want people to understand what that was all about. It's the kind of attack -- it's the kind of thing you say when you're defending the indefensible," Himes said.

"Colonel Vindman, would you call yourself a 'Never Trumper?'" Himes asked at one point.

"Representative, I'd call myself 'Never Partisan'" Vindman replied.

Moments earlier, Himes suggested the president engaged in “witness intimidation” in calling Jennifer Williams a “Never Trumper” on Twitter.

“Ms. Williams, are you engaged in a presidential attack?” Himes, D-Conn., asked.

“No, sir,” she replied emphatically.

Williams went on to say that the president’s tweet “certainly surprised” her and that she did not consider herself a "Never Trumper."

“It surprised me, too,” Himes said. “It looked like witness intimidation and tampering in an effort to perhaps shape your testimony today.”

11:50 a.m.

In the first extended effort to undercut Vindman’s credibility, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, read testimony from another former National Security Council official, Tim Morrison, who said he heard concerns that Vindman may have leaked classified information to the press.

“That is preposterous that I would do that,” Vindman shot back. “I can’t say why Mr. Morrison questioned my judgment.”

Vindman read from a performance review prepared by his former boss at the NSC, Fiona Hill, who gave him glowing feedback on his work.

11:35 a.m.

Chairman Schiff gavels the hearing back in.

Vindman said there was no “ambiguity” in President Trump’s invoking the name “Biden” during his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president.

“It was pretty clear that the president wanted Zelenskiy to commit to investigate the Bidens?” Schiff asked.

“That’s correct,” Vindman said.

“One of the ‘favors’ that you properly characterized as a demand,” Schiff added.

“That's correct,” Vindman responded.

11:18 a.m.

Schiff asks Vindman if he would like to take a short break and Vindman says he would.

11:14 a.m.

Republican Counsel Steve Castor asked Vindman if he was offered the position of Ukrainian defense minister during the trip to Ukrainian President Zelenskiy’s inauguration.

Vindman said he was offered the position three times but dismissed it each time and reported it to his commanding officer.

“I'm an American. I came here when I was a toddler and I immediately dismissed these offers. Did not entertain them,” he said.

“The whole notion was rather comical,” Vindman added, saying he didn’t “leave the door open at all” to the offer.

11:07 a.m.

ABC's Ben Siegel notes this exchange between Castor and Vindman:

Vindman said he recalled Sondland discussing "Burisma, the Bidens and the 2016 elections" in the July 10 meeting at the White House with Ukrainian officials.

GOP counsel Steve Castor followed up, claiming that Vindman, behind closed doors, didn't initially recall whether the election came up. Vindman said that he clarified that later in his testimony.

"So when we asked the question, it sort of refreshed your recollection?" Castor said.

"Yes, I guess that's a term now," Vindman replied with a smile.

Sondland, in his updated testimony, said he had "refreshed his recollection."

10:50 a.m.

During a testy exchange about the whistleblower whose complaint brought to light the nature of the July 25 phone call, Vindman corrected Nunes when the Republican ranking member referred to him as, “Mr. Vindman.”

"Ranking member, it's Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please," Vindman said.

In a lengthy series of questions about the whistleblower – and whether Vindman knew the person’s identity – Nunes grew frustrated when Vindman appeared to avoid answering directly.

“You can answer the question, or you can plead the Fifth,” Rep. Nunes said, referring to Vindman’s Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Chairman Schiff interjected, telling Nunes the hearing would not be used as a vehicle for Republicans to unmask the whistleblower.

Vindman's lawyer Michael Volkov also defended his client, saying it was not a matter of possibly pleading the Fifth. ABC's Trish Turner in the hearing room reports this is the first time we have heard extensive remarks from a lawyer at these hearings.

10:39 a.m.

Vindman pushed back on Nunes’ line of questioning about whether he discussed President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy on July 25 with reporters.

“I do not engage with the press at all,” Vindman said.

Republican allies of the president have accused Vindman and other “bureaucrats” in the administration of politically motivated leaking.

It's clear the GOP suspects that Vindman tipped off the whistleblower, although Vindman says he's not sure who the whistleblower is.

Vindman does acknowledge that he shared the contents of the July 25 phone call with a member of the intelligence community as well as State Department official George Kent.

10:26 a.m.

Vindman says he told U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that discussion of investigations of the Bidens and the 2016 election were inappropriate when he says Sondland brought them up after a meeting with American and Ukrainian officials.

"I said that this request to conduct these meetings was inappropriate. These investigations was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security policy," Vindman said.

10:19 a.m.

Vindman says he had already been tracking the "alternative narrative" around Ukraine when he decided to immediately report the July 25 call to NSC lawyers.

"At this point, I had already been tracking this initially what I would describe as alternative narrative, false narrative, and I was certainly aware of the fact that it was starting to reverberate, gain traction," he said.

He also said there was a discussion among NSC lawyers about how to handle the transcript and keep it to a "smaller group" to avoid the sensitive information from being leaked, but that he didn't see it as "nefarious."

10:13 a.m.

ABC News' Mary Bruce notes that Vindman is contradicting the White House readout of the April 21 call between Presidents Trump and Zelenskiy.

"Vindman says his talking points encouraged the president to raise the issue of corruption. At the time, the White House readout of the call said the issue came up. But Vindman notes the president never actually raised the issue. And the transcript that the White House released last week shows it was not brought up," Bruce says.

Vindman testified that he was on that call and that corruption was part of the National Security Council recommended talking points for the president, but that he does not recall the issue of corruption coming up on the call.

ABC's Ben Siegel reports from the hearing room that Vindman also said, as he did in private testimony, that he warned Zelenskiy against involvement in U.S. domestic politics.

10:03 a.m.

In describing President Trump’s asking Ukraine’s leader to launch investigations that may help his 2020 reelection effort, Vindman relayed his experience in the military to describe why he understood Trump’s overture as “an order,” not a “request.”

“Chairman, the culture I come from – the military culture – when a senior asks you to do something, even if it's polite and pleasant, it’s not to be taken as a request. It's to be taken as an order,” Vindman said.

“In this case, the power disparity between the two leaders, my impression is that in order to get the White House meeting, President Zelenskiy would have to deliver these investigations.”

ABC News Political Director Rick Klein tweets this analysis: "A key point that the witnesses last week made too - that a "favor" is more like a demand in light of Ukraine's reliance on the US"

10:01 a.m.

Both Vindman and Williams say they remember hearing the word "Burisma" on the July 25 phone call, but that it was omitted in the transcript. "It's not a significant omission," Vindman said, but said he tried to correct the record. Burisma is not mentioned in the transcript released by the White House.

Burisma is the gas company in Ukraine that hired Hunter Biden to sit on its board.

9:47 a.m.

Vindman, delivering his opening statement in his U.S. Army uniform, pushes back on criticisms brought forth by the president’s allies, insisting his role in the impeachment inquiry comes not from bipartisan bias, but “under a common oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

“We do not serve any particular political party, we serve the nation. I am humbled to come before you today as one of many who serve in the most distinguished and able military in the world,” Vindman says.

On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., suggested Vindman was a “bureaucrat” who “never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style,” and indirectly accused him of “leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies.”

Vindman notes his brother is in the audience and then directs his testimony at his father, who fled the Soviet Union 40 years ago and brought Vindman and his brother to the United States.

Vindman said he and his siblings chose public service to repay the country that took them in. Vindman also notes that his actions, if in Russia, would have "surely cost me my life." Then he assured his father "do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."

9:38 a.m.

Williams gives her opening statement first, defending her service in the U.S. diplomatic corps after President Trump targeted her on Twitter over the weekend.

“As a career officer, I am committed to serving the American people and advancing American interests abroad, in support of the President’s foreign policy objectives,” Williams said Tuesday.

"I found the July 25th phone call unusual, because in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter."

9:22 a.m.

Ranking Member Devin Nunes blamed media coverage of the hearings last week for overstating the impact of last week’s testimony and continued calls for more information about the whistleblower whose complaint launched the impeachment inquiry.

Schiff has said he does not know the identity of the whistleblower and will protect them from being publicly identified due, in part, to security concerns.

9:17 a.m.

The president has called both witnesses "Never Trumpers."

Schiff notes the attacks on Williams and Vindman.

"Ms. Williams, we all saw the President’s tweet about you on Sunday afternoon and the insults he hurled at Ambassador Yovanovich last Friday. You are here today, and the American people are grateful," Schiff says. "Col. Vindman, we have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character, and watched as certain personalities on Fox have questioned your loyalty. I note that you have shed blood for America, and we owe you an immense debt of gratitude."

9:09 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff opens the hearing by reviewing what other witnesses have testified, saying President Donald Trump has "placed his own personal and political interests above those of the nation."

Vindman and Williams are sitting side-by-side at the witness table as Schiff introduces them as having been alarmed by the July 25 call.

9:01 a.m.

ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce notes that today's witnesses provide some of the testimony that prompted the impeachment inquiry by raising concerns about the administration's dealings in Ukraine.

"Today we are going to be hearing from witnesses who were on that phone call that sparked this entire impeachment inquiry and they have described what they heard as unusual and inappropriate," Bruce says.

8:45 a.m.

Jennifer Williams has arrived as well. She will be today's first witness. The hearing room is filling up quickly with congressional staff, reporters and spectators.

Tuesday's hearing starts off an important week in the impeachment inquiry after the first two days of public testimony last week.

If you missed last week's hearings you can catch up on some of the key takeaways from former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and the first hearing with William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the State Department's top career official tasked with Ukraine policy.

8:15 a.m.

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has arrived in Capitol Hill in his dress blue uniform. He was accompanied by his brother, Yevgeny, who is also serves on the National Security Council as an ethics lawyer.

Vindman told investigators, according to a transcript of his closed session, that he was "concerned" by the call, adding that he "did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen," a reference to the suggestion from Trump that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, and his work for Ukrainian energy company Burisma. He also told lawmakers there was "no doubt" in his mind about what Trump sought from Ukraine in the July phone call with Zelenskiy.

In his private testimony, Vindman also told lawmakers he repeatedly raised his concerns about the president's comments -- along with the discussion of the investigations that Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, was publicly calling for -- with NSC lawyers.

He also said he attempted to get nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine restored after it was put on hold over the summer, drafting a memo that the president refused to sign.

The Iraq War veteran, who received a Purple Heart, is expected to appear in uniform.

Williams said in a separate closed session with lawmakers that she found the mention of investigations into the 2016 election and unsubstantiated theories of Ukraine's meddling in the race, and a probe into the Biden family's dealings in Ukraine "unusual and inappropriate."

The president has lashed out at both officials, calling Vindman a "never Trumper" as he testified to Congress last month, and criticizing Williams after her closed-door testimony was released over the weekend.

Tim Morrison, a departing NSC official who was also on the Trump-Zelenskiy call, will testify Tuesday afternoon. While he raised concerns about the call to White House lawyers -- specifically, how a leak of the transcript would be received in a polarized Washington, and impact bipartisan support for Ukraine -- he previously told impeachment investigators that he was "not concerned that anything illegal was discussed," according to a transcript of his deposition released by House Democrats.

Lawmakers will also question former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker on Tuesday afternoon.

Republicans, who requested the public testimony from both officials, believe elements of their accounts undermine Democrats' concerns about the withholding of aid for investigations at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Tuesday's testimony could set the stage for the upcoming appearance of Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union and an apparent central player in the efforts to encourage Ukraine to launch investigations that could benefit Trump politically.

The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold a total of five public hearings this week with nine witnesses.

Sondland will testify Wednesday morning, followed by senior Defense Department and State Department officials Laura Cooper and David Hale.

Fiona Hill, the NSC's former Russia expert under former national security adviser John Bolton, is scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, along with Holmes.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


inhauscreative/iStock(WASHINGTON) --  At Tuesday’s House impeachment hearing, the Republican counsel questioned Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman about a specific proposition by the Ukrainian government -- an offer for Vindman to serve as its defense minister.

Vindman, the National Security Council's Ukraine expert, said he was asked three times but dismissed the inquiries and added that he found the notion "rather comical."

