The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
Three Democratic House committees chairs put out a joint statement today saying they will issue a subpoena to the US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland to testify and turn over documents as part of their impeachment inquiry.
Chairmen Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel and Eljiah Cummings said in a statement: "Ambassador Sondland's testimony and documents are vital, and that is precisely why the Administration is now blocking his testimony and withholding his documents."
“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry."
More context: Sondland was scheduled to testify before three House committees in a closed-door meeting today — but earlier this morning, the State Department ordered him not to appear.
Here's the full statement from the Chairmen:
“The House of Representatives is engaged in an impeachment inquiry to determine whether the President violated his oath of office and endangered our national security by pressing Ukraine to launch sham investigations to assist his personal and political interests rather than the interests of the American people. Today, the White House has once again attempted to impede and obstruct the impeachment inquiry.
“This morning, we learned from Ambassador Sondland’s personal attorneys that the State Department left a voicemail last night at 12:30 a.m. informing them that the Trump Administration would not allow the Ambassador to appear today as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry.
“In addition, Ambassador Sondland’s attorneys have informed us that the Ambassador has recovered communications from his personal devices that the Committees requested prior to his interview today. He has turned them over to the State Department, however, and the State Department is withholding them from the Committees, in defiance of our subpoena to Secretary Pompeo.
“These actions appear to be part of the White House’s effort to obstruct the impeachment inquiry and to cover up President Trump’s misconduct from Congress and the American people. Ambassador Sondland’s testimony and documents are vital, and that is precisely why the Administration is now blocking his testimony and withholding his documents.
“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry.
“We will be issuing subpoena to Ambassador Sondland for both his testimony and documents.”
US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland called President Trump to find out what was going on after the top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, raised concerns in a text to Sondland about withholding assistance, according to a source with knowledge.
Trump emphatically told him no quid pro quo, the source said.
Here are the September 2019 texts we are talking about:
Bill Taylor: As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
Gordon Sondland: Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign I suggest we stop the back and forth by text If you still have concerns I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly. Thanks.
The Justice Department said it has agreed to give the House 33 FBI memos from the Robert Mueller investigation for use in the impeachment inquiry.
Here's the thing: The documents have redactions “to protect confidential communications between senior White House advisers,” DOJ attorney Elizabeth Shapiro said.
Judge Howell responded with incredulity, pointing out that the White House appeared to be keeping confidential from the House information that was widely available within the FBI. Shapiro responded that it was not widely shared within the FBI.
A lawyer for the House of Representatives told a federal judge that “we’re getting almost nothing” from the Justice Department for the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
House General Counsel Doug Letter told a federal judge this morning that the Justice Department has refused to share FBI memos on what former White House Counsel Don McGahn and other White House employees told Special Counsel Robert Mueller about the President’s attempