The State Department inspector general provided Congress on Wednesday with documents that included materials President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had given to the department earlier this year containing unproven claims about Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The documents, which were obtained by CNN, include claims against the Bidens that formed the basis of President Donald Trump’s accusations in his July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as accusations against former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled earlier this year and whom Trump also criticized in the call. In addition, the packet contains internal State Department emails from officials discussing articles critical of Yovanovitch, calling some of it a “fake narrative.”
There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
Giuliani told CNN on Wednesday evening that some of the documents provided to Congress by the State Department’s inspector general had originated with him. Giuliani gave the documents to the White House, which then passed them to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Pompeo gave the documents to a subordinate, who provided them to the legal counsel at the State Department, the source said. The documents were ultimately given to the inspector general.
Giuliani said that in late March, he had “routed” what he called an “outline” of allegations against Biden, as well as Yovanovitch, to Pompeo’s office. He said he also had sent details of his interviews from earlier in the year with the incumbent and former top prosecutors in Ukraine, who helped provide him with the information in his outline.
Giuliani said he received a phone call shortly thereafter from Pompeo, who told Giuliani he would be referring the documents for investigation.
“They told me they were going to investigate it,” Giuliani told CNN.
State Department Inspector General Steve Linick told Congress that the department’s office of legal counsel had provided the documents to him in May. A State Department spokesperson confirmed that the materials had been provided to the inspector general “for his review and for such action as the inspector general deemed appropriate.”
The inspector general provided them to the FBI, and the FBI did not object to the documents being released to Congress, which could suggest the FBI is not actively investigating the matter.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, was the lone lawmaker who attended Wednesday’s briefing. He told reporters afterward that it felt like a “completely irrelevant distraction.”
“It’s essentially a packet of propaganda and disinformation spreading conspiracy theories,” Raskin said.
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the documents “appear to contain long-debunked theories and false statements about the former US Ambassador to Ukraine and one of President Trump’s political opponents.”
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said in a joint statement that the briefing and documents “raise troubling questions about apparent efforts inside and outside the Trump Administration to target specific officials,” including Biden’s son and Yovanovitch.
But a Republican source said that Democrats appeared to be frustrated that the inspector general was injecting these accusations of wrongdoing from Biden and his son back into the bloodstream as the Democrats have sought to put the focus on the President’s handling of the Ukraine situation.
The bizarre briefing from the State Department inspector general came after he caused a stir on Capitol Hill by requesting an urgent meeting one day earlier to share the documents.
Linick on Tuesday asked to meet with congressional staff from eight House and Senate committees to discuss and provide documents from State’s acting legal adviser related to Ukraine, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The sudden briefing request from the State Department inspector general adds a new layer of intrigue to the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry over allegations that Trump sought help from Ukraine’s government to interfere in the 2020 elections.
Linick’s request was sent to Congress on Tuesday after Pompeo pushed back on Democrats’ demands to interview State Department officials as part of the impeachment investigation. Pompeo accused the committees of “intimidating and bullying” the officials by calling them for depositions, not giving them sufficient time to prepare and not allowing administration lawyers to attend.
The House Democratic chairmen shot back later Tuesday that it was Pompeo who was intimidating the State Department witnesses, charging that any attempt to prevent them from speaking to Congress “is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry.”
“We are deeply concerned about Secretary Pompeo’s effort now to potentially interfere with witnesses whose testimony is needed before our committee, many of whom are mentioned in the whistleblower complaint,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said at a news conference Wednesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Emails and notes about Ukrainian ambassador
The first set of notes in the packet appears to be the ones Giuliani provided to the State Department, as the allegations are consistent with the narrative he has put forward about the Bidens and Yovanovitch.
The packet also includes internal State Department emails discussing Yovanovitch. Career officials undertook a concerted effort to shield the then-ambassador to Ukraine from conspiracies peddled by conservative media outlets beginning in March.
Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker and George Kent, a State Department official who oversees Ukraine policy and was previously the deputy chief of mission in Kyiv, sought to provide counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale with facts to counter the conspiratorial narratives being pushed about the career diplomat.
On March 31, Reeker forwarded a list of “fake news driven smear out of Ukraine” and counter-examples to Brechbuhl, writing: “It’s a good summary of the story lines being peddled in the this, with a good balance of facts.”
“Reading through helps with context,” Reeker added. Not long after, he followed up with another email of US coverage on Ukraine to Brechbuhl, highlighting a particular paragraph as an example that “captures the basic fake narrative.”
“(The) assumption that (Yovanovitch) is some kind of ‘liberal outpost … leading a political struggle’ really is without merit or validation,” he wrote.
In an email from March 27, for example, Kent calls the “do not prosecute” list that then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko claimed was given to him by Yovanovitch “complete poppycock.” Kent suggested taking a similar approach to the US Embassy in Moscow “if (they) wanted to push back hard(er),” writing, “I know US Embassy Moscow has in the past derided fake letters by circling in red all the misspellings and grammar mistakes and reposting it.”
In early May, the State Department confirmed that Yovanovitch would leave her post at the end of the month – months earlier than expected.
Brechbuhl was mentioned in the whistleblower complaint that was filed with the intelligence community inspector general alleging that the President was seeking campaign help from the Ukrainian President and the White House sought to cover it up, and both Brechbuhl and Kent have been scheduled for depositions with the House committees conducting an impeachment inquiry.
Ukraine depositions begin Thursday
Linick briefed Democratic and Republican staff in a secure setting Wednesday, from the three committees leading the impeachment investigation — House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight — as well as the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Intelligence, Foreign Relations, Homeland Security and Appropriations Committees.
The State Department inspector general has already been investigating allegations of “improper personnel practices in the office of the Secretary,” though he has yet to release the findings the probe. Linick testified in July that the report – the second of two inquiries into retaliation at the Department – was expected to be sent to the Department in August, and he declined to discuss the findings in that hearing. Months later, that report still has not been published.
Linick appeared on Capitol Hill one day before the House panels will begin holding depositions of current and former State officials, despite Pompeo’s call for the State employees not to attend.
The committees will interview former US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker on Thursday. Volker, who was named in the whistleblower complaint about Ukraine, resigned last week and is no longer a State Department employee.
Next week, the former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who is still a State Department employee, is scheduled to appear on Friday, according to an aide, after an agreement was reached between the committees and her counsel. The committees have also scheduled depositions with three other State Department officials next week, although it’s not yet been confirmed that they will appear.
The depositions come as the House is swiftly moving to investigate following a whistleblower complaint released last week involving Trump’s contacts with Ukraine that alleges that Trump attempted to “solicit interference from a foreign country” in the 2020 election and the White House tried to cover it up.
A rough transcript of the President’s July 25 call with Zelensky shows Trump urged him to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter.
In addition to the depositions, the committees are ramping up their investigation with subpoenas. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings announced Wednesday he plans to issue a subpoena to the White House on Friday if the White House will not voluntarily provide a host of documents related to the President’s call and the holding up of foreign aid money to Ukraine. The House Intelligence Committee on Monday issued a subpoena to the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has been pushing the Biden investigation, while the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week sent a subpoena to the State Department for documents.
Giuliani tweeted Wednesday that he was threatening to “seek redress against Congress and individual members” over attempting to remove the President on “deliberately falsified charges.”
The President, meanwhile, has been on a Twitter barrage of his own, attacking Pelosi, Schiff and Democrats for moving forward with their impeachment inquiry.
“He should be forced to resign from Congress, Adam Schiff, he’s a lowlife,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with Finland’s President on Wednesday, adding that Schiff took a “perfect” conversation and “realized he couldn’t read it to Congress” because it was so nice.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Michael Warren, Ted Barrett, Haley Byrd, Kylie Atwood, Zachary Cohen and Alex Rogers contributed to this report.