Congress

Impeachment news roundup: Nov. 4

Earlier depositions made public while other administration officials stand up House investigators

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks to the media about releasing deposition transcripts of witness testimony related to the House's impeachment inquiry in the Capitol Visitor Center on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Businessman Lev Parnas appears to have changed his mind about not cooperating with the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry.

His lawyer told Reuters Monday that Parnas, who is currently under indictment, would provide records and testimony.

“We will honor and not avoid the committee’s requests to the extent they are legally proper, while scrupulously protecting Mr. Parnas’ privileges including that of the Fifth Amendment,” the lawyer told the news agency.

Parnas, a known associate of Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, appears to have changed lawyers. He was previously represented by John Dowd, who has previously represented the president. The new lawyer is Joseph Bondy.

House Democrats Monday began releasing transcripts of witness testimony from their impeachment probe of President Donald Trump after holding depositions behind closed doors for the first month.

The heads of the three committees leading the impeachment panel released transcripts of testimony from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and P. Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff said Yovanovitch’s transcript shows the irregular foreign policy channel people in the administration created to interface with Ukraine and how that channel was successful in “employing a vicious smear campaign” to remove her, despite no evidence backing the claims they made against her. 

McKinley’s transcript shows that he resigned as the State Department rebuffed his repeated efforts to have top officials issue a statement backing Yovanovitch and as he witnessed the department being used to seek political information,” Schiff said.

“We will continue to release the transcripts in an orderly way,” the chairman said, noting that transcripts of depositions with former NATO Ambassador Kurt Volker, who served as a special adviser on Ukraine, and Ambassador to the European Union Gordan Sondland will be released Tuesday.

Schiff said the Intelligence Committee will soon move to open hearings but he declined to give a specific timetable or comment on who would be called as witnesses in those sessions.

Here is the latest on the impeachment inquiry:

Write it down: Trump tweeted that Republicans should release their own transcripts of depositions with impeachment witnesses, reiterated his claim that his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was “perfect,” and panned the whistleblower whose complaint accelerated the House impeachment inquiry against him for expressing a willingness to answer written questions.

“Written answers not acceptable!” Trump tweeted, although he provided written answers to questions to Robert S. Mueller III during the former special counsel’s Russian election interference investigation.

While leaving the White House for a political rally in Kentucky, Trump called the whistleblower’s report was “very wrong.” A White House-prepared summary of the Zelenskiy call, however, aligns with the whistleblower’s written complaint to an IC inspector general.

What’s in the transcripts?: In her transcript released Monday, Yovanovitch expresses repeated concern about the influence of the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on the administration’s policy in Ukraine and his efforts to have her removed from her post.

According to the transcript of her deposition, Yovanovitch said she was shocked when she learned that Trump referred to her as “bad news” during his call with Zelenskiy. Trump ordered Yovanovitch removed from her post as ambassador this spring.

“I was very surprised that President Trump would — first of all, that I would feature repeatedly in a presidential phone call, but secondly, that the President would speak about me or any ambassador in that way to a foreign counterpart,” she told investigators.

McKinley, who left the State Department earlier this year, told lawmakers he resigned when he did as a result of “two overriding concerns”: the “puzzling and baffling” lack of support for State Department staffers and “what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives.”

He said he ended his 37 years of foreign service over the State Department's treatment of Yovanovitch.

Excerpts of the transcripts curated by the Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees for Yovanovitch's testimony and McKinley's testimony were posted online Monday.

Full transcripts were also posted online.

Adding to body of evidence: Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff told reporters Monday that John Eisenberg, a top lawyer at the White House National Security Council, and Robert Blair, assistant to the president and senior adviser to the acting chief of staff, defied congressional subpoenas to appear for depositions Monday morning. Two witnesses subpoenaed to appear Monday afternoon – Michael Ellis, deputy legal advisor to the NSC, and Brian McCormack, associate director for natural resources, energy and science at the Office of Management and Budget – are also expected to be no-shows, he said.

“This will only further add to the body of evidence on a potential obstruction of Congress charge against the president,” Schiff said.

In the articles of impeachment the House drafted against President Richard Nixon, there was an obstruction of Congress article that included an itemized list of subpoenas the White House defied, Schiff said, suggesting that Democrats are considering doing the same for Trump.

“Today we have four additional subpoenas to add to the list,” he said.

Schiff also reiterated that Democrats are using adverse inference to judge the no-show witnesses in absence of their testimony.

“We may infer by the White House obstruction here that their testimony would be further incrementing of the president,” he said.

“Delay, deny, obstruct”: As the House voted last week on procedures for the impeachment inquiry, Schiff noted that the White House’s argument for obstructing has shifted from the lack of a floor vote on the inquiry to claims of absolute immunity for senior officials and complaints that administration counsel cannot participate. None of the White House claims are valid reason for obstruction, he said.

Asked why the committees aren’t allowing agency counsel when some witnesses have said they would appear if such counsel was allowed, Schiff said it is “the uniform policy and practice of the House” not to allow agency counsel, particularly when lawmakers have concerns about those agencies.

“State Department representatives made the claim to their employees that they were being bullied by the Congress, and in fact State Department employees were concerned about being bullied by their own State Department,” Schiff said.

Schiff also said the committees will not delay the inquiry to await decisions from the courts on whether witnesses like former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman have to comply with the subpoenas. He predicted the court will dismiss Kupperman’s lawsuit for lack of standing or credulity.

“We’re not going to delay our work. That would merely allow these witnesses and the White House to succeed with their goal, which is to delay, deny, obstruct,” Schiff said.

“There is no whistleblower”: Trump and congressional Republicans rejected an offer from the whistleblower whose concerns about Trump’s call with Zelenskiy accelerated the investigation to answer written questions.

Mark Zaid, the attorney representing the whistleblower, offered Sunday to answer written questions and said Republican efforts to expose the whistleblower’s identity “could jeopardize their safety, as well as that of their family.”

Trump appeared to put pressure on Republicans on Monday to not take that route and continued to attack the whistleblower as a partisan.

“There is no Whistleblower. There is someone with an agenda against Donald Trump,” the president tweeted Monday morning. “What he was blowing the whistle on didn’t happen. We have the transcript of the call. This is all a farce and no Republican should forget that.”

No-shows: All four Trump administration officials scheduled to testify in the impeachment probe Monday are skipping their depositions.

Two are lawyers for the National Security Council, one is a senior adviser to acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and the other is the associate director for natural resources, energy and science at the Office of Management and Budget.

One of the NSC lawyers, Eisenberg, received multiple complaints this summer from NSC officials about the outsized role Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was playing in directing the president’s foreign policy in Ukraine.

Eisenberg is also the administration lawyer who directed others to put the transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy onto a highly classified server with restricted access after he had received complaints from aides who were alarmed by the substance of the call, according to testimony from NSC Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman that was reported by the Washington Post.

Eisenberg will not give his deposition before the impeachment panel on Monday, citing executive privilege. Mulvaney aide Robert Blair, NSC lawyer Michael Ellis, and OMB energy official Brian McCormack all made clear they will not appear for their scheduled testimony because they are not allowed to bring administration counsel with them, CNN reported

House Democrats are interested in hearing more from aides to Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry after both indicated they are unwilling to testify before impeachment investigators. Mulvaney, Perry, and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland worked closely with Giuliani from within the administration to push for Ukraine to investigate conspiracy theories about Democratic collusion with Ukraine during the 2016 election as well as corruption concerns involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, according to reports of other impeachment witness testimony.

Schiff, who is leading the impeachment probe, issued subpoenas Sunday night for testimony from NSC attorney Ellis and Blair, the Mulvaney aide.

Past blow-offs: The White House has largely stonewalled the production of documents from top officials. Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Mulvaney, and Perry have all declined to hand over documents despite subpoenas from Schiff.

At least one called witness, former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman, no-showed his testimony last week and is seeking a federal court’s judgment on whether or not he must testify in accordance with a House subpoena.

The White House has ordered officials called for depositions not to testify, arguing that anyone who has spoken with the president about the matters at the heart of the impeachment probe have “constitutional immunity” from testifying before Congress. Most officials have eventually defied that order once issued a subpoena.

Trump’s taxes: A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that there is no constitutional basis to block a grand jury subpoena from the district attorney of New York County to an accounting firm for Trump’s financial and tax records.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that a review of historical and legal precedent found that “presidential immunity” does not bar the enforcement of a state subpoena, “even when the subject matter under investigation pertains to the President.”

The subpoena from the New York County district attorney to accounting firm Mazars USA does not require the president to do “anything at all,” the ruling states.

The case in not about “the President’s arrest or imprisonment, or with an order compelling him to attend court at a particular time or place, or, indeed, with an order that compels the President himself to do anything,” the court ruled.

The grand jury is investigating whether several individuals and entities have committed state crimes. Trump’s lawyers challenged the subpoena in September.

Under review: Fiona Hill, former top Russia and Europe adviser to the NSC, returned to Capitol Hill on Monday to review the records of her testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Witnesses reviewing testimony is part of a process to finalize the transcripts of the closed-door depositions ahead of releasing them to the public.

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