Philip Ewing | WGLT

Philip Ewing

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.

President Trump's legal position welcoming information from foreigners threatens to open Pandora's box in coming elections and nullify one of the key lessons from 2016, critics warned.

"This is setting precedent that is unheard of in our country," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. "It's dangerous, dangerous, dangerous."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump's defense team began its arguments today in his Senate impeachment trial. NPR election security editor Phil Ewing has been covering the story. Phil, thanks so much for being with us.

PHIL EWING, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

Updated at 9:43 p.m. ET

Congress has the power to impeach and remove a president over conduct that may not violate black-letter law — and President Trump's actions qualify, House Democratic impeachment managers argued Thursday.

The Constitution doesn't specify that a president must technically have broken a law in order to be impeached, said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., although Democrats also underscored that Trump did break at least one law in the Ukraine affair.

Threats to U.S. elections this year could be broader and more diverse than before, warns the spy world's boss for election security — and she also acknowledged the limits of her ability to tackle them.

Shelby Pierson, the intelligence community's election threats executive, told NPR in an exclusive interview that more nations may attempt more types of interference in the United States given the extensive lessons that have since been drawn about the Russian attack on the 2016 presidential election.

Last month, the House of Representatives voted for only the third time in history to impeach the president. Then something else unusual happened:

Nothing.

President Trump, members of Congress, much of Washington and millions of Americans effectively pushed pause on a once-in-a-generation political saga to take off for the holidays.

So for those just tuning back in for the first full workweek of 2020, nothing substantive has changed in the story — but that also means the coming month may churn into a whirlwind.

Updated at 1:07 p.m. ET

President Trump ordered a bold strike against Iran this week that jangled the Middle East and Washington, drawing praise from allies, skepticism from critics and, most of all, questions about what comes next.

Updated at 6:20 p.m. ET

The secret court that oversees intelligence collection upbraided the FBI and Justice Department on Tuesday with a highly unusual order for them to re-validate their work.

Updated at 10:50 p.m. ET

House Democrats began work on completing their articles of impeachment against President Trump Wednesday evening, setting the stage for a vote by the full House.

The Judiciary Committee convened to amend the impeachment legislation introduced Tuesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., with its chairman, Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., calling the facts against Trump "overwhelming" and that Congress must act now to protect the integrity of U.S. election and its national security.

Updated at 6:51 p.m. ET

Democrats in the House took the next step toward impeachment on Monday with the presentation of what they call the evidence of President Trump's improper conduct in the Ukraine affair.

"President Trump's persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security," said Daniel Goldman, the Democratic staff counsel who presented the Democrats' case in the Judiciary Committee hearing.

Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET

Wednesday marked the beginning of a new phase in House Democrats' efforts to impeach President Trump.

What members called the fact-finding portion of the process is complete, so the House Judiciary Committee began assessing what action to take and what articles of impeachment to draft, if it decides to draft them.

Updated at 7:02 p.m. ET

The White House pursued a "months-long effort" involving top officials to extract concessions from Ukraine's government aimed at helping President Trump's reelection in 2020, House Democrats charged in a new report.

The marathon of testimony in Democrats' impeachment inquiry this week confirmed that the Ukraine affair, like so many earlier subplots in the era of President Trump, boils down to two big questions:

What do the president's words mean? Can the president do what he did?

The answers to those questions have been a partisan inkblot test since Trump exploded onto the political scene, and now they are burning again as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats decide how they'll move ahead in a showdown over impeachment.

There's an unverified story that has circulated placing Donald Trump in the presidential suite of the Moscow Ritz-Carlton in 2013.

NPR has not detailed it because it remains unverified. Trump and his supporters have called it outrageous and ridiculous.

So where did it come from?

Seven Russian sources told British specialist Christopher Steele the hotel anecdote, write Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch in their new book, Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump.

Updated at 4:40 p.m. ET

Fiona Hill, who served as the top Russia expert on the National Security Council before resigning last summer, criticized Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee for advancing theories that Ukraine, and not Russia, interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

Testifying on the third and final day of impeachment hearings before the panel this week, Hill said, "I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests."

President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and much of officialdom was "in the loop" throughout the Ukraine affair, a key witness told Congress on Wednesday in watershed testimony.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, rejected the idea that he was part of any back channel or shadow effort.

He said he conferred with the State Department and the National Security Council all this year as he and other envoys worked to try to get concessions for Trump from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

As House Ukraine hearings opened their second week Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there won't be enough votes to remove President Trump in the Senate if Democrats trigger an impeachment trial.

