Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: President Trump held meeting at the White House with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in their much watched first face-to-face since Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria against the Kurds.
At a post-meeting news conference, Trump said Erdogan has a “great relationship with the Kurds” amid concerns of possible ethnic violence against the minority group in northern Syria.
“I think the president has a great relationship with the Kurds,” Trump said. “Many Kurds live currently in Turkey and they’re happy and they’re taken care of, including health care, we were talking about it before, including health care and education and other things so that’s really a misnomer.”
Erdogan’s view: Erdoğan reasserted that Turkey’s offensive is rooting out “terrorist organizations.”
“We have no problems with the Kurds, we have problems with terrorist organizations and of course you’re not going to own up to the terrorists are you?” he said.
Trade talks: The meeting also included talks about a trade deal.
“Frankly, we’re going to be expanding our trade relationship very significantly,” Trump said in the Oval Office on Wednesday, accompanied by Erdoğan.
The president expressed optimism that the two sides could reach a trade deal worth $100 billion. The deal was being discussed previously, but talks were halted after the U.S. placed sanctions on Turkey in response to the Turkish incursion into northern Syria last month.
Senators invited: Trump also invited five Republican senators to meet with Erdogan at the White House: Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Jim Risch (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Texas), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Rick Scott (Florida).
“The purpose of this meeting is to have an American civics lesson for our friends in Turkey,” Graham said at the top of the meeting.
“And there’s a pony in there somewhere if we can find it,” Graham added, referencing a joke that is said to have been a favorite of former President Reagan’s.
IMPEACHMENT LATEST: The House held its first public hearings Wednesday in its impeachment inquiry into Trump.
The House Intelligence Committee hearing from William Taylor, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs.
The Hill kept a live blog throughout the day if you missed any of the developments. Here are some of the highlights:
“If the president can simply refuse all oversight, particularly in the context of an impeachment proceeding, the balance of power between our two branches of government will be irrevocably altered,” Schiff said Wednesday in his opening statement of the first public impeachment hearing.
“That is not what the Founders intended, and the prospects for further corruption and abuse of power in this administration or any other will be exponentially increased,” Schiff added.
Schiff opened the hearing by laying out key parts of testimony three House committees leading the inquiry heard in weeks of closed-door depositions with several witnesses. The witnesses have alleged Trump withheld aid from Ukraine to get foreign leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential candidate.
Taylor reveals new call: Taylor said that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told a member of his staff in July that President Trump cared more about an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden than he did about Ukraine.
Taylor described the conversation relayed to him last week by a member of his staff during his opening remarks at the first hearing in the House impeachment inquiry on Wednesday.
According to Taylor, the conversation took place on July 26, the day after a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump raised investigations into the 2016 election interference and the Biden family. Taylor said his staffer, who he did not name, overheard a phone call between Sondland and Trump during which the president asked the EU ambassador about the investigations.
“Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations,'” Taylor said.
“Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which [Trump attorney Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for,” he continued.
Trump denies knowledge of call: Trump, who said he didn’t watch the hearing, denied knowledge of the phone call that he allegedly had with Sondland in July about investigations he sought from Ukraine.
“First time I heard it,” Trump told reporters in the East Room during a press conference with the Turkish president when asked about the call.
Trump also dismissed the details about the alleged call as “secondhand information” and repeated that it was the first he had heard of it.
Republican questioning: Republicans on Wednesday opened their questioning during the hearing by pressing two witnesses about unfounded claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the panel, and GOP counsel Steve Castor used their allotted time to question top State Department officials William Taylor and George Kent about the allegation of Kyiv’s intervention.
“The Democrats downplay, ignore, and outright deny the many indications that Ukrainians actually did meddle in the election. A shocking about-face for people who for three years argue that foreign election meddling was an intolerable crime that threatened the heart of our democracy,” Nunes said during Republicans’ 45-minute round of questioning.
The “denial,” Nunes claimed, is a “necessary part of their argument.”
“After all, if there actually were indications of Ukraine meddling … then President Trump would have a perfectly good reason to want to find out what happened,” the California Republican said.
In the Senate: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brushed aside a question on Wednesday about trying to quickly dismiss the articles of impeachment against Trump, noting the chamber would have to have a trial.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we have to take up the matter. The rules of impeachment are very clear, we’ll have to have a trial. My own view is that we should give people the opportunity to put the case on,” McConnell told reporters.
He added about the potential time frame for an impeachment trial, “on the issue of how long it goes on, it’s really kind of up to the Senate. People will have to conclude are they learning something new? At some point we’ll get to an end.”
More to come?: Democrats on Wednesday announced two more planned closed-door depositions amid their first public impeachment hearing, in a sign investigators are intent on conducting further private interviews even as the probe enters its public phase.
According to an official working on impeachment, David Holmes, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is expected to testify in closed session on Friday. Mark Sandy, an official at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is expected to testify privately on Saturday.
Their attendance is not guaranteed. The committees have noticed depositions with administration officials who ultimately defied subpoenas seeking their testimony, citing White House orders blocking their appearances.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing U.S. policy in the Sahel region at 2 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2q1rTit
The Hill Event: America’s Veterans: The Next Mission: On Thursday, November 14th join The Hill for America’s Veterans: The Next Mission. We will sit down with Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and retired Gen. George Casey to explore efforts to provide support to veterans and their families as they return home. We’ll also be joined by Zack Giffin, co-host of Tiny House Nation. RSVP today!
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