Testifying before lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, Vindman said each time Ukraine asked, he dismissed it and when he returned to the U.S. he notified his "chain of command and the appropriate counterintelligence folks."

 "I'm an American," Vindman told lawmakers. "I came here when I was a toddler and I immediately dismissed these offers. Did not entertain them."

The counsel pressed further, asking, "When he made this offer to you, initially, did you leave the door open? Was there a reason that he had to come back and ask a second and third time or was he just trying to convince you?"

Vindman replied, "Counsel, it’s -- you know what? The whole notion is rather comical that I was being asked to consider whether I would want to be the minister of defense."

"I did not leave the door open at all. But it is pretty funny for a lieutenant colonel in the United States army, which really is not that senior, to be offered that illustrious a position," he said.

The incident, according to the testimony on Tuesday, took place when Vindman was in Ukraine for Volodymyr Zelenskiy's inauguration.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., circled back to the moment at the end of his own round of questions, condemning the counsel’s questions.

"The three minutes that were spent asking you about the offer made to make you the minister of defense, that may have been cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, that was designed exclusively to give the right-wing media an opening to question your loyalties," Himes said.

"I want people to understand what that was all about. It's the kind of attack -- it's the kind of thing you say when you're defending the indefensible," he said.

Vindman appeared beside Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, at Tuesday morning’s hearing. They are the first current White House officials to publicly testify in the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry.

Both individuals were privy to the July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Zelenskiy.

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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump mocked speculation that followed his unexpected weekend visit to Walter Reed Medical Center for what he called “phase one” of his annual physical, after his physician released a memorandum on Monday.

Trump recounted a conversation he said he had with his wife on Tuesday, where she said the press "are reporting you may have had a heart attack."

"These people are sick, they're sick, and the press really in this country is dangerous," he told the press, following a morning cabinet meeting. "We don't have freedom of the press in this country. We have the opposite. We have a very corrupt media, and I hope they can get their act straightened out because it's very, very bad -- very very dangerous for our country.”

 Dr. Sean Conley, the president's physician, also said the 73-year-old president wasn't having chest pain.

“Despite some of the speculation, the president has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues,” Conley said in the memo released Monday night. “Specifically, he did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurological evaluations.”

Conley did not say anything in the memo about the president’s overall health, but called the visit a “routine, planned interim checkup” and said it included a “little more than an hour of examination, labs, and discussion.”

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement following the checkup that “the president remains healthy and energetic without complaints” and pointed to his “vigorous rally performances” as evidence of his energy levels.

Conley did reveal that the president’s cholesterol level is now 165, which is considered within a healthy range -- down from 196 earlier this year.

The president’s trip to Walter Reed on Saturday stirred speculation in part because of how it differed from typical presidential check-ups.

The president’s two previous medical examinations at the military hospital had been announced ahead of time and were listed on his public schedule. On Saturday, the White House didn’t. In fact, reporters were informed about the visit only when the president’s motorcade arrived at the hospital.

The president’s doctor said this visit was kept off the record “due to scheduling uncertainties.”

A senior administration official also told ABC News that the Saturday check-up had been on the president’s private calendar for several days before it happened.

The timing of the president’s exam was also out of step with the president’s standard schedule of annual exams, which typically occur toward the beginning of a new year. The president’s 2019 annual exam was conducted in February -- 9 months ago -- and his 2018 physical was conducted in January.

 Conley said a “more comprehensive" examination will occur after the onset of the new year and that the president’s labs and exam results will be incorporated in “next year’s report.”

Grisham said the president was getting a head start on his next annual exam in anticipation of a “very busy 2020” by “taking advantage of a free weekend" in Washington, D.C., "to begin portions" of his routine annual physical exam at Walter Reed.

The president’s mode of transportation also varied for this visit. While the president typically travels to the military hospital by presidential chopper, on Saturday he traveled by motorcade.

Joe Lockhart, press secretary to former President Bill Clinton, was among those who raised questions about whether the president’s visit to Walter Reed was as routine as the White House has said.

“Saturday was anything but normal … you shouldn't believe … Trump went up to Walter Reed for routine blood tests … If @realDonaldTrump trip to the Hispital (sic) was just an exam and bloodwork, all of that could have been done at the White House," Lockhart said over the weekend in a series of tweets. "In fact most medical procedures can be done at the White House where there is a state of the art medical facility."

Grisham sought to further dispel the speculation that built over the weekend, saying she would not discuss the president’s “security and movement protocols,” and pushing back against those questioning the veracity of her prior statements on the president’s good health.

“I’ve given plenty of on the record statements that were truthful and accurate -- actively trying to find and report conspiracy theories really needs to stop,” Grisham said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


JasonDoiy/iStock(ATLANTA) -- Democrat Stacey Abrams may not have won Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial election, but her historic campaign, which uniquely took on voter suppression, pushed her to launch a 2020-focused initiative within her organization Fair Fight, to continue her campaign for voters' rights with enough time to make an impact ahead of the next election in not just Georgia, but in 20 states across the country.

"It was designed to think about the fact that voter suppression exists today, but often campaigns and parties don't think about it until September of the general election. And by then it's too late," Abrams said of Fair Fight 2020 at the National Press Club in Washington Friday. "Once you know more, you can do more."

With the fifth Democratic primary debate set to take place at 9 p.m. on Wednesday from the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, there's a renewed focus on the reliably Republican state where Abrams was able to turn out voters in 2018 like no Democrat ever had before. Abrams never officially conceded that race and her gubernatorial run's legacy is also the work her campaign did to guarantee people could cast a ballot.

Abrams, who will be attending the debate, "lobbied vigorously" to have a debate held in "The Peach State," and while the media co-hosts -- MSNBC and The Washington Post -- get to choose what questions to ask, she "has been clear that any conversation in Georgia must include protecting Georgians’ right to vote," said Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Fair Fight.

Wendy Weiser, vice president for the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program, told ABC News that given Georgia's status as "a hotbed of controversies around vote suppression" for more than a decade, this is the time for the 10 candidates debating on stage to take on this issue.

