Thu | Nov 14, 2019

What’s next in the impeachment inquiry as Congress returns?

Published:Monday | October 14, 2019 | 12:28 AM
Former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives on Capitol Hill on Friday in Washington.
Former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives on Capitol Hill on Friday in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP):

Congress is returning from a two-week recess on Tuesday, but some lawmakers barely left Washington.

Three House committees investigating impeachment worked through the break, issuing multiple subpoenas and holding depositions with State Department officials relevant to the inquiry. Democrats are investigating President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and exploring whether he compromised national security or abused his office by seeking dirt from a foreign country on a political rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender for the 2020 White House nomination.

That work will intensify when Congress gets back. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif, has said that she wants the committees to work “expeditiously” as Democrats gather evidence and prepare to make a final decision on whether to vote to impeach the president.

The impeachment probe was sparked by a whistleblower who revealed that Trump asked Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate Biden’s family, and the role that Ukraine’s played in the 2016 election that put Trump in office. The calls to investigate Joe Biden and son Hunter have come without evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, in either country.

Trump has defended his conduct as “perfect” and said he will refuse to comply with the inquiry.

FLURRY OF SUBPOENAS AND DEPOSITIONS

Despite Trump’s assertions that he won’t cooperate, some members of his administration are participating anyway.

Staff and lawmakers from the House Intelligence Committee, the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee have called in several State Department witnesses.

They have already heard from two: Kurt Bolker, a former envoy to Ukraine, and Marie Yovanovitch, a former ambassador to Ukraine. Each provided information that could be used against Trump as Democrats contemplate impeachment.

Fiona Hill, a former White House adviser who focused on Russia, is expected to appear in private on Monday, with plans for Gordon Sondland , the US ambassador to the European Union, to follow on Thursday. Sondland didn’t show up for a scheduled deposition last week after the State Department directed him not to come, but his lawyer said he would comply with a subpoena issued by the committees afterward.

Democrats want to ask Sondland about text messages provided by Volker that show the two of them acting as intermediaries as Trump urged Ukraine to start the investigations. The committees are also seeking closed-door depositions with George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in the European and Eurasian Bureau, and Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department counsellor.

The committees have subpoenaed or requested documents from the White House, the Defense Department, the White House Office of Management and Budget, Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two Giuliani associates. The deadlines for most of those requests are this coming week.

THE WHISTLEBLOWER

The congressional intelligence committees have said that they want to hear from the whistleblower and that they have been in negotiations for a secret interview for several weeks. The talks have centred on how to protect the person, who is publicly unknown, and prevent retaliation, given that Trump has said that he wants to know the person’s identity. Congressional aides have even suggested somehow disguising the person so that their identity wouldn’t be revealed.

It’s unclear whether that risky testimony will remain necessary as the Democrats obtain more information that they say backs up the person’s account.

“We know a lot about the core conduct of the president,” Democratic Rep Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said after Yovanovitch’s appearance.

Yovanovitch told lawmakers that Trump himself pressured the State Department to oust her from her post and get her out of Ukraine.

Maloney said she was fired “because she was a thorn in the side of those who sought to use the Ukrainian government for their own political and financial gain — and that includes President Trump”.