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Fast track: A House vote before Christmas?

Democrats continue to push an aggressive timeline for moving on the impeachment inquiry.

CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb write that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t shared her thinking on timing with members, but watching the actions of impeachment investigators is telling. Two data points: Democrats are avoiding court battles that could delay their inquiry and are limiting the number of witnesses at public hearings.

Read more.

New testimony, remarkable consistency

Impeachment investigators released a new transcript tonight, from their deposition of George Kent, the State Department official in charge of Eurasian affairs.

He had particularly interesting things to say about Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and a sort of shadow secretary of state who was pushing a “campaign of lies” to smear then-US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Also today, the committees heard closed-door testimony from aide to Vice President Mike Pence and State Department employee Jennifer Williams, who was disturbed by the July 25 phone call but did not report it up the chain of command.

Our reading team is all over it and you can follow along.

Note: The testimony we’ve seen has been remarkably consistent. The facts aren’t really up for dispute.

Trump’s allies have attacked the whistleblower for his or her anonymity. They’ve questioned whether diplomats dislike Trump. They’ve complained about the process. But they haven’t said what happened didn’t happen.

Which means impeachment comes down to whether you think Trump demanding political help from foreigners and using tax dollars as ransom violates the public trust in his office.

Zelensky was ready to give Fareed Zakaria an interview

The New York Times reports that Zelensky was ready to buckle to the demand for him to confirm the investigations Trump wanted. He’d have done it, coincidentally, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on September 13.

It didn’t ultimately occur, but Fareed talked on CNN today about his months-long efforts to secure time on camera with Zelensky and what goes into getting and executing an interview with a world leader like that.

The asymmetry of power between Trump and Zelensky is what created the pressure

He also talked about the predicament Zelensky was in as a new President trying to stand up to Russia.

“The President of Ukraine was in a very tough spot, because the asymmetry of power is so great. Which is why, by the way, when he says, look, ‘I didn’t feel any pressure,’ one has to take that with the context of knowing, again, the President of Ukraine at this point cannot afford to alienate the President of the United States.”

Watch it here

Much bigger than US politics

Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, will lead off impeachment hearings next week. He spent today on the literal front lines of the war going on in Ukraine alongside Andriy Yermak, a top Zelensky aide mentioned all over the place in the impeachment inquiry, as well as with ambassadors from other NATO countries France, Germany and the UK.

Again, these are actual front lines

Remember that the next time you read in US politics that someone is on the front lines of something. It’s often misused in writing. It refers to actual war.

Russia annexed part of Ukraine in 2014 and the government remains at war with Russia-aligned separatists. That is why the US military and security aid was so important to Zelensky.

Getting used to a world without America as an anchor

Ukraine is not part of NATO or that annexation would have triggered the US and others to come to its defense years ago. Instead, Crimea is now part of Russia.

And Trump’s clear indifference to the threat of Russia is directly related to his effort to pull back US influence in Syria and elsewhere. That’s why French President Emmanuel Macron was talking about the “brain death of NATO” today.

Cooler heads, like Germany’s Angela Merkel, said Macron’s warning was overheated.

A little more insight from Zakaria

But as Zakaria pointed out, Trump has in many ways upset world order.

“Everyone in the world is trying to figure out what does the world look like without the United States as an anchor that it used to be? And do we need to freelance? Go our own way? Make other arrangements?” he said.

“It’s not something Americans will be happy with when it happens. All of a sudden we will find the world is a much less pleasant place and much less amenable to American interests, ideals and values.”

Court orders Trump to pay $2 million for violating charities law

This is not Ukraine-related, but wow, it’s incredible. A judge ordered the President of the United States to pay $2 million to a collection of nonprofits to settle a civil case in part for unlawful coordination with his presidential campaign.

What else?

Former national security adviser John Bolton skipped testimony that impeachment investigators had requested today but he’s apparently made clear he would testify if a court gives the go-ahead. Democrats seem disinclined to wait for a court to mull it over. Bolton is walking a tightrope here.

Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence who was on the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call, testified Pence was given a copy of the transcript before he met with Zelensky on September 1. She said the July phone call was more political than a normal diplomatic call.

The Government Accountability Office is reviewing the legality of the Trump administration’s temporary freeze on funding for Ukraine. It may have violated law regarding congressional appropriations, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified about his concerns last week regarding Trump and Ukraine, has no intention of leaving his position on the National Security Council.

Pence dismissed a claim in the new book by Anonymous, a current or former administration official, that people inside the White House thought he might go along with a 25th Amendment effort to remove Trump from office. The 25th Amendment, remember, requires political apocalypse.

Rudy Giuliani’s fingerprints are everywhere

As Trump’s personal attorney, Giuliani has become the X factor in the President’s impeachment inquiry.

Stephen Collinson wrote about all the different references to Giuliani in impeachment inquiry testimony. It is something.

Insidious and ubiquitous

He was always swirling around somewhere, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified, adding that Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy mission in Ukraine got more “insidious” as time went on.

Giuliani was ubiquitous, on the phone with Ukrainian officials, inserting himself in US diplomatic meetings, sowing confusion and exasperation about what he was up to, witnesses said.

Even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo couldn’t rein in the President’s man, rolling his eyes when Sondland mentioned him and saying: “Yes, it’s something we have to deal with,” according to transcripts of Sondland’s testimony.

3 quid pro quos

CNN’s Marshall Cohen documents three distinct examples of pressure on Ukraine for investigations in exchange for funding.

His piece is compelling.

Here’s an argument that people should stop calling it “quid pro quo” and start calling it extortion.

I wrote a while back about how it was actually Trump himself who injected the idea and the term into this debate.

Impeachment Watch Podcast

Trump and his defenders want Joe Biden to appear before Congress. The President also reportedly asked Attorney General William Barr to declare that no laws had been broken during the Ukraine phone call. Will we hear from any of these consequential figures during the impeachment hearings?

David Chalian talked to national security reporter Jeremy Herb and former National Security Council staffer Samantha Vinograd today. Listen here

What are we doing here?

The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election.

Democrats want to impeach him for it.

It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.

Keep track of documents and hearings with CNN’s Impeachment Tracker. See a timeline of events here. And get your full refresher on who’s who in this drama here.