Trump Officials Buck Calls for Testimony in Impeachment Saga

House members vote on the House resolution to move forward with procedures for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Deposition transcripts underpinning the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump could be published in the coming days, fleshing out a week expected to start with four White House officials bucking congressional requests for testimony.

Democrats on the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees are pursuing depositions this week from at least eight witnesses, despite the House being out session. Each witness is believed to have insight into Trump’s July call with Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky and to have reported attempts by administration officials to hide the true record of that call.

The coming testimony, Democrats are poised to argue, will corroborate some of the probative firsthand and secondhand accounts delivered by officials like the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and senior diplomat on Ukraine Bill Taylor.

In closed-door sessions last month, both Vindman and Taylor highlighted concerns to National Security Council attorneys that reportedly suggested Trump was willing to condition the release of U.S. military aid on Ukraine’s compliance with a request to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter and Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden once held sway as a board member.

Other accounts, including testimony by U.S. senior envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, raised more questions over what level of influence White House insiders, like Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, had on Ukraine-U.S. policy long before the July phone call at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, is leaving after a closed-door interview with House investigators as House Democrats proceed with the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington on Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Monday was expected to feature testimony from National Security Council attorney John Eisenberg; Eisenberg’s second-in-command Michael Ellis; White House aide Robert Blair; and Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s aide, Brian McCormack, but all reportedly plan to skip their private depositions.

Eisenberg was expected to face questions about testimony from Vindman that significantly undercut President Trump’s insistence the call was innocuous if not “perfect.”

After Zelensky and Trump hung up, Vindman testified he went straight to Eisenberg to lodge concerns that Trump wanted Zelensky to investigate the Bidens ahead of the 2020 election where the former vice president is a front-running candidate for the Democrats.

Eisenberg recorded Vindman’s grievances on paper, met with his deputy Michael Ellis and made an executive decision: stow the record of the call into a top-secret server typically used for classified information and restrict to an elite group of administration officials.

Vindman reportedly stopped short of suggesting there was a full-blown cover-up, according to reports citing sources familiar with testimony last week by the Washington Post. But Vindman’s overall discomfort with the exchange deepened after Eisenberg allegedly asked him to keep the call — and where the record of it would be housed — under wraps.

Democrats also seek testimony from McCormack, the former chief of staff to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, in anticipation that his remarks make up for the refusal to testify by Perry and Office of Management and Budget director Russ Vought.

McCormack, who left the Energy Department in September and now serves as associate director for natural resources and energy at the Office of Management and Budget, could illuminate details behind the administration’s activities from last spring related to Ukraine’s Naftogaz, the state-owned Russia to EU natural-gas transporter.

Reports emerged in early October suggesting Energy Department insiders believed Perry was privy to a reorganization campaign targeting Naftogaz as far back as last March or earlier.

This courtroom sketch depicts from left, attorney Kevin Downing, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, and attorney Thomas Zehnle standing before U.S. Judge Michael Nachmanoff, at federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. Parnas and Fruman, two Florida businessmen tied to President Donald Trump’s lawyer and the Ukraine investigation, were charged with federal campaign finance violations. The charges relate to a $325,000 donation to a group supporting President Donald Trump’s reelection. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

The bid to reorganize the natural gas company was being facilitated at the same time Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and two Soviet-born Florida businessmen, Lev Parnas, a real estate tycoon and oil magnate, and Igor Fruman, were arranging meetings with high-level Ukrainian officials to discuss the investigation into the Bidens.

The Associated Press reported in October the push to reorganize Naftogaz was undertaken with the understanding that a different CEO may bear more profitable contracts for companies friendlier to the Trump administration.

Notably, in an Oct. 7 AP report, Giuliani’s side work with Parnas and Fruman also included a detail about a March meeting with Healy Baumgardner, CEO of Energy 45, at the Trump Hotel in Washington.

Giuliani said at the time, the AP the meeting with the nonprofit “government-relations firm” revolved around prospects in Uzbekistan, not Ukraine.

Neither Energy 45 nor Giuliani immediately responded to request for comment Sunday.

Robert Blair, an assistant to President Trump and senior adviser to acting OMB director Mick Mulvaney was requested to appear Monday but Blair’s attorney Whit Ellerman said Saturday Blair would not show. Blair was on the call with Trump and Zelensky in July.

Blair has yet to receive a formal subpoena — though Ellerman said, even if he did, Blair would not comply.

On Tuesday, the committees have scheduled hearings with OMB deputy director Michael Duffey and Wells Griffith, a White House aide to the National Security Council. Griffith’s work on the council centers on U.S. energy policy.

Duffey is also expected to not testify, CNN reported Monday.

Then, on Wednesday, lawmakers are slated to meet with State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, OMB director Russ Vought and David Hale, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs, the third highest-ranking position in the agency.

According to testimony lawmakers heard last week from the State Department’s acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs Philip Reeker, Hale received complaints about the pressure campaign to oust former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Long resistant of the investigation, Vought is also expected to skip out on his testimony.

One of the most critical testimonies sought after by Democrats is John Bolton’s. He is slated to appear Thursday but it is highly unlikely he will show. The former national-security adviser has so far only indicated that he will participate in hearings if they are open.

National security adviser John Bolton attends a Dec. 26, 2018, meeting with President Donald Trump and senior military leadership at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Bolton’s deputy, Charles Kupperman continues to fight a congressional subpoena in federal court. Kupperman’s refusal to comply hinges on a claim that he would violate the rights of the executive branch if he were to follow orders from the legislative branch and testify.

In federal court in Washington last week, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Leon – while admittedly aware of the urgency involved with House Democrats demands – said he would give Kupperman, the House and the White House until mid-November to file motions. A court date is now set for Dec. 10.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi signaled last week that public hearings could begin before Thanksgiving. With Kupperman’s hearing still weeks away, however, and other officials waffling on compliance, the White House has ample time to prepare its defense – or continue to stall proceedings it denigrates as a witch hunt.

Stonewalling Congress is a double-edged strategy for the Trump administration. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has been forthcoming when asserting that presidential efforts to interfere in impeachment proceedings would be considered evidence for obstruction.

“The president continues to target public servants, including those who have served their country in combat, with baseless attacks,” Schiff said on Twitter late Sunday night. “Efforts to intimidate or threaten witnesses will further build the case for obstruction, itself an impeachable offense.”

Such evidence, per a bitterly passed House resolution outlining the impeachment inquiry last week, would be included in the articles of impeachment that investigating committees would advance after issuing a final report from the House Intelligence Committee to the House Judiciary Committee.

On Sunday, Trump railed against the inquiry.

“The Democrats are Fixers and they are working overtime to FIX the Impeachment ‘Process’ in order to hurt the Republican Party and me,” Trump tweeted Sunday (emphasis in original). “Nancy Pelosi should instead Fix her broken District and Corrupt Adam should clean up & manage California forests which are always burning.”

President Donald Trump talks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Oct. 25, 2019, before boarding Marine One for the short trip to Andrews Air Force Base. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

An hour earlier, he groused directly at the whistleblower who triggered the complaint that launched the inquiry.

“The Whistleblower got it sooo wrong that HE must come forward,” Trump tweeted (emphasis in original). “The Fake News Media who he is, but, being an arm of the Democrat Party, don’t want to reveal him because there would be hell to pay. Reveal the Whistleblower and end the Impeachment Hoax!”

And hours before that, from the south lawn of the White House, Trump was fixated on the whistleblower, referring to this individual as “an Obama person” involved with the former CIA Director John Brennan or former national-security adviser under President Barack Obama, Susan Rice.

“But the whistleblower should be revealed because the whistleblower gave false stories,” Trump said early Sunday. “Some people would call it fraud. I won’t go that far but, when I read it closely, I probably would. But the whistleblower should be revealed.”

The whistleblower’s attorney, Mark Zaid, has offered the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Republican, Congressman Devin Nunes, opportunity to question the whistleblower in written-question format.

None of those questions, Zaid said, could prompt answers that would seek identifying information.

When reached for comment Sunday night, Zaid confirmed that this offer was awaiting a “substantive response” from Nunes.

%d bloggers like this: