Congress

Impeachment news roundup: Nov. 7

Bolton says he’ll fight subpoena, Pence aide to testify on Trump call with Zelenskiy, Jordan says he’ll subpoena whistleblower

Jennifer Williams, Vice President Mike Pence’s special adviser on European and Russia affairs, arrives at the Capitol on Thursday for a deposition to the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) 

At the conclusion of Thursday’s closed-door testimony from Jennifer Williams, a longtime State Department official who is detailed to work with Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Eric Swalwell told reporters that it's not yet clear whether she'll be the last witness deposed in the first phase of the inquiry.

The committee would still like to hear from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Friday, although Swalwell acknowledged Mulvaney is unlikely to show. The California Democrat and member of House Intelligence, one of the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry, said the committee is still finalizing its schedule for the remainder of the week.

Asked if the idea is to have all depositions completed before the committee begins public hearings Wednesday, Swalwell said, “I don’t think that’s an absolute.” Swalwell declined to discuss details of Williams’ testimony on Thursday, saying he'll let the transcript speak for itself when it’s released.

But he suggested she affirmed the narrative that’s emerged in others’ testimony. 

“The defense dollars for dirt scheme has come more into focus, and we have not yet seen an arrow going in any other direction than that this was a shakedown led by the president of the United States,” he said. 

Williams was on the infamous July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy where Trump appeared to suggest that his counterpart ought to launch the requested anti-corruption investigations if he wanted to receive military aid.

House impeachment investigators Wednesday released the transcript of testimony from one of their star witnesses, who has claimed that the administration sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine to boost Trump’s political standing.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor outlined an “irregular, informal channel” of diplomacy to Ukraine led by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani whose main objective was to pressure Zelenskiy to commit to investigating Giuliani’s conspiracy theories about the Bidens and Ukrainian election interference in 2016.

The impeachment panel has released six transcripts of witness testimony as it prepares for its first public hearings next Wednesday.

Here is the latest on the impeachment inquiry:

‘Campaign of slander’: The committees leading the House impeachment inquiry have released the transcript of their closed-door deposition of George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state in the European and Eurasian Bureau.

Kent’s transcript is the sixth the committees have released this week and others will continue to be unveiled on a rolling basis. He is scheduled to testify in the first public impeachment hearing before the Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, along with Taylor. 

Kent was critical in Giuliani’s “campaign of slander” against former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and other longtime State Department officials, which eventually led to the president recalling Yovanovitch from her post.

The negative information Giuliani spread about Yovanovitch, which he received from the corrupt former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, has been widely discredited. Lutsenko even later admitted his accusation that Yovanovitch provided him a do-not-prosecute list was false.

Yovanovitch and other State Department officials had previously called for Lutsenko to be removed when they discovered he was “essentially colluding with a corrupt official” to hamper a worthy investigation into fake passports.

“Based on what I know, Yuriy Lutsenko, as prosecutor general, vowed revenge, and provided information to Giuliani in hopes that he would spread it and lead to her removal. I believe that was the rationale for Yuriy Lutsenko doing what he did,” Kent told lawmakers.

Kent also described in his testimony how Giuliani’s now-indicted Ukrainian business associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman fed false information about Yovanovitch to former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions in 2018 calling into question her loyalty to Trump.

That same day, the Texas Republican wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo relaying those loyalty concerns.

None of the accusations against Yovanovitch were true, Kent testified.

Giuliani’s “assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period,” he said.

Yovanovitch was “removed through actions by corrupt Ukrainians in Ukraine as well as private American citizens back here,” Kent said.

Bolton bolts: Former national security adviser John Bolton did not appear for a scheduled deposition Thursday and his counsel informed the House Intelligence Committee that he would fight a subpoena in court, according to a committee official.

“We regret Mr. Bolton’s decision not to appear voluntarily, but we have no interest in allowing the administration to play rope-a-dope with us in the courts for months,” the official said. “Rather, the White House instruction that he not appear will add to the evidence of the president’s obstruction of Congress.”

Democrats hoped to ask Bolton about his concerns that Giuliani was pushing a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine to politically benefit Trump. Those concerns have been brought to light in other testimony investigators have heard from administration and foreign service officials.

Bolton grew frustrated with Giuliani and his foot soldiers within the White House who pressured Ukraine to investigate Trump’s domestic political rivals while they withheld a vital $400 million military aid package to the country and delayed scheduling a White House meeting between the two countries’ leaders, according to testimony the committees conducting the impeachment investigation have heard.

Bolton told aides at the National Security Council that he wanted no part of “whatever drug deal” Giuliani was cooking up, another witness testified.

Trump’s taxes: A federal appeals court in Washington on Thursday denied a request from the House Oversight and Reform Committee to immediately order accounting firm Mazars USA to turn over eight years of Trump’s financial records.

The committee made the request to enforce a subpoena to Mazars quickly in part for the “accelerating impeachment inquiry.”

Trump’s lawyers asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reconsider an Oct. 11 decision by a three-judge panel of that court. The panel backed the committee, and Trump’s lawyers want the full appeals court to pause enforcement of that subpoena as they continue the court fight.

In a one-page order Thursday, the panel ruled the subpoena could not be enforced unless the full D.C. Circuit decides not to reconsider the case and seven more days pass.

“This decision takes into consideration the Trump appellants’ request for a period of at least 7 days to seek relief in the Supreme Court,” the panel ruled.

Witness list: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, who is leading the investigation, sent a letter Wednesday evening to ranking member Devin Nunes requesting that the minority submit witness requests for the public impeachment hearings by Saturday morning. The House-passed resolution outlining procedures for the impeachment inquiry requires that the minority submit witness requests in writing within 72 hours of notice of the opening of hearings, which Schiff made Wednesday morning.

Schiff’s letter said Democrats do not intend to call all previous witnesses who testified behind closed doors for public testimony and that if Republicans wish to hear from witnesses again, they should include those in their request.

“The Committee looks forward to receiving by November 9, within the Resolution’s stipulated deadline, the Minority’s written request for witnesses, and is prepared to consult on proposed witnesses to evaluate their relevance to the inquiry’s scope,” Schiff wrote. The news release initially set the deadline for Nov. 8, but was corrected to Nov. 9.

The deadline for Nunes to propose witnesses is 11:20 a.m. Saturday.

Gaining access: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson and Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley have written to Pompeo requesting all of the department’s documents related to Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, as well as related entities.

“E-mails recently obtained and made public through a FOIA request indicate that Burisma’s consulting firm used Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board to gain access and potentially influence matters at the State Department,” the Republican senators wrote.

GAO review: The Government Accountability Office is reviewing why the Trump administration withheld appropriated security assistance to Ukraine, in response to a request for a legal opinion, a GAO spokesman confirmed to CQ Roll Call.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the GAO's involvement.

The agency regularly reviews mattered related to the spending of federal funds.

Whistleblower subpoena: Republicans will offer a subpoena to compel the whistleblower whose complaint initiated the House impeachment proceedings to come forward for testimony, Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, told reporters Thursday.

Democrats, who hold a House majority, are expected to strike down the proposed subpoena. Multiple witnesses who have already testified have largely confirmed the contents of the whistleblower’s complaint, which alleges that the Trump administration sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine for the president’s political benefit, rendering the whistleblower’s personal testimony moot, Democrats have indicated.

“The president's allies would like nothing better than to help the president out this whistleblower. Our committee will not be a part of that,” Schiff said last week. “They have the right to remain anonymous. They certainly should not be subject to these kinds of vicious attacks.”

The whistleblower has signaled through lawyers a willingness to provide written answers to questions lawmakers might have.

Trump guffawed earlier this week at that proposal, despite the fact that he only provided written answers to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III during the investigation into 2016 Russian election interference.

Giuliani’s “drug deal”: Despite not testifying, Bolton has become a central figure in the Ukraine scandal for his reported opposition to attempts by Giuliani and some Trump officials to leverage Ukraine’s new president for Trump’s political benefit.

“Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Bolton told Fiona Hill, the former top White House national security aide on Russia and Ukraine reportedly testified before lawmakers last month.

On July 10, national security and State Department officials met with some of Zelenskiy’s aides to discuss Ukrainian defense needs and policy, multiple witnesses have told House investigators. At one point in the meeting, Trump-appointed Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland repeatedly stressed the importance of announcing anti-corruption investigations.

Understanding that Sondland was referring to investigations into the Bidens and Giuliani’s conspiracy theory about 2016 Ukrainian election interference, the comments “triggered Ambassador Bolton’s antenna, political antenna, and he said, ‘We don’t do politics here’,” Taylor told lawmakers in October, according to the transcript of his deposition.

Bolton abruptly ended the meeting.

The national security adviser was so alarmed by Sondland’s comments that he directed Hill to notify White House lawyers that he was “not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”

Bolton left the White House — or was fired, depending on the source — in September over differences over foreign policy with Trump.

Due process: Trump fired off a tweet that dubbed the coming public House impeachment hearings one big “Fake Hearing.” In the same tweet, he dubbed the House Democrats’ process a “trial,” even though that chamber would first need to impeach him to set up a trial in the Senate — as the Constitution makes clear.

As he and his surrogates have for weeks, the president griped that the witnesses expected to sit for hours before television cameras all are “Never Trumpers and others,” and claimed he will “get NO LAWYER & NO DUE PROCESS.” (Several of the expected witnesses are career public servants.) The president repeated one of his go-to lines about the inquiry: “This Witch Hunt should not be allowed to proceed!”

Fake news: Trump denied a Washington Post report that Trump wanted Attorney General William Barr to hold a news conference and declare that Trump had not broken any laws in his call with Zelenskiy.

“The story was a Fake Washington Post con job with an ‘anonymous’ source that doesn’t exist,” Trump tweeted about the report.

Barr turned down the request, the Post reported, which came around the same time in September that the White House released a partial transcript of the call.

Final review: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman returned to Capitol Hill Thursday to review records of his testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Witnesses testimony is part of a process to finalize the transcripts of closed-door depositions ahead of releasing them to the public.

Review of a deposition does not necessarily indicate that the witness has amendments to their testimony, although earlier this week significant after-the-fact changes to Sondland’s statements were included in the transcript release.

Taylor transcript: In his transcript released Wednesday, Taylor told lawmakers that some top officials in the Trump administration, led from the outside by Giuliani, pressured Ukraine to publicly announce anti-corruption investigations into the Bidens and other Democrats in exchange for the U.S. unfreezing $400 million in military aid.

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