White House Budget Official Testifies in Impeachment Inquiry Hearing

Mark Sandy, a career employee in the White House Office of Management and Budget, arrives at the Capitol to testify in the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry about President Donald Trump’s effort to tie military aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents, in Washington on Saturday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Trump’s chokehold on White House officials called to testify in the impeachment inquiry gave way Saturday with closed-door testimony from a White House budget official who called the delay in military aid to Ukraine was highly irregular and without explanation.

Mark Sandy, from the Office of Budget and Management, appeared to testify on Capitol Hill, providing lawmakers new insight into how the White House ordered a hold on $391 million security assistance to Ukraine.

The money is at the center of the inquiry into whether Trump illegally pressured Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelinsky to investigate former vice president and 2020 campaign rival Joe Biden.

Sandy’s testimony seemed to confirm allegations that Trump withheld the military aid for political purposes, according to two anonymous sources.

Democrats and Republicans both declined to characterize the daylong testimony, or indicate whether they plan to call Sandy, a career public official not appointed by the president, back for a public hearing.

Democrats said the testimony provided new technical information on the process for distributing the congressionally appropriated aid the White House stalled.

“We’re dealing at this point with witnesses who are telling one uncontradicting story. There is no rival hypothesis out there about what happened,” New York Democrat Jamie Raskin said.

But North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows emerged with a different take. He said that Sandy’s testimony was consistent with reasons that Trump gave for why the aid was held.

“You have an even deader case after today,” added Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican.

Only a handful of lawmakers from the House Oversight Committee and House Intelligence Committee filtered in on Saturday morning to hear from Sandy.

Democrats that joined Raskin included Denny Heck, Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Norton and Eric Swalwell. Republican Jim Jordan, an ardent defender of the president along with Meadows and Zeldin, was also in attendance.

Neither party commented on whether the OMB testimony from Sandy in any way corroborated testimony from other career officials last week that the aid was conditioned on Trump’s request to Ukraine to interfere in the presidential election.

Sandy’s boss, associate director of National Security Programs Michael Duffey, signed off on OMB freezing the aid. The OMB acting director, Russell Vought, stated last month that he and Duffy would not appear for depositions and called the impeachment inquiry a “sham process.”

Requests from House Democrats for records tied to the “actual or potential” withholding of security assistance also went unanswered by Vought.

“The administration has refused to turn over any electronic communication…I can only imagine where this investigation would be if documents were actually turned over,” Swalwell said, exiting the deposition.

Open hearings continue next week with eight witnesses, among them: Fiona Hill, a former senior Russia policy official for the National Security Council, Jennifer Williams, Vice President Mike Pence’s adviser for Europe and Russia and Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, director of European affairs at the National Security Council.

The most-watched televised proceeding with be testimony from Gordon Sondland, the president’s handpicked ambassador to the European Union. On Friday, lawmakers questioned a State Department aide, David Holmes, who overheard a phone call Sondland had with Trump where the president asked about Ukraine investigating Biden.

Democrats called the closed-door testimony “damning.” Republicans on Saturday said the Democrats should not continue with open testimonies on Tuesday unless they release the transcripts from the depositions with both Holmes and Sandy.

Raskin, meanwhile, described both career public officials as patriots for defying the Trump administration’s orders not to testify.

“People are standing up and telling the truth – under oath. And then the people who are attacking them are refusing to testify and they are not under oath and the public definitely should keep that in mind.”

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