"It's a really important opportunity... for candidates to take stock and to commit to putting in place reforms, so that... it doesn't matter who it is that’s in office and who it is that's running the election, that there are fair ground rules that every American can count on," Weiser said. "It would be a really missed opportunity for the candidates not to commit to that, and not to make that a priority."

In late October, Georgia's secretary of state announced its office would be -- "as required by law" -- purging the state's voter rolls by 4 percent.

"Election security is my top priority,” Secretary Brad Raffensperger said in a press release. “Accurate and up-to-date voter rolls are vital to secure elections."

The list has more than 313,000 names on it, and the names on it have 30 days to respond.

On Friday, Abrams told National Press Club attendees that she didn't think all of those names should be removed from the rolls.

"Given past as precedent, we don't believe they're accurate," she said.

By the election day in 2018, her opponent, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, "had overseen a systematic purge of 1.4 million voters," Abrams said. The Brennan Center's analysis of data from 2016 to 2018 showed that Georgia had removed over 10 percent of its registered voters from the rolls.

Secretaries of state have the authority, and are required by law, to maintain voter rolls by removing people who have died and who have moved out of the jurisdiction, said Carol Anderson, chair of African American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta and the author of, "One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy."

What she takes issue with, however, is purging what are called "inactive" voters, a so-called "use it or lose it" policy. In Georgia, that means anyone who skipped out on voting in just two general elections without having any contact with the state's election office can be purged from the rolls.

"I look at it this way: Simply because I haven't gone to church in a while, doesn't mean that I've lost my right to religion," Anderson said, telling ABC News that people with irregular voting tendencies tend to be poor people, communities of color and young people.

"So, if you take that group, and you begin to remove them from the polls simply because they haven't voted, you're able to shape the electorate," she said.

In October 2018, Kemp told ABC News, "There is no purging... That word purging is outrageous. When people don’t participate in over seven years, they end up coming on off the list per federal law."

Abrams is challenging the constitutionality of that policy, and of other election laws in Georgia, in a lawsuit filed in November 2018.

But legal action is a slow process, and Fair Fight 2020 is a $5 million program focused on what can be done right now by equipping state Democratic parties with the ability "to actually fight back" against efforts to suppress voter turnout.

Fair Fight 2020 is equipping state parties with what it calls "voter protection teams." The exact duties of these teams, which are hired by, trained by and funded by Abrams' organization, vary based on each state's specific needs and laws, but in general, they work to ensure that everyone who has the right to vote is able to cast a vote come election day. They do everything from being a body in the poll precinct monitoring what's happening on election day to answering questions on a voter protection hotline, Bringman told ABC News.

On at least one election law, Georgia is ahead of the curve, as one of only 17 states (and the District of Columbia) to have automatic voter registration. Bringman said while this expands the number of registered voters, it's only the start of a conversation.

"Being on the rolls is just the first step. Voters must be engaged and mobilized, and that means making sure voters are seen and heard," he said, noting that in 2018, Abrams' "bold, values-based message" was "backed up by a robust organizing operation."

Weiser, of the Brennan Center, said automatic voter registration does two key things. The first is getting on a list that can then be targeted by campaigns and groups working to mobilize voters to participate in elections. She said that research shows individual outreach "significantly improves participation rates."

But beyond that, being registered to vote can change one's perspective.

"They're now identified as a voter, as somebody who should be voting," she said, and behavioral scientists "expect that that's going to change behavior over time... that that will be their default assumption about themselves."

Still, she stressed that having nationalized "ground rules" regarding elections -- like a set number of early voting days, automatic voter registration and audited voting machines, among other standards -- are needed to really address voter suppression in the United States.

Anderson, of Emory, said she expects more attempts to suppress the vote ahead of the 2020 election, warning that it may not be as overt as it once was, but the incremental restrictions can have a large impact.

"The thing is that all of this is so subtle and so bureaucratic that it's not like that kind of cataclysmic violence that we saw on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 in Selma," she said. "So we don't see the carnage, but I call that a quiet civic death that is happening to American citizens."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


MivPiv/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The director of the Bureau of Prisons is set for a grilling in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in the wake of several high-profile deaths in the federal prison system, including those of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and reputed mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger.

In a letter to the agency, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who serves on the committee, said he understands Director Kathy Hawk Sawyer can't answer every question, but expects answers to those she can -- starting with those about Epstein.

"[Jeffery] Epstein's death in custody has ignited a crisis of public trust in your agency and exacerbated the erosion of trust that the American people have in our institutions of republican self-government more broadly," he wrote. "To pretend like this issue, which is by far the public's top concern with your agency, won't be a significant focus of this hearing is naive -- to the point of being laughable."

"The Director welcomes the opportunity to speak to Congress and provide information to the members on a range of issues affecting the Bureau of Prisons," a BOP spokeswoman told ABC News.

Her testimony comes a week after three federal law enforcement sources told ABC News the two correctional officers who were working the night of Epstein’s apparent suicide were offered a plea deal and turned it down.

Charges could come as early as this month, the sources said.

Epstein, a convicted sex offender, was found unresponsive in his cell at the Manhattan Correctional Center in New York in August, the Bureau of Prisons said. He was taken to New York Downtown Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to sources.

His death came less than three weeks after he was found in his cell at the federal prison with marks on his neck that appeared to be self-inflicted, sources told ABC News. He was placed on suicide watch following the July 23 incident, but had been removed by the time of his death.

According to an internal document obtained by ABC News, an internal review of Bureau of Prison employees found that some employees falsified mandatory check records.

Every three hours, officers are supposed to check on inmates to make sure they aren't harming themselves or their cell mates, among other things. According to BOP policy, this is referred to as a mandatory cell check.

"As I have noted in previous messages, recent reviews of institution operations revealed that some staff members failed to conduct rounds and counts in housing units, yet documented they had done so," Hawk Sawyer wrote in an internal memo dated Nov. 4.

The memo comes in the wake of an internal review as to whether the proper protocols were followed by correctional officers and staff at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Bureau of Prisons sources have said the internal investigation is still ongoing.

One prison union official described the memo as "hypocritical," and said that the memo will have a chilling effect on senior officers working in the Special Housing Unit.

"They have put inmates on equal par with the staff," that same union official said.

Hawk Sawyer issued a warning in her memo, saying that falsifying rounds is a violation of policy and could be subject to criminal charges. She also asked that all cases be referred to the internal affairs office.

"Failure to conduct rounds and counts are violations of policy; falsification of information in government systems and documents is also a violation of policy, and may be subject to criminal prosecution as well. I am asking each of you to prioritize deterring this behavior, and to respond appropriately to this misconduct if it occurs," Hawk Sawyer wrote.

BOP declined to comment on the memo.

In fact, according to a separate memo obtained by ABC News, BOP officials have already started cracking down on these infractions, such as at FCI Coleman in Tallahassee, Florida.

In a second high-profile death, Bulger, the notorious Boston mob boss and one-time FBI informant, was killed in a West Virginia federal prison in October 2018, according to the BOP.

The U.S. Department of Justice noted in a statement that "no staff or other inmates were injured" as a result of Bulger's killing.

Bulger died a day after he was transferred to USP Hazelton for undisclosed medical reasons after a brief stay at the federal lockup in Oklahoma. He had been serving his life sentence at a federal prison in Sumterville, Florida, after being convicted of murdering 11 people in August 2013.

Bulger’s medical status was lowered to Level 2 on Oct. 8, 2018, a notch beneath his medical status prior to his transfer to Hazelton, an internal Bureau of Prisons document obtained by ABC News showed.

His lawyers blasted the decision at the time.

"Mr. Bulger’s physical/medical condition was fraudulently upgraded to effectuate a transfer and place to Hazelton on or about Oct. 29 or Oct. 30, 2018," attorneys Hank Brennan and David Schoen wrote last year in an administrative claim against the Department of Justice, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News.

Another topic likely to be brought up at the hearing was the case of heating issues at a federal lockup in New York that caused mass protest and unrest in the jail earlier this year.

A heating issue at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, left almost 1,700 inmates in below-freezing temperatures. The prison had "longstanding" problems with its heating system, according to the results of the U.S. Inspector General's Office review.

Michael Horowitz, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice, found that the Jan. 27 to Feb. 3, 2019, power outage at the Metropolitan Detention Center had nothing to do with an electrical fire that sparked the federal investigation and lawsuits.

"We determined that heating issues had been a longstanding problem at the jail that existed before, during, and after the fire and power outage and were unrelated to these events," said Horowitz. "Rather, they were the result of the facility’s lack of proper equipment to continuously monitor temperatures, which the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) was aware of and had not addressed."

While the deaths of Epstein and Bulger and issues with maintenance are at top of mind for some members, others are focused on the bureau's implementation of the First Step Act.

"The First Step Act requires the Bureau of Prisons to focus on rehabilitation and reentry, but so far the Trump administration has been slow-walking these reforms," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told ABC News in a statement. "It will take dedication and hard work to lead the agency through that culture change. I look forward to hearing how Acting Director Hawk Sawyer plans to move things forward."

Hawk Sawyer, who was appointed director in a shakeup following Epstein's death in August, also served as BOP director in the early 1990s.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


hermosawave/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats are looking to expand early investments in seven key battleground states in the lead up to the 2020 election cycle, with a six-figure investment to fund a new round of general election staff operatives, according to a Democratic Party official. The investment is part of a broad voter protection campaign -- signaling their commitment to safeguarding the integrity of U.S. elections.

The new effort, part of the Democratic National Committee's sweeping early investments targeting states that will likely define the outcome of the presidential race, coincides with the fifth Democratic debate, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post in Atlanta on Wednesday at 9 p.m.

The national party is set to hire a range of directors and organizers, specifically focused on protecting voters' rights across Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- underscoring where next year's crucial contests will be won and lost. The new staffers will work for the state party and will be funded by the DNC, a new approach for the committee that stresses its early priority on expanding their map since 2015. The funding is being provided through the DNC’s State Party Innovation Fund (SPIF).

"The DNC is making historic, early investments to build the general election infrastructure our eventual nominee will need to defeat [President Donald] Trump. In addition to organizers who are working to mobilize key communities, we are proud to partner with our state parties to build an on-the-ground, voter-protection infrastructure that will protect the rights of voters to participate in our democracy," said Reyna Walters-Morgan, DNC director of Civic Engagement and Voter Protection, in a statement to ABC News.

The aides will also work to implement and bolster Democrats' general election strategy a little less than a year before Election Day, by strengthening infrastructure at the local level for the eventual nominee and mobilizing key constituencies that are the bedrock of the Democrats' base.

The latest round of staff hires, which comes after the national party hired new communications and organizing staffers earlier this year to zero in on attacking Trump's agenda on the ground, dovetails with the DNC's increasing focus on voter protection, particularly as the site of the next debate lies in Georgia, where 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams ascended to Democratic stardom after her near-win against Republican Brian Kemp.

Abrams, who lost by 1.5 percentage points, refused to concede to Kemp, accusing the former secretary of state throughout the contentious campaign of voter suppression as he held his position overseeing elections while he ran for the state's top executive job. Kemp has vehemently denied doing anything improper.

But despite her defeat, Abrams, and national Democrats, are proactively challenging voter suppression and election reform at the state and local level, as the GOP-controlled Senate stalls on taking up significant measures to address the issue in Washington, most recently last month, despite top experts sounding the alarm on election security.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell approved an additional $250 million to help states with election security gearing up for 2020, but Democrats argue it is not nearly enough.

Shortly after the 2018 contest, Abrams launched Fair Fight 2020, an organization aimed at defending voting rights, and continues to be one of the most vocal advocates for fair elections.

"I was raised to believe that the right to vote is our most fundamental right and that you protect it, but more importantly, that you work for it," Abrams told ABC's This Week in August. "For me, this is very personal."

For its part, the DNC's most recent battleground investments are part of a far-reaching campaign to build up voter protection infrastructures through education, advocacy and organizing resources, and by backing four lawsuits related to ballot order in Arizona, Texas, Georgia and Florida. Last week, Democrats secured a major victory when a Florida court overturned the state’s law requiring that ballots list Republicans first, which Democrats argued implicitly gave the GOP candidates an unfair advantage.

