WASHINGTON (CN) – The impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump hurtled forward Tuesday as Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said he would not comply with a subpoena for records demanded by House Democrats.
The subpoena from the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform Committees focuses on Giuliani’s involvement in the president’s efforts to have the Ukrainian government investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
In a phone call on July 25, Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to coordinate with Giuliani on an investigation into Hunter Biden, shortly after the two leaders discussed Ukraine buying missiles from the United States. The call, and the whistleblower complaint that revealed it, became the tipping point that spurred Democratic leadership in the House to begin the impeachment inquiry.
The House committees gave Giuliani until Tuesday to respond to the subpoena.
On Tuesday morning, the former New York City mayor appeared unconcerned with the subpoena deadline, saying he planned to attend a Yankees game.
But later in the day, he confirmed via Twitter he would not comply with the request of an “illegitimate, unconstitutional and baseless impeachment inquiry.”
“At this time, I do not need a lawyer,” Giuliani added, referring to the news that he parted ways with attorney Jon Sale.
Giuliani’s flouting of the congressional deadline comes one day after he disclosed to Reuters that he was paid $500,000 for his work with Fraud Guarantee, the Florida-based management and security firm co-founded by recently indicted Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas. Prosecutors allege Parnas and another business associate of Giuliani’s, Igor Fruman, violated campaign finance laws in a bid to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations.
Giuliani is also said to be under the microscope of federal prosecutors in New York, who are reportedly scrutinizing whether he violated lobbying laws and undermined the role of Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
House Democrats’ spotlight on Giuliani will likely intensify after Fiona Hill, an ex-White House aide, reportedly told lawmakers Monday that former National Security Adviser John Bolton described Giuliani in July as a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.” He also asked her to inform White House counsel that Giuliani was conducting a “rogue” operation in Ukraine, she said.
Bolton may soon be drawn directly into the probe as Democrats mull issuing a subpoena to him.
Though a formal subpoena has yet to be issued to Vice President Mike Pence, the House committees also asked him to turn over records related to the call between Trump and Zelensky by Tuesday. Lawmakers also want documents about Pence’s own visit with Zelensky in Poland last month.
If a subpoena is issued and Pence ignores it, lawmakers could either bring a legal challenge in court or hold a House vote holding the vice president in contempt.
Pence has already said he would not cooperate with an “unconstitutional” inquiry and that he will claim executive privilege over his communications with or involving President Trump.
Mark Rozell, a constitutional law expert and dean of George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, said claiming executive privilege “weakens substantially” in the case of credible allegations of wrongdoing.
“That is the standard applied in the Nixon case as well as multiple judicial rulings during the Clinton scandal. The problem is that neither the judiciary nor Congress has an adequate enforcement mechanism,” Rozell said. “Congress can demand testimony and documents, and the courts can ultimately side with Congress over a privilege claim. But who is going to enforce it?”
The “ultimate enforcement mechanism,” Rozell believes, is impeachment and removal.
“Under normal circumstances, [that] should happen without question if there is a ruling that the president and vice president acted outside of their constitutional powers. But there is nothing to date to suggest that the Senate would uphold that end of the Constitutional bargain these days,” he said.
Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, also appears unwilling to comply with a House request. Lawmakers seek records from Vought that may contain details about the Trump administration’s decision to freeze military assistance to Ukraine.
When reached for comment, a senior administration official in Vought’s office said only that the “letter sent from the White House last week speaks for itself.”
That letter promised a “full halt” in cooperation from the Executive Branch with Democrats’ subpoenas and faulted lawmakers for not holding a full House vote authorizing the impeachment inquiry. Such a vote is not required, however, for the probe to go forward.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s subpoena deadline also fell on Tuesday. A spokesperson at the Department of Defense declined to elaborate on his cooperation or lack thereof.
As deadlines wound down Tuesday, George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state overseeing European and Eurasian Affairs, defied State Department direction as he testified privately to House lawmakers conducting the inquiry.
In March, according to internal emails obtained by Congress, Kent helped provide State Department officials with information he and others believed would counter a disinformation campaign launched against Yovanovitch, then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, by news personalities aligned with Trump.
During Kent’s testimony Tuesday, Virginia Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly told reporters the assistant secretary was disturbed by his revelations involving Giuliani.
“He was clearly bothered by the role Mr. Giuliani was playing and the disinformation he was spreading and the fact that he had the president’s ear which was negatively affecting our relationship with the new government in Ukraine,” Connolly said.
Behind closed doors for now
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters during a press conference Tuesday that the House would not hold a full vote authorizing the impeachment inquiry anytime soon.
Beyond not being constitutionally required, Pelosi said it is not the House’s imperative or desire to call the White House’s bluff on suggestions Democrats don’t have the goods to back up an inquiry and succeed on a vote.
“That’s not what we’re here for. This is not a game for us. This is deadly serious, and we are on a path that is taking us to truth and on a timetable that respects our Constitution,” she said.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff also told reporters that lawmakers have made “dramatic progress” in their investigation around the July 25 phone call between Zelensky and Trump.
“That call wasn’t in isolation, there was preparatory work before the call and follow-up work done after the call and we’ve learned much of this thanks to the courageous testimony of State Department officials,” Schiff said.
Lawmakers continue to unearth more information about the effort by the Trump White House to condition the meeting sought by Zelensky, the chairman said.
“I want to underscore how important that meeting was to Ukraine. It was invaded by Russia and still in the midst of a hot conflict and depends on us diplomatically, militarily, economically. It gave enormous leverage to Trump to coerce what he wanted from the president of Ukraine,” Schiff said.
The pace of the impeachment inquiry will accelerate regardless of the active stonewalling by the White House.
“The evidence of obstruction of Congress continues to mount,” Schiff said.
Hearings will continue in closed sessions this week and likely into next week. While transparency is paramount, Schiff said a “profound need” existed to protect the integrity of witness testimony.
“We need to make sure that one witness does not have an opportunity to read another witness’ testimony and hide or color the truth or determine how much they can give or conceal. I’m sure the president would like nothing better than to see what other witnesses are saying. But there’s a reason why Mueller did his investigation out of sight and the counsels who investigated Nixon did too,” he said.
Republican staff and lawmakers have had ample opportunity for questions during each deposition, with one hour given to Democrats and one hour to Republicans. Both parties get an additional 45 minutes for questioning and testimony is not complete until all questions are exhausted.
Transcripts will eventually be released and open hearings will also follow at a date yet to be determined, Schiff said, noting Republicans will have plenty of time to interview witnesses then too – though they might not like what they hear.
“You see this in court decision after court decision, the administration’s legal arguments hold no water. Republicans don’t want to discuss the president’s conduct. They would much rather discuss the process. Every time they are asked, you see how impossible it is to justify the unjustified.”