The Kentucky Republican told reporters he would convene a Senate trial as required by the Constitution if he receives articles of impeachment from the House — but he reiterated that he believes Trump would prevail.

"It's inconceivable to me that there would be 67 to remove the president from office," McConnell said.

Updated at 7:08 p.m. ET

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, tied President Trump directly to conditioning a meeting with the Ukrainian president with "a public statement from President Zelenskiy committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election."

Updated at 8:40 p.m ET

Two witnesses called by Republicans in the House impeachment inquiry testified Tuesday, indicating they had reservations over the content of President Trump's July 25th phone call with the president of Ukraine, and his desire to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine told Congress on Friday she was recalled after a smear campaign led by President Trump's allies — and Trump criticized her on Twitter even as she testified live on television.

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch appeared at Democrats' second open impeachment hearing to discuss her career and the circumstances under which her posting to Kyiv was prematurely halted earlier this year.

Updated at 5:21 p.m. ET

A State Department staffer overheard President Trump asking a top diplomat about "investigations" he wanted Ukraine to pursue that he believed might help him in the 2020 election, another senior diplomat told Congress.

That staffer is expected to tell his story directly to House investigators at a closed-door deposition on Friday.

The new subplot about the overheard phone conversation was one of a small number of new details to emerge from Democrats' first open hearing in their impeachment inquiry into Trump on Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants are turning a new page in their impeachment inquiry this week based on a principle familiar to classics scholars: repetitio mater studiorum.

"Repetition is the mother of all learning."

Updated at 2:21 p.m. ET

White House officials filed the record of President Trump's now-famous call with his Ukrainian counterpart on a "different, more secure system" from the one they normally used, a key witness told House impeachment investigators.

President Trump's friend and political adviser Roger Stone is set to go on trial Tuesday in a proceeding that could reveal just how close Trump world got to the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Jury selection is scheduled to commence following months of unusual public silence from Stone, who has been gagged by the judge in his case following a flap this year over his posts on social media.

President Trump's efforts to pressure the government of Ukraine didn't sit well with some key members of his administration.

One of them, whose identity remains unverified, felt strongly enough to write down his concerns about the president's actions in a whistleblower complaint to the intelligence community's inspector general.

But he wasn't the only one who spoke up.

House Democrats crossed the Rubicon this week and committed, for the record, to their impeachment inquiry. Although they said impeachment isn't a foregone conclusion, they tried to underscore again that this is serious.

Meanwhile, more confirmations of the facts of the Ukraine affair meant the end of the investigation process may now be in view — and public hearings could be coming next.

Here's what you need to know about the events of a historic week in Washington and what may be around the corner.

Lt. Col. Vindman and Mr. Morrison

Updated at 5:33 p.m. ET

House Democrats won an important victory in federal court on Friday when a judge ordered the Justice Department to surrender now-secret material from the Russia investigation — and, more broadly, validated the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Updated at 4:37 p.m. ET

The Justice Department's review of the origins of the Russia probe has become a criminal investigation, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to NPR.

It is unclear what prompted the shift from an administrative review to a formal criminal investigation, when the change took place or what potential crime is under investigation.

The change drew immediate criticism from Democrats, who have accused Attorney General William Barr of turning the Justice Department into a political weapon for President Trump.

President Trump outlined his Ukrainian pressure strategy directly to a top diplomat who was described as being charged with helping to execute it, another key diplomat told House investigators this week.

Meanwhile, sources in the Ukrainian capital told two U.S. news agencies that Kyiv had been pressured directly about American assistance in the spring.

So it was another big week in House Democrats' impeachment investigation of Trump and the Ukraine affair — and for Republicans' increasingly aggressive defense of the president.

Here's what you need to know.

House Democrats are set to resume their impeachment inquiry on Tuesday with a deposition from another diplomat who appeared uneasy with President Trump's strategy to pressure Ukraine for political help.

Ambassador William Taylor, who has been serving as the interim head of the U.S. diplomatic mission to Kyiv, is scheduled to talk behind closed doors with members and staff of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.

President Trump deputized lawyer Rudy Giuliani to run a shadow foreign policy for Ukraine outside the State Department, witnesses told Congress this past week — and the White House said people should "get over it."

It has been a busy week. Here's what you need to know about the latest in the Ukraine affair and the impeachment investigation.

Mister mayor

Giuliani has been an important figure in Trump world for years, but what investigators heard was how central he was in the plan to get Ukraine's government to launch investigations that Trump wanted.

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