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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Courthouse News Service
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Pence Aide From Trump-Zelensky Call to Testify in Impeachment Probe

As the public barrels toward televised hearings in the impeachment inquiry next week, the closed-door testimony parade continues Thursday with an aide to Vice President Mike Pence who listened in on the call that started it all.

WASHINGTON (CN) – By this time next week, impeachment inquiry hearings will be televised, giving the public firsthand access to State Department officials with inside knowledge of the phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky. Until then, however the closed-door testimony parade continues Thursday with a senior aide to Vice President Mike Pence.

In addition to Jennifer Williams, Vice President Pence’s adviser for Europe and Russia, the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees are scheduled to take testimony from former national-security adviser John Bolton.

Bolton’s attorney Charles Cooper had initially said the former national security adviser would not show unless hearings were made public. As reported first by the Washington Post on Thursday afternoon, however, people familiar with Bolton’s decisionmaking said Bolton is willing to defy the White House and testify for impeachment investigators.

Before he commits, Bolton reportedly is waiting for resolution of the constitutional privilege dispute underway between former White House counsel Don McGahn and Congress. This case is still weeks or months away from a ruling in U.S. District court and is likely to move then to the Supreme Court.

Williams is one of at least six people definitively known to be on the call firsthand with Presidents Trump and Zelensky. She is also one of at least two known individuals on Pence’s staff who was on the call.

The other is Keith Kellogg, Pence’s nationals security adviser, who has not yet been called for testimony.

It is unclear whether Kellogg will be summoned, and a representative for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff did not immediately respond to request for comment Thursday morning.

Pence was not on the call himself, instead sending staff members Williams and Kellogg as his intermediaries. Other individuals known to be on the call firsthand include National Security Council members like deputy national-security adviser Charles Kupperman, NSC’s senior director for European affairs Timothy Morrison and senior expert on Ukraine Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.

From the White House side, Robert Blair, who serves as senior adviser to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, was also on the call. From the State Department, Secretary Mike Pompeo listened in, too.

In the inquiry thus far, State Department officials have appeared willingly once formally subpoenaed. Ahead of Williams’ testimony, her attorney Justin Shur signaled that Williams would appear and offer information already in the public record.

Williams may have taken contemporaneous notes of the discussion between Trump and Zelensky in July where Trump is believed to have asked the foreign nation to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter and Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings where Hunter once sat on the board.

Williams’ insight may too extend to details of a trip in September where Pence met with Zelensky in Poland. Hurricane Dorian had kept Trump in the U.S., necessitating Pence to go in his place.

A discussion over the delayed $400 million in military assistance unfolded during the meeting in Warsaw, according to testimony from senior U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor made public Wednesday.

Whether the Bidens or Burisma was discussed at the Pence-Zelensky meeting in Poland is murky, though Pence has maintained publicly that “anticorruption” was the only matter discussed.

A representative for the vice president did not immediately respond to request Thursday morning.

According to Taylor’s testimony, Pence “did not respond substantively” when the military aid was brought up at the meeting with Zelensky. Rather, Taylor said, Pence said only he would speak with President Trump that evening about the matter.

“The vice president did say that President Trump wanted the Europeans to do more to support Ukraine and that he wanted Ukrainians to do more to fight corruption,” Taylor told the committee during his closed-door hearing.

As hearings behind closed doors dwindle, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff sent the ranking Republican on the committee a letter that outlines the rules of the road for witness testimony requests moving forward.

Made public Thursday, the letter to Representative Devin Nunes cites established inquiry procedures approved by a full House vote last month. Schiff said Republicans have until Saturday morning to list any witnesses they wish to call for public testimony.

While Democrats don’t anticipate publicly interviewing each witness that has already been deposed privately, Schiff said Republicans can do so if they wish, so long as the request is made in writing and includes a justification for why that person’s testimony is still sought.

Minority witnesses must be there to speak on matters relevant only to those issues outlined in the inquiry resolution. Those matters include questions pertaining to whether the president, directly or through agents, used the power of his office to have Zelenky advance his own political interests. Another question at issue involves whether Trump requested a foreign leader or government to open investigations that would benefit his personal U.S. political interests or in the 2020 election.

The parameters additionally encompass inquiries over whether Trump or members of his administration attempted to obstruct, suppress or cover up information regarding his own activities so that it would not be shared with Congress or the American people.

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