WASHINGTON (CN) – Against escalating resistance from the White House, the House continues its impeachment probe of President Donald Trump with testimony Tuesday from a U.S. diplomat who had strong words for Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a presidential campaign,” Bill Taylor, the country’s top diplomat to Ukraine wrote in September while exchanging text messages with colleagues.
Taylor served as ambassador to Ukraine in the George W. Bush administration and has led the diplomatic mission in the country since June, after Trump’s State Department recalled his predecessor, Marie Yovanovitch.
It is undisputed the United States had been withholding key military aid to Ukraine for months before Trump got on the phone in July with the newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and urged him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
Trump told Zelensky that Yovanovitch was “bad news” when they spoke on July 25, according to a summary of the call released by the White House. Though Trump’s objections to Yovanovitch remain shrouded, Yovanovich is said to have told another diplomat that she had been insisting that Trump follow long-established protocol for an investigation by Ukraine of the Biden family.
Earlier this month, despite an order from the White house barring cooperation in the probe by administration officials, Yovanovich testified before members of three House committees in a closed-door session.
The committees have also interviewed Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and former Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker — two men from the now-public chat with Taylor.
In one of the messages Taylor asked: “Are we now saying that security assistance and [White House] meeting are conditioned on investigations?”
“Call me,” Sondland replied.
The White House argued in a letter sent to the House earlier this month that the impeachment probe is invalid without a vote authorizing it. No such vote is required in the Constitution, but the House took votes to unlock greater investigatory powers while looking into impeaching Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
Heeding that guidance, Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, announced Monday that neither he nor the office’s Associate Director of National Security Programs Michael Duffey will testify.
“As the WH letter made clear two weeks ago, OMB officials – myself and Mike Duffey – will not be complying with deposition requests this week. #shamprocess,” Vought tweeted Monday morning.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the White House gave Duffey power to delay aid to Ukraine, despite concerns from career staffers that such a move might not be legal.
As the House presses forward with its investigation, Trump has done the same with his criticism of House Democrats’ efforts.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has reportedly planned to hold an impeachment trial by the end of the year, with the expectation that the House will approve articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving, though Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi downplayed that timeline in a press conference last week, saying “the timeline will depend on the truth-line.”
But on Monday, Trump said he believes the investigation is in service of improving Democrats’ odds of winning the White House in 2020.
“I think they want to impeach me because it’s the only way they’re going to win,” Trump said during a meeting with this cabinet.