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State Official Faces Questions on Ousted Ambassador, Aid Hold-Up

As several Trump administration officials blow off impeachment investigators Wednesday, at least one high-ranking State Department official appeared this morning to give closed-door testimony.

WASHINGTON (CN) – As several Trump administration officials blow off impeachment investigators Wednesday, at least one high-ranking State Department official appeared this morning to give closed-door testimony.

As undersecretary for political affairs, David Hale holds the third-highest ranking position at the State Department. Lawmakers expect he will expose greater details about the political motives that drove the months-long delay of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Other officials like outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought and State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl were also called for testimony Wednesday, with hopes never high of them actually appearing.

The OMB has steadily rebuffed requests from the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees for weeks. Vought was first subpoenaed on Oct. 7 and when he ignored it, lawmakers issued another letter on Oct. 11. They requested all of Vought’s documents and communications tied to the “actual or potential” withholding of security assistance – of any kind – to Ukraine. That letter went unanswered, too.

By Oct. 21, Vought’s stonewalling was unequivocally out in the open when the acting director tweeted that the impeachment inquiry was a “sham process.”

The OMB did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning. Likewise representatives for at the Energy Department have regularly refused to comment or elaborate on Secretary Rick Perry’s role in the impeachment inquiry. In mid-October, Assistant Energy Secretary Melissa Burnison issued a letter to the inquiry committees that effectively outlined the department’s plan to stonewall investigators.

“Even if the inquiry was validly authorized, much of the information sought in the subpoena appears to consist of confidential executive branch communications that are potentially protected by executive privileges and would require careful review to ensure that no sure information is properly disclosed,” Burnison wrote on Oct. 17.

In the days since the House of Representatives voted in favor of authorizing a resolution to formalize the inquiry, the department has offered no additional insight.

State Department counselor Brechbuhl, who received a formal subpoena from lawmakers on Oct. 25 after ignoring an informal request in September, will also fail to appear Wednesday. The State Department counselor flew to Germany Wednesday morning with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to a White House pool report.

Pompeo will meet with German officials this week amid festivities commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While there, Pompeo is expected to deliver speeches condemning communism as well as the development of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The pipeline has received accolades from German and Russian officials but the U.S. government has been outwardly opposed to the pipeline, arguing that it will make Europe too reliant on Russia for energy.

Hale meanwhile showed up on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning prepared to testify. Lawmakers believe Hale will have insight into a campaign led by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to undercut and eventually oust former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

The career diplomat is also expected to illuminate concerns the State Department had over Giuliani’s involvement in U.S. foreign policy matters related to Ukraine. The timing of Hale’s testimony is critical in light of revelations that emerged from transcripts published Tuesday by the inquiry committees.

According to the testimony offered by U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was well aware – and potentially irked – by Giuliani’s level of involvement in matters related to Ukraine. Sondland said Pompeo rolled his eyes at the prospect of “dealing” with Giuliani.

Hale could also reveal what was behind the “fake-news-driven smear” mentioned by Phil Reeker, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs, in testimony last month. Reeker reportedly told investigators Secretary Pompeo took active steps to neutralize support for ambassador Yovanovitch before she was abruptly removed in May. Reeker also told lawmakers he attempted to give officials like Brechbuhl facts to counter conspiracy theories about Yovanovitch that were being propped up by conservative news outlets.

Hale is a longtime foreign-service diplomat. He served as ambassador to Jordan in 2005 and later served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Egypt. From 2011 to 2013, he served as the special envoy for Middle East peace before becoming ambassador to Lebanon in 2013 and later, to Pakistan.

Categories / Government, Politics

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