The committee has also increased its monthly investment in every state party by an average of 33% versus this point in 2015 -- leading up to the 2016 campaign.

Democrats will also host two events in Atlanta this week, specifically revolving around the issue of voter protection, including a roundtable with Abrams on combating voter suppression tactics on Tuesday, and the launch of the DNC's Civic Engagement and Voter Protection Summit with Chair Tom Perez on Wednesday, to outline their strategy on voting rights alongside community members, which includes a key role for Civil Rights groups in securing the vote.

But Democrats' battle next year to make inroads in some of these key swing states and expand blue territory won't solely be centered around the top of the ticket. The state that's home to the upcoming presidential debate is trending less and less red in part due to the underlying "shifting demographics" in and around Georgia's urban centers, according to Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta.

Abramowitz told ABC News that Democratic gains in Georgia's down-ballot races in 2018 were partly a result of "this clear sort of Democratic trend in the suburbs around Atlanta, which is similar to what we've seen in a number of other states in some of the larger metropolitan areas."

"The Abrams race certainly suggests that the state could be in play -- the electoral votes could be in play and the Senate seats that are up in 2020, now two of them, could very well be competitive," he said, noting that the presidential contest will "definitely" play a role in the down-ballot seats up for grabs in 2020. "If the margin is more than a point or two, then I think it's pretty likely that the party that wins the White House ... will also win both of those Senate races."

Democrats' strategy to win the majority in the U.S. Senate runs in part through the Peach State in 2020, with two potentially competitive Senate elections slated for next year, including one open seat after the resignation of longtime GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson due to health concerns.

Despite Abrams passing on the opportunity to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue in next year's regular election, a field of at least four challengers has already formed in her absence.

Among the Democrats seeking to oust the former business executive and Trump ally are Sarah Riggs Amico, who ran alongside Abrams as her lieutenant governor, and Jon Ossoff, a proven fundraiser during his failed 2017 bid for the 6th Congressional District, now held by Democrat Lucy McBath.

One Democratic source told ABC News in late August that Perdue is in a "weak position" and said that the "floor is rising" in Georgia.

As for the Senate seat opened by Isakson's resignation, Kemp will appoint a replacement that will serve until the next statewide election, which will take place in November 2020, according to state law.

Several notable Republicans have thrown their hat in the ring to be considered for his replacement, including former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who resigned from the Trump administration in September 2017 after it was revealed he had repeatedly chartered private planes for government travel, and GOP Congressman Doug Collins, one of Trump's key allies on Capitol Hill as the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. The deadline to apply to be considered was on Monday.

Both races are currently rated as "likely Republican," according to the Cook Political Report.

But Democrats remain optimistic about their chances next year.

"Democrats are taking nothing for granted and laying the groundwork to win the White House and secure victories at every level of the ballot in 2020," Walters-Morgan said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


memoriesarecaptured/iStock(WASHINGTON) --  A new watchdog report is sounding the alarm over long-standing vacancies in the Department of Homeland Security.

The report, examining turnover and shifting leadership at the DHS, found "serious management and performance challenges," as well as "serious gaps" in department communication and operations linked to high turnover and vacant leadership positions across the agency over the past year.

"Since its inception, DHS has had difficulties ensuring it can expeditiously hire and retain highly qualified workers. This situation is exacerbated by changes and vacancies in senior leadership," investigators at the Office of Inspector General wrote in a memo to the DHS secretary’s office.

Nearly one-third of senior DHS leadership positions have been filed by temporary "acting" officials, as the report points out, including the highest ranks of Homeland Security leadership. Former acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan served for six months without receiving a nomination for Senate confirmation.

He was the longest-serving acting secretary in the department's history before resigning in October and handing off his duties to Chad Wolf, the current acting secretary. President Donald Trump has yet to officially name a nominee to permanently lead the agency.

Trump has said he doesn't mind his administration leadership serving in "acting" roles because it gives him more "flexibility." The Senate confirmation process for cabinet-level positions does not apply to acting secretaries.

In a response attached to the new report, DHS did not dispute the findings, some of which inspectors noted were "often beyond DHS' control."

"DHS will continue striving to fully address its management and performance challenges, and to build the toughest homeland security enterprise America has ever seen," a liaison for the agency wrote.

In a response attached to the new report, DHS did not dispute the findings, some of which inspectors noted were "often beyond DHS' control."

"DHS will continue striving to fully address its management and performance challenges, and to build the toughest homeland security enterprise America has ever seen," a liaison for the agency wrote.

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Marilyn Nieves/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A lawyer who represents the House of Representatives suggested Monday that congressional Democrats are examining whether President Donald Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller in his written responses to questioning, further broadening an impeachment probe targeting the president over his conduct in office.

Doug Letter, the general counsel to the House of Representatives, made the comments before a panel of federal appellate judges in Washington, D.C., on Monday while arguing for the release of classified grand jury material gathered by the special counsel’s office over the course of its probe into Russian election meddling.

"The need for [the grand jury material] by the House of Representatives is immense,” Letter said. “There is evidence, very sadly, that the president might have provided untruthful answers. And this, therefore, is obviously a key part of a possible impeachment inquiry."

“Did the president lie?” Letter continued. “Was the president not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?”

President Trump provided written answers to a list of questions posed by Robert Mueller in lieu of an in-person deposition. The president’s responses were included as an appendix to the special counsel’s 448-page report, which was released publicly in March.

In his written responses, the president repeatedly stated he could not recall the answers to many of the special counsel’s questions, including whether he was aware of his campaign’s interactions with Roger Stone, his longtime friend and confidante, about WikiLeaks. Stone was found guilty last week of seven counts of witness tampering, obstruction, and making false statements to a congressional committee.

During Stone’s trial, former Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates testified that he overheard a phone call between the president and Stone in late July of 2016. When the president hung up with Stone, he allegedly said "that more information would be coming," according to Gates’ testimony.

Trump told Mueller’s team he “[had] no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone” leading up to the 2016 election.

On Monday, Letter explicitly cited Stone and WikiLeaks in raising the possibility that Trump misled Mueller’s team.

“In order to determine if the president obstructed justice, you need to look at, what did he do? What did he know, vis-a-vis election interference by the Russians? What did he know about WikiLeaks? And there's significant evidence that comes out in it with regard to Roger Stone,” Letter said.

Reached out for comment on the House committee's comment, President Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow told ABC News, "Read the answers to questions. They speak for themselves."

A federal district court judge granted Democrats’ request for access to the special counsel’s grand jury information earlier this month, but the decision was held pending an appeal brought by the Justice Department.

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Kiyoshi Tanno/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back against growing criticism over his silence while President Donald Trump has attacked the veteran U.S. diplomats who have testified in the House impeachment hearings.

"I always defend State Department employees. This is the greatest diplomatic corps in the history of the world," Pompeo told reporters Monday.

But he declined to address specific questions about former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch or Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine -- both of whom have been attacked by the president and the White House.

Yovanovitch, who said she came under attack by Trump's allies, including personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, was accused of giving Ukraine's former prosecutor-general, a "do not prosecute" list and blocking his investigations into Democrats. At the time, the State Department called those allegations an "outright fabrication" that "does not correspond to reality," but they appear to have influenced Trump's decision to recall Yovanovitch from her post early.

On Trump's now infamous phone call with Ukraine's president in July, he called Yovanovitch "bad news." A career Foreign Service officer now serving as a visiting professor at Georgetown University, Yovanovitch testified on Friday that the president's seeming reliance on misinformation as a reason to remove an ambassador set a dangerous precedent that foreign countries could exploit.

While she testified, Trump tweeted about Yovanovitch, "Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad."

Asked about Trump's tweet on Monday afternoon, Pompeo said he would "defer to the White House about a particular statement."

He also tried to dodge questions about "the Democrats' impeachment proceeding," at one point asking if any reporter "has a substantive question about something that the world cares deeply about."

Additionally, he said that it's not that he didn't want to talk about it.

"There are things that I would dearly love to say about it," he said, with a big smile, "but I don't intend to."

Still, he denied any "nefarious purposes" for Yovanovitch's "departure" from Ukraine, saying, "It was Bill Taylor that replaced Ambassador Yovanovitch, who in each case has been driving toward the appropriate Ukraine policy."

That could have been interpreted as an endorsement of Taylor, who Pompeo picked to fill in as chief of mission in Kyiv, but who has also faced searing criticism from Trump.

"Everybody makes mistakes. Mike Pompeo. Everybody makes mistakes," Trump said on Oct. 25 of Pompeo hiring Taylor.

Asked specifically if he has confidence in Taylor, Pompeo instead praised the department in general, saying, "The State Department is doing a fantastic job. I think we've delivered in a way that the Obama administration has not delivered on Ukraine. I think the Ukrainian people -- and if you listen to their leadership -- I think they think the same."

That's a common refrain from Pompeo, pivoting questions about Ukraine and Trump withholding $392 million of security assistance to Kyiv to criticize the Obama administration for its refusal to sell lethal weapons to Ukraine.

"We reversed the massive failures of the Obama administration's policy toward Ukraine, which truly did risk the lives of Ukrainian people and allowed Vladimir Putin to take Crimea and to fight in the Donbas against a group of Ukrainians who wanted nothing more than to defend their nation but were given just blankets and nonlethal equipment," he said.

President Barack Obama declined to sell Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, but his administration committed more than $600 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including training and equipment, such as, body armor, night-vision goggles and radar.

When a reporter followed up and asked whether he has confidence in Taylor, Pompeo said only, "Thanks everybody. Have a fantastic day."

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Luka Banda/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday called on the top official at the Pentagon to do more to protect whistleblowers, including two witnesses testifying in public hearings this week as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Schumer, in a letter sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, said he wants to ensure the Pentagon is protecting Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, as the two are slated to appear this week before the House Intelligence Committee.

A top Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council, Vindman told investigators last month that he was so "concerned" by the president’s comments on a July phone call with the Ukrainian president, he notified a White House lawyer.

The Ukraine-born Vindman, who serves in the Army and was awarded a Purple Heart after an improvised explosive device attack in Iraq, could be a key witness for Democrats in their investigation into whether Trump improperly withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country to open investigations into Burisma, an energy company that once employed former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and the 2016 election.

Meanwhile, Cooper, a senior Pentagon official who recently testified on Capitol Hill, said that aides were confused by the hold on the financial aid because the Defense Department had certified the financial transfer in May when Ukraine had met the necessary anti-corruption benchmarks.

“Since their identities were revealed, LTC Vindman and Ms. Cooper have been vilified and attacked by individuals in the media and elsewhere. Some have even gone so far as to call LTC Vindman, a recipient of the Purple Heart after being wounded while serving in Iraq, a spy and question his loyalty to the United States,” Schumer said in the letter Monday.

The Ukraine-born Vindman, who serves in the Army and was awarded a Purple Heart after an improvised explosive device attack in Iraq, could be a key witness for Democrats in their investigation into whether Trump improperly withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country to open investigations into Burisma, an energy company that once employed former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and the 2016 election.

Meanwhile, Cooper, a senior Pentagon official who recently testified on Capitol Hill, said that aides were confused by the hold on the financial aid because the Defense Department had certified the financial transfer in May when Ukraine had met the necessary anti-corruption benchmarks.

“Since their identities were revealed, LTC Vindman and Ms. Cooper have been vilified and attacked by individuals in the media and elsewhere. Some have even gone so far as to call LTC Vindman, a recipient of the Purple Heart after being wounded while serving in Iraq, a spy and question his loyalty to the United States,” Schumer said in the letter Monday.

Last week, Esper told reporters that Vindman “shouldn’t have any fear of retaliation” because “DoD has protections for whistleblowers.”

Later, when asked whether he would consider Vindman to be a whistleblower, Esper said he'd have to "study the case" so he's "not going to pass judgment."

"All I'm saying is if you come forward with information that you feel that it's -- if you feel that you are a whistleblower, then you're protected," Esper said. "I'm not -- I'm not putting any type of noun or pronoun on him."

Despite the assurances from Esper, Schumer said he wants to be briefed on what actions are being taken to protect Vindman and Cooper from workplace retaliation and to keep them safe from bodily harm.

Schumer also called on the Pentagon to inform its personnel of their rights in whistleblower cases.

“… I believe the Department of Defense must do more to formally ensure that all Department military and civilian personnel understand that they may make protected disclosures to Congress free from retaliation,” Schumer said.

In his letter, Schumer also asked the Defense Department to "immediately cease any efforts to prevent officials from cooperating with Congress" and hand over requested documents related to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, the program at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said Monday that he will "strongly consider" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s offer that he come before House investigators to testify, or submit written answers, in the House Democrats' impeachment probe.

“I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!” President Trump said in a tweet Monday morning, even as he also complained that doing so would lend credibility to a process that he believes is unfair.

While the president said he is seriously considering the idea, it comes as the president has blocked his top aides who have been subpoenaed to testify from going before House investigators. In special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, the president refused to sit for a requested interview but did respond to written questions.

Pelosi said in an interview with CBS News' “Face The Nation” this past weekend that if the president has information that would prove his innocence in the ongoing impeachment inquiry, he should make that information known. Pelosi said if the president wants to sit for in person testimony or submit written answers, investigators would welcome that opportunity.

“The president could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants if he wants to … if he wants to take the oath of office or he could do it in writing. He has every opportunity to present his case,” Pelosi said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock/PavelKant(WASHINGTON) -- The White House said Monday that President Donald Trump might still take action on vaping after reports that he had backed off a proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes partly over concerns about the political fallout with 2020 voters.

Earlier this month, the president was poised to announce a promised administration action to ban flavored e-cigarettes but pulled back on that amid worries that the policy could hurt him among his political base and lead to job losses, sources tell ABC News.

It was two months ago that President Trump, with the first lady at his side, announced in the Oval Office that the administration would soon be announcing bold action on the issue.

“It pertains to innocent children, and they're coming home and they're saying, ‘Mom, I want to vape.’ And the parents don't know too much about it,” the president said in September. “And we're going to have to do something about it.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at the time the administration would be quickly finalizing a guidance document to require all flavors, other than tobacco flavor, would be removed from the market.

But when the administration was poised to make its vaping announcement earlier this month, the process came to a sudden halt.

Still, the White House insists that action on vaping is still under active consideration.

“President Trump and this Administration are committed to responsibly protecting the health of children. At this time, we are in an ongoing rulemaking process, and I will not speculate on the final outcome,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.

The first lady, as well as the president’s daughter Ivanka, has been a leading advocate in favor of the ban over concerns about addiction among children, but the president’s campaign manager Brad Parscale and others have since warned the president that the move could be unpopular among his base.

There were also concerns expressed that the move could lead to job losses within the vaping industry and damage the president's pro-jobs image. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 40,000 people working in vape shops, and industry advocates have said they would have to close if there was a ban.

Industry supporters have said they're encouraged to see reports the president is open to hearing their concerns.

"Faced with a highly motivated group of small business owners and recovering smokers who became fired up to vote in 2020, we have been able to show Washington D.C. that sensible and targeted regulations should be attempted before resorting to prohibition. Prohibition failed miserably with alcohol and marijuana and the same result would have occurred with a ban on flavored nicotine vaping products," Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association advocacy group, said in a statement.

After Trump and HHS said the federal government would ban flavored pods, industry officials argued that menthol and mint should be allowed – an exception that would put e-cigarettes on par with traditional tobacco cigarettes sold in stores.

The president has since indicated he may be open to stepping back from a full ban on flavored vaping products, saying on Twitter last Monday that he would meet with pro-vaping advocates and others to discuss plans.

"Will be meeting with representatives of the Vaping industry, together with medical professionals and individual state representatives, to come up with an acceptable solution to the Vaping and E-cigarette dilemma. Children’s health & safety, together with jobs, will be a focus!" he tweeted.

But sources in the vaping industry told ABC News last week they had yet to be contacted by the administration to set up a meeting.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(NEW YORK) -- An overwhelming 70% of Americans think President Donald Trump’s request to a foreign leader to investigate his political rival, which sits at the heart of the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry, was wrong, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds.

A slim majority of Americans, 51%, believe Trump’s actions were both wrong and he should be impeached and removed from office. But only 21% of Americans say they are following the hearings very closely.

In addition to the 51%, another 19% think that Trump's actions were wrong, but that he should either be impeached by the House but not removed from office, or be neither impeached by the House nor convicted by the Senate. The survey also finds that 1 in 4 Americans, 25%, think that Trump did nothing wrong.

Still, nearly 1 in 3, 32%, say they made up their minds about impeaching the president before the news broke about Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

The poll conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News, using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel, asked Americans how closely they were following the first week of public impeachment hearings in the House, their assessments of Trump’s actions and whether those actions warranted impeachment and removal from office. The survey also asked Americans when they decided on the matter.

House Democrats are investigating whether the administration withheld nearly $400 million in aid and promised a White House summit between the two leaders in exchange for an investigation into the president’s political rival, Biden, and his son, for his place on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

After weeks of a steady stream of current and former administration and government officials testifying behind closed doors, three have so far appeared in public for the first impeachment hearings in over 20 years: George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs; Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine; and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Overall, 58% of Americans say they are following the hearings very closely or somewhat closely (21% and 37%, respectively), and 21% say they made up their minds about impeachment after the first week of public hearings. Among those who said this, 60% think that Trump should be impeached and removed from office.

Of those following the House impeachment hearings very closely, 67% think Trump’s actions were wrong and he should be impeached and removed from office.

Among Democrats, 41% say they made up their minds about impeachment before Trump’s actions related to Ukraine became public. And 41% of those who support Trump’s impeachment and removal from office say they made up their minds before the matter came to light.

The unfolding political drama between congressional Democrats and the White House reveals a polarized populace, with Democrats more united in their belief that Trump should be impeached and convicted than Republicans are in their belief that the president has committed no wrongdoing: 85% and 65%, respectively.

This ABC News/Ipsos poll was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs‘ KnowledgePanel® November 16-17, 2019, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 506 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 4.8 points, including the design effect. See the poll’s topline results and details on the methodology here.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.





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