As House Democrats pivot to the public phase of their impeachment inquiry, they have filled the first slate of open hearings next week with three longtime civil servants of unassailable character to make the case that President Donald Trump should be impeached.
Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent will testify Wednesday. Taylor’s predecessor in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, will testify on Friday.
All three gave lawmakers blistering accounts of the president’s interactions with the new Ukrainian government. Multiple impeachment witnesses have accused Trump of withholding nearly $400 million of vital military aid from Ukraine and delaying a coveted White House meeting between the president and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as he sought to pressure Zelenskiy into announcing anti-corruption investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and other domestic political rivals.
Mulvaney admitted in his now-infamous news conference in October that Trump sought a quid pro quo where Ukraine would announce the investigations in exchange for a military aid package and a White House meeting.
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” he said then.
The White House later tried to walk back his comments.
House impeachment investigators this week released six transcripts of closed-door depositions taken in October as they pivot to public hearings next week.
Here is the latest on the impeachment inquiry:
Trump on whistleblower: Trump told reporters Friday that the House committees leading the impeachment should scrap their planned public hearings because their inquiry is a “hoax.”
He also again called for the identity to be revealed of the intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint about his call with Zelenskiy set off the probe. And he called for his attorney, Mark Zaid, to be sued “maybe for treason.”
Another call to Ukraine: Trump told reporters he is considering releasing a summary of a call he had with Zelenskiy before the July 25 call.
“I will give it if they want it,” he said, referring to House Democrats. “I don’t like doing it because it’s such a bad precedent.”
“Model” diplomats: Taylor, Kent and Yovanovitch have more than seven decades of collective experience in the foreign service, with careers spanning four Republican and two Democratic presidents.
That is no accident. What witnesses say can only go as far as how trustworthy they are, and House Democrats want to introduce their impeachment case to the American people through public servants who they can portray as having spent their lives advancing American values abroad and upholding the Constitution. Taylor, Kent, Yovanovitch and others who are scheduled to testify publicly have variably been called “patriots” and “model” U.S. diplomats over the last month as they have defied White House orders not to comply with the impeachment probe.
Republicans, echoing Trump, have maintained for nearly two years that the multiple investigations into Trump — first by then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, later by House Democrats — have been partisan witch hunts perpetrated by Democrats seeking retribution for Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton.
Democrats are hoping that if Americans hear directly from the mouths of nonpartisan career officials, that GOP message will not stick. The witnesses, wary of tarnishing their reputations, went out of their way in previous depositions to emphasize that they prioritize country over the party system.
“My background and experience are nonpartisan and I have been honored to serve under every administration, Republican and Democratic, since 1985,” Taylor said in his opening statement.
Foreign service officers take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” regardless of who is in the Oval Office, some of the impeachment witnesses have said in their testimony.
“I have understood that oath as a commitment to serve on a strictly nonpartisan basis, to advance the foreign policy determined by the incumbent President, and to work at all times to strengthen our national security and promote our national interests,” Yovanovitch, who has worked under Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, Obama and Trump, said in her opening statement to lawmakers in October.
“Campaign of slander”: In a transcript released Thursday of his closed-door deposition, George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of State in the European and Eurasian Bureau, was critical of Trump personal attorney Rudy 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 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.
Giuliani’s “assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period,” Kent testified.
Pence adviser testifies: Jennifer Williams, a longtime State Department official who is detailed to work with Vice President Mike Pence and was on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy, testified to investigators on Thursday.
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell declined to discuss details of Williams’ testimony, saying he would let her 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.
Swalwell, a member of the Intelligence Committee, told reporters that it’s not yet clear whether Williams would be the last witness deposed in the first phase of the inquiry.
In addition to Mulvaney, the committee would still like to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton, whose attorneys said he would fight a subpoena to come before the committee.
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.”
Bolton bolts: The committee had requested that Bolton give a deposition Thursday and had earlier indicated that he would consider testifying under subpoena, but his counsel informed the Intelligence Committee that he would fight such efforts in court, a committee official said.
“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.
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