Congress

Impeachment news roundup: Oct. 8

The latest on the impeachment inquiry

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff speaks to reporters in the Capitol after learning the State Department blocked U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from testifying to the committee on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The 11th-hour cancellation of testimony of a key player in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump threw Democrats into an uproar with one suggesting it was another piece of evidence of the president obstructing justice.

The Democratic chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on Tuesday evening made good on a plan to subpoena Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, for his testimony and documents.

And Tuesday afternoon Democrats and Republicans exchanged barbs, requests and one threatened to expel Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Here is the latest on the inquiry:

Pelosi peeved: Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement Tuesday night accused Trump of “trying to make lawlessness a virtue.” She characterized the earlier White House letter, which said the administration would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry into the president’s actions, as “only the latest attempt to cover up his betrayal of our democracy.” Pelosi said continued efforts to stonewall the inquiry will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction.

Gowdy drafted: Former House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, has agreed to serve as outside counsel to Trump during the impeachment inquiry, according to multiple news reports.

Sondland subpoena: Chairmen Adam Schiff (Intelligence), Eliot L. Engel (Foreign Affairs) and Elijah Cummings (Oversight) on Tuesday evening issued a subpoena to Sondland, who did not appear on the Hill for scheduled testimony early in the day after the State Department blocked his appearance. The subpoena says he must turn over documents by Oct. 14 and sit for a deposition on Oct. 16.

Volker deposition: House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs wrote to the Democratic chairmen of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees calling on them to release the transcript of the deposition last Thursday with Kurt Volker, former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, no later than Oct. 18. 

Just the facts: In a “Dear Colleague” letter to House Democrats Tuesday afternoon, Pelosi criticized the actions Trump has taken over the past two weeks, saying it shows “a defiance of our founders, with a total disregard for their wisdom and the U.S. Constitution.” The letter went on to say,  “when it comes to impeachment, it is just about the facts and the Constitution.”

Fabricated account: Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots Action filed an ethics complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics alleging that Schiff violated House ethics rules. The group alleged Schiff lied about the interactions he and his staff had with the whistleblower and fabricated an account of the call between Trump and the president of Ukraine. 

Witch hunt: Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Republican running for governor of Louisiana, introduced a resolution Tuesday to expel Pelosi, calling the impeachment inquiry a “politically-motivated witch hunt.”

The resolution follows calls by Trump for Pelosi to be impeached, which is not the correct process for removing members of Congress. Abraham’s resolution would also vacate the speaker’s chair.

Power of the purse: Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Mark Pocan, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, wrote Tuesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo inquiring who in the State Department directed Sondland to not testify.

The Wisconsin Democrat said that person is violating a provision of the fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill, the policies of which were extended into fiscal 2019 under a continuing resolution, that prohibits federal officials from preventing other federal employees from communicating with Congress and should have their salary withheld until Sondland is allowed to testify.

Late notice: Schiff, Engel and Cummings said in a joint statement that they consider the State Department blocking Sondland from testifying before the committees and turning over documents to be obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry. “We will be issuing subpoena to Ambassador Sondland for both his testimony and documents,” the chairmen wrote.

The chairmen said they learned Tuesday morning from Sondland’s attorney that he had received a voicemail from the State Department at 12:30 a.m. telling him that the White House would not allow him to testify at the scheduled 9:30 a.m. meeting.

The chairmen said Sondland’s attorneys told them that he had recovered communications from personal devices that the committees had requested before his scheduled interview and had turned them over to the State Department, which is withholding them from the committees in defiance of a subpoena to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

[Democrats, Trump lock in on impeachment standoff]

Playing defense: Trump retreated into a defensive crouch on Tuesday with polls showing more Americans favor his impeachment and still taking heat from members of his own party over his surprise plan to pull U.S. troops from the Syria-Turkey border, which critics say would endanger Kurdish forces who have fought with the U.S. against the Islamic State.

Trump on Tuesday tried to justify his decision, which critics say will leave the Kurds at the will of Turkish forces that are expected to soon cross into Syrian territory and engage them.

“In no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” Trump tweeted.

Let’s hear from Rudy: Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday that he was inviting Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney and the former New York mayor, to appear before his committee regarding alleged corruption in Ukraine.

“Given the House of Representatives’ behavior, it is time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine,” Graham tweeted.

Such an appearance, particularly if it’s in an open session, would likely be a spectacle for Giuliani to make allegations about the family of 2020 presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sen. Kamala Harris, one of the three Democratic presidential candidates on the committee, said she hopes Giuliani testifies. One of her Senate aides said she has also asked Attorney General William Barr if the White House ever asked him to use the Justice Department to investigate corruption in Ukraine or anything related to the Biden family.

No-show: Sondland’s attorney released a statement Tuesday morning saying that the State Department blocked him from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.

“Ambassador Sondland is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today. Ambassador Sondland traveled to Washington from Brussels in order to prepare for his testimony and to be available to answer the Committee’s questions. Arrangements had already been made with Joint Committee staff regarding the logistics of his testimony,” counsel Robert Luskin of Paul Hastings LLP said in a statement.

Sondland was among those involved in an exchange of text messages released by House committees last week between State Department officials over holding up aid to Ukraine.

Fallout: Speaking to reporters after the canceled testimony, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said the White House’s blocking Sondland’s testimony was further evidence of obstruction of justice on Trump’s part.

Schiff said that Sondland’s testimony would be “deeply relevant” to the inquiry, noting that the ambassador had personal emails and text messages with members of the administration, Ukrainian officials and an unnamed senator that are directly related to the inquiry.

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 8: Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., right, passes House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, outside a meeting in the Capitol Visitor Center where Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, did not appear for a deposition about President Trump’s dealing with Ukraine on Tuesday, October 8, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Schiff, left, passes Republican Rep. Mark Meadows outside the meeting room where they were to hear Sondland’s testimony on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Backup: Following Schiff’s comments, Republican House members voiced support for the State Department’s decision. They said they want last week’s testimony from former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker to be released before Congress holds additional closed-door briefings and depositions related to the inquiry.

“Kangaroo court”: Trump defended his administration’s decision to block Gordon Sondland by claiming in a series of tweets that the U.S. diplomat “would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s [sic] rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public........to see.”

He also wrote that a text message Sondland sent to a colleague about Trump’s desires for U.S.-Ukrainian relations to include an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter noted he did not want any quid pro quo discussed by American officials.

“That says it ALL!” Trump tweeted.

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