Congress

Impeachment news roundup: Oct. 25

Federal judge affirms legality of House impeachment inquiry, despite process complaints from GOP

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Justice Department to provide the House Judiciary Committee with materials from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and affirmed the House impeachment probe's legality. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats scored a key victory on Friday when a federal judge ordered the Justice Department to deliver to the House Judiciary Committee all redacted materials, including grand jury documents, from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and in the process affirmed the legality of the House impeachment probe into President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, three Republican senators are still holding out on endorsing South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s resolution condemning how the House is conducting its inquiry.

Mick Mulvaney received a vote of confidence on Friday from White House counselor Kellyanne Conway despite the acting chief of staff's blunder last week admitting that the president solicited a quid pro quo from the Ukrainian government urging it to investigate his political rivals in exchange for U.S. military aid to combat Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine.

Here’s the latest on the impeachment investigation:

Trump thanks: President Trump, appearing to be mindful of the vote count on a possible impeachment trial in the Senate, gave a Twitter shoutout Friday afternoon to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell “and their Great Senate Republican colleagues, on the resolution condemning the Do Nothing Democrats for their Witch Hunt Impeachment inquiry, behind closed doors........in the basement of the United States Capitol!”

“They cannot win at the ballot box. Their sham for the past 3 years continues,” he wrote as he returned from an event in South Carolina. “The good news is that the American People get it, which will be proven once again on November 3, 2020!”

Mueller documents: A district judge Friday ordered the Justice Department to give grand jury materials from former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation to the House Judiciary Committee by Wednesday. The DOJ is likely to appeal the ruling.

The judge sided with Democrats in determining that the impeachment inquiry announced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi is valid even without a full vote of the House, saying that “close scrutiny of the historical record undercuts” what the judge refers to as Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins’ “House resolution test.”

“While this test may address political legitimacy concerns, which are best resolved in the political arena, no governing law requires this test—not the Constitution, not House Rules, and not Rule 6(e), and so imposing this test would be an impermissible intrusion on the House’s constitutional authority both to determine the rules of its proceedings’ under the Rulemaking Clause, U.S. CONST., Art. I, § 5, cl. 2, and to exercise ‘the sole power of Impeachment’ under the Impeachment Clause, id. § 2, cl. 5,” the judge wrote.

In search of a crime: During a speech in South Carolina on criminal justice policy, the president called the impeachment inquiry “an investigation in search of a crime.”

“You know, I have my own experience. You see it’s a terrible thing going on in our country,” he said. “In America, you are innocent until proven guilty. We don’t have investigations in search of a crime.”

Vote of confidence: After his stunning description of a quid pro quo with Ukraine in a news conference last week, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney received a vote of confidence from a member of the boss’s inner circle.

Mick Mulvaney’s doing a very good job as chief of staff. I made that very clear to the president, to Mick Mulvaney, to the vice president, to anybody who’s listening,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Friday.

Conway lightly criticized the reportedly damning testimony from Taylor this week — but she never directly called it incorrect.

“That’s one person’s testimony. There’s been other testimony,” she said. “I believe that Ambassador [Gordon] Sondland … made very clear in texting Ambassador Taylor that that was not the president’s intent. There was no quid pro quo intended. … I think intent matters.”

Asked about the ambassador’s testimony on Friday, Trump said: “Here’s the problem, he’s a ‘Never Trumper’ and his attorneys are ‘Never Trumpers,’” using a term from the 2016 campaign to define Republicans who did not support him.

And Trump jabbed his secretary of State for appointing Taylor as acting ambassador to Ukraine despite his being a “Never Trumper.”

Mike Pompeo. Everyone makes mistakes,” the president said.

Crimefighter: As he left for a policy speech in South Carolina, Trump again applauded House Republicans for their counter-impeachment efforts. He said they are “fed up,” just like the American people. Polls, however, say a majority of Americans support the inquiry.

“I did nothing wrong,” Trump said of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s new president on which he asked his counterpart to “do us favor” and investigate top U.S. Democrats.

Trump suggested he should not be impeached because the American economy remains strong. “We’re going to have another stock market high,” he said over Marine One’s loud engines during what’s become known among the White House press corps as “Chopper Talk.”

Asked if he is concerned with the criminal probe that appears to be zeroing in on personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Trump said, “I don’t think so.”

“He’s a great crimefighter,” the president said, contending his lawyer has done nothing wrong.

No whistleblower, no problem: Democrats on the committees running the impeachment investigation this week continued to play down the need to take a deposition from the whistleblower whose complaint triggered the probe.

“I think it’s quite clear we have a surfeit of evidence that corroborates in full every aspect of what happened and the policy they were pursuing,” Democratic Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia, a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told the Washington Post.

As early as Oct. 13, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California, who is leading the inquiry, said the whistleblower’s testimony “might not be necessary.”

Democrats heralded Taylor’s testimony on Tuesday as another breakthrough after he drew a direct link between the withholding of military aid to Ukraine and requests from the White House for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open up anti-corruption probes into Trump’s political rivals.

“Whistleblowers are the people who set off a process by telling the truth,” Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who sits on the Oversight panel, told the Post.

Morrison’s moment: Timothy Morrison, special assistant to the president and senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, is expected to provide key corroborating testimony to what Taylor told investigators.

Democrats have signaled that they expect Morrison to corroborate the administration’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to probe Democrats’ conduct in the 2016 election as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, CNN reported.

But CNN’s report also said that Morrison might tell lawmakers he did not see anything wrong with Trump’s actions.

Upcoming testimony: The investigation will pick back up on Saturday with closed-door testimony from Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

Charles Kupperman, former deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs, is scheduled to appear for a deposition Monday. 

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs on the National Security Council, will testify Tuesday. And Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, will testify Wednesday, according to a source working on the investigation. 

Morrison’s testimony is slated for Thursday.

Bolton, too?: Impeachment investigators are in discussions with an attorney for former National Security Adviser John Bolton about having him in for a deposition, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Bolton left his White House post in September and, according to former NSC official Fiona Hill, was wary of Mulvaney and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s plans in Ukraine.

More subpoenas: The House committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry issued subpoenas on Friday to Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought and Associate Director for National Security Programs Michael Duffey.

The subpoenas seek to compel them to appear for depositions during the first week of November.

The leaders of the same three House committees also issued a subpoena to Ulrich Brechbuhl, a counselor at the State Department.

"Your failure or refusal to appear at the deposition, including at the direction or behest of the President or the White House, shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry and may be used as an adverse inference against the President," wrote Schiff, Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel and Acting Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney.

Republican holdouts: By Friday afternoon, just three Senate Republicans still withheld their support for a resolution from Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham that laid out transparency and due process complaints over the House’s ongoing impeachment investigations.

Graham is keeping the pressure high by maintaining an updated list on Twitter of senators who have endorsed the measure. That total is up to 50, all of whom are Republicans.

The GOP holdouts include Susan Collins of Maine, who faces a tough battle for reelection in 2020, and Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Romney and Murkowski have both been highly critical of the president’s alleged pressure campaign on Ukraine, round out the group.

Graham said Thursday that “every American should be disturbed” by the House’s impeachment investigation.

“One of the cornerstones of American jurisprudence is due process — the right to confront your accuser, call witnesses on your behalf, and challenge the accusations against you. None of this is occurring in the House,” he said.

Democrats have maintained that they are in the investigative stage of the impeachment process, which they are conducting behind closed doors so that witnesses can’t coordinate their testimony. They have compared the initial investigative stage to closed-door grand jury evidence-gathering. Schiff has promised “transparency” toward the end of the investigative stage and once it is complete.

Gabbard’s gripes: Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard expressed some of the same concerns as Republicans about the lack of transparency in the House's impeachment inquiry so far.

“I don’t know what’s going on in those closed doors,” the Hawaii Democratic congresswoman in an interview on Fox News on Thursday. “We as members of Congress do not have access to the information that’s being shared. I think the American people deserve to know exactly what the facts are, what the evidence is being presented as this inquiry goes on.”

Gabbard, who announced Thursday that she was not running for reelection while she continues her presidential campaign, does not serve on any of the three committees — Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform — that are conducting the investigation. Their findings will be referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Gabbard also warned her party that impeachment could further threaten American unity.

“I’ve long expressed my concern about going through impeachment proceedings in a very, very partisan way because it will only further tear apart an already divided country,” she said.

Honoring Cummings: Impeachment inquiry depositions paused on Thursday as lawmakers gathered at the Capitol to salute Rep. Elijah Cummings as his body lay in state.

Impeachment investigators are not taking depositions on Friday, either, as many are attending the late House Oversight chairman’s funeral in his hometown of Baltimore at the New Psalmist Baptist Church, in the Lochearn neighborhood. Speakers include the congressman’s widow, former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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