Administration officials have offered a steady stream of damaging revelations during their closed-door depositions as part of House Democrats’ impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
But during the marathon hours of testimony, the high-stakes discussions of military aid, Ukrainian corruption and alleged quid pro quos have occasionally devolved into mentions of late-night comedians, unpleasant odors and a context-free collection of pecans.
Here are some of the most baffling and entertaining excerpts hidden in the official transcripts documenting the historic probe.
When Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, sat for a deposition on Oct. 11, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) had some questions for the ex-envoy about her nickname.
MEADOWS: “And since we’re out of time, I just want to know one thing. Ambassador Volker said awful nice things about you, and he said that you’re called Masha.”YOVANOVITCH: “Yes.”MEADOWS: “Where did you get that name from?”YOVANOVITCH: “Well, despite my posting to Ukraine, I’m actually half Russian, and it’s a Russian nickname.”MEADOWS: “I yield back.”
Asked and answered
Yovanovitch had little patience for a meandering line of inquiry by another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who wanted to know more about her professional relationship with a staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
ZELDIN: “Did you know this person?”YOVANOVITCH: “Yes.”ZELDIN: “And how did — where did you know that person from?”YOVANOVITCH: “She had previously worked at the State Department.”ZELDIN: “And how do you know that person at the State Department?”YOVANOVITCH: “Because she worked at the State Department.”
‘Locker room’ talk
About two-thirds of the way through Yovanovitch’s deposition, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) prepared to hand over questioning to Republicans in the room, but not without first making a brief housekeeping announcement that — if his staffers are to be believed — was likely much welcomed.
SCHIFF: “And just to let members know, we are going to turn the air back on. It’s feast or famine here, and we’re — my staff tells me it started to smell like a locker room in here. So we’ll turn it over to the minority and we’ll turn the air back on.”
‘Follow me on Twitter’
As lawmakers prepared to wrap up their marathon questioning of Yovanovitch, she revealed that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, implied to her at one point that to save her job, it would be helpful for her to publicly express support for Trump on social media.
But Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) injected some levity into the deposition, plugging his Twitter account and prompting some light (if puzzling) ribbing from his colleagues.
MALINOWSKI: Okay. Finally, I would say to aIl of my colleagues on both sides that I would be honored if you followed me on Twitter, and I will not accuse you of monitoring me. My handle is @malinowski.MEADOWS: How do you spell that one?MALINOWSKI: It’s hard. Almost as hard as Yovanovitch.YOVANOVITCH: Exactly. Thank you.SCHIFF: Mr. Goldman.GOLDMAN: Thank you. Just a few last things. You ultimately —SCHIFF: I thought your handle was @pecan.
During an exchange between Yovanovitch, Meadows and Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) about so-called “unmasking,” Perry apparently stood to abruptly leave the room. Yovanovitch then asked whether someone could repeat the question posed to her.
YOVANOVITCH: “Okay. So —” MEADOWS: “You can answer. He’s got to run.”PERRY: “I’ll be back.”YOVANOVITCH: “Okay.”PERRY: “Sorry. Thank you.”MEADOWS: “It’s nothing you said.”STEVE CASTOR (Republican staff of the House Oversight Committee): “Welcome to Congress.”YOVANOVITCH: “So I got lost a little bit in the conversation. Are we talking about –“DANIEL GOLDMAN (the House Intelligence Committee’s senior adviser and director of investigations): “Let’s ask him to repeat it. Oh.”MEADOWS: “You can ask the pecans.”
‘I watch HBO’
During his appearance before House impeachment investigators on Oct. 17, Sondland sought to head off questions regarding his knowledge of Rudy Giuliani’s interest in Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm on whose board Hunter Biden served.
Sondland suggested he was more likely catching up on “Game of Thrones” than tuning into the former New York mayor’s frequent cable news appearances.
CASTOR: “Before I get into this letter, there was some frustration about whether you had seen that New York Times article. I mean, there’s a lot of media nowadays. You know, have you seen every article, every story that references Rudy Giuliani since you began your post?”SONDLAND: “No. I mean, I have so many cables and other things to read, I just don’t have time.”CASTOR: “And you’re not watching TV, U.S. TV at night when you’re i n Brussels?”SONDLAND: “Sometimes.”CASTOR: “Okay. So have you seen Rudy Giuliani on — you know, discuss these issues on TV?”SONDLAND: “I watch HBO.”
‘The three amigos’ ride again
Sondland was also forced to answer for a nickname bestowed upon him and two other administration officials — Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Kurt Volker, the former special envoy for Ukraine negotiations — during a trip to the Eastern European nation’s capital.
GOLDMAN: “Did you and Ambassador Volker and Secretary Perry ever develop a nickname for the three of you?”SONDLAND: “I think you’re referring to the three amigos.”GOLDMAN: “Yeah, who coined that?”SONDLAND: “I think we were all in Kyiv together, and someone walked up to US, and said, you look like the three amigos, we were all standing together, and I think that’s where it came from.”GOLDMAN: “You kind of liked that nickname, right?”SONDLAND: “I don’t —” MR. LUSKIN: “We’ve all heard worse.”THE CHAIRMAN: “I can attest to that.”
Zelensky’s late-night ‘hero’
Almost halfway through House investigators’ deposition with Sondland, the ambassador described a dinner party in Brussels celebrating U.S. Independence Day attended by Zelensky, State Department officials and other world leaders.
Sondland said U.S. officials saw the dinner, which followed a much larger event, “as an opportunity to present President Zelensky to various EU and U.S. officials and to build upon the enhanced government ties.” He sought to correct the record on a few points, telling investigators that “contrary to some reporting, [U2 lead singer] Bono did not attend or perform.” He also disclosed an entertaining revelation into Zelensky’s comedic role models.
SONDLAND: “The subject of the dinner was not Ukraine and was not President Zelensky. The Prime Minister of Romania was there. The President of Poland was there. Jay Leno was there. Mr. Kushner was there. There were a lot of celebrities, guests, and it was a very sort of light-hearted evening. It was not a business dinner.”GOLDMAN: “Did President Zelensky, as a comedian, get along well with Jay Leno?”SONDLAND: “He was honored to meet him. Apparently, Jay Leno was his hero.”
‘The Greenland question’
William Taylor’s testimony before lawmakers on Oct. 22 regarding his knowledge of the Ukraine scandal included a reference to an odd diplomatic dust-up that originated in the White House — Trump’s short-lived bid to purchase Greenland.
Taylor, the top American envoy to Ukraine, said the president’s fascination over the summer with the U.S. government potentially buying the semi-autonomous Arctic territory made it difficult to schedule a meeting between Trump and senior administration officials regarding the resumption of military aid to Ukraine.
SCHIFF: “What do you deduce from that, that our alIy is fighting with the Russians, but all of these agencies that support this can’t get a meeting with the President to discuss it?”TAYLOR: “It turns out, Mr. Chairman, that those principals, as we call them, were on different trips at different times. I think this was also about the time of the Greenland question, about purchasing Greenland, which took up a lot of energy in the NSC.”SCHIFF: “Okay. That’s disturbing for a whole different reason.”
Fishing for an explanation
Taylor’s testimony before impeachment investigators made waves when his lengthy opening statement became the first evidence tying Trump directly to a quid pro quo.
It was also notable for the extent of personal recordkeeping that Taylor described to lawmakers, prompting Rep. Ted Lieu to take an odd approach to attempt to explain the contrast between Taylor’s deep recollection of crucial events with Sondland’s, who later substantially revised his testimony.
LIEU: “The public reporting on Ambassador Sondland’s testimony is that he didn’t remember a lot of stuff. You have a number of conversations here with Ambassador Sondland. I just want to make sure, in those conversations, there was no indication he was under the influence of alcohol, correct?”TAYLOR: “Correct.”LIEU: “He didn’t slur his words, correct?”TAYLOR: “Correct.”LIEU: “There was no indication that he was under any medications that caused him short-term memory loss, correct?”TAYLOR: “Not that I know of.”LIEU: “Okay.”
Under the sea
Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official, may have been hunkered down in a basement-level SCIF when she was deposed on Oct. 14, but on a few occasions during her testimony, she was able to reminisce about some underwater activities she enjoyed while on her summer vacation.
CASTOR: “Did you speak with anyone? You had left on the 19th, but had you spoken to anybody about the call?”HILL: “I did not. I was on vacation [redacted]. And at the time the phone call took place, I think, based on my date-stamp on my phones, I was snorkeling.”VOICE: “You were under water.”HILL: “I was under water, yeah. It was a pretty good alibi. I didn’t take underwater pictures, but, you know, I can basically —”
Politics and punctuation
In addition to being quizzed on matters related to the potential impeachment of a president, Hill was asked to weigh in on another particularly divisive issue.
DANIEL NOBLE (Democratic counsel): “Are you a fan of the Oxford comma?”HILL: “I’m confused, is kind of basically where I am. Because when I was growing up, they changed the comma formatting, and then when I came here, I found there was all kinds of different comma formatting. So I tend to put commas everywhere.”
Looking for leakers
In the middle of Hill’s testimony, word began to get out about some of the substance of her deposition. When a GOP staffer began to ask her about Manu Raju, a CNN reporter omnipresent on Capitol Hill, Hill noted she’d had a pretty ironclad alibi. Raju, for his part, backed up her story.
DAVID BREWER (Republican staffer for Oversight Committee): “Ma’am, today at 1:16, Manu Raju, who I understand is a reporter for CNN —”HILL: “Who?”BREWER: “Manu Raju.”HILL: “I don’ t know who that is. Manu Raju?”BREWER: “He’s a reporter, I understand, from CNN. He tweeted some substance of your testimony here today.”HILL: “I don’t know how that was possible because I’ve been in here with you the whole time.”BREWER: “That’s what I was going to ask you. Have you spoken —”HILL: “There’s been lots of people in and out, so I suppose you should ask your colleagues if somebody’s been talking to CNN.”BREWER: “So, just for the record, you have not spoken to Manu Raju since you’ve been here today?”HILL: “I have not had my telephone. I have been in your full and I have not met with Manu Raju in the bathroom here. And I think you can attest you saw me in the bathroom. And they have had full custody of me at all times.”BREWER: “And just one last question, ma’am: Have you directed anyone on your behalf to speak with Mr. Raju about your testimony?”HILL: “No. I don’ t know who Manu Raju is.”
Call me, beep me
At one point in her testimony, Hill described how broad Sondland’s jurisdiction appeared to be, complaining that the EU ambassador frequently bypassed her White House-issued phone, giving officials her personal phone number instead, and sending these people to the White House where they believed they had a meeting with NSC officials. She called the issue “comical” but also “deeply concerning.”
HILL: “And so I was spending an inordinate amount of time trying to coordinate in some fashion with Ambassador Sondland on a whole range of issues related to visits by heads of states, meetings. And Ambassador Sondland would frequently give people my personal cell phone to call up and demand meetings with Ambassador BoIton or with me.
“We had all kinds of officials from Europe, particularly when [redacted] was the the president in the office of the European Union, literally appearing at the gates of the White House, calling on our personal phones, which are actually in lock boxes, so it was kind of difficult to get hold of them. I’d find endless messages from irate [redacted] officials who’d been told that they were supposed to meet with me by Ambassador Sondland.”
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer and Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council, was a unique witness in that he’s got an identical twin brother who just so happens to also serve in the White House, as the top ethics lawyer on the National Security Council. Vindman, whose testimony was among the most damaging collected by impeachment investigators, couldn’t let his deposition go by without taking a dig at his womb-mate.
CASTOR: Okay. After you spoke with Eisenbeng, who else did you communicate to about this meeting?VINDMAN: So my kid brother, my twin brother is on the White House National Security Council legal team. CASTOR: And is Is he your kid brother or your twin brother?VINDMAN: He’s 9 minutes younger. He’s my kid brother, whether he Iikes it on not. I told him I was going to get that in there
‘I don’t know her’
Before Vindman could get underway with questions from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), one of his attorneys need to get something taken care of. Namely, just who they were being quizzed by.
MICHAEL VOLKOV (Vindman’s attorney): First off, I don’t know who you are, if you could identify yourself for the record. But second off, could you be specific as to two calls? We’re talking about one call here.CASTOR: “This is Representative Stefanik.”REP. ELISE STEFANIK: “I’m on the House Intelligence Committee.”VOLKOV: “Okay. I don’t know who you were. I apologize —”STEFANIK: “Yeah. I’m from New York. I’m a third term member.”CASTOR: “There’s no staffers talking except for me and the Members.”VOLKOV: “I understand that and I appreciate that, I just didn’t —”STEFANIK: “I get asked this a lot.”VOLKOV: “Oh, that’s good.”STEFANIK: “No, it’s not good. But I will continue my line of questioning, which is, the witness testified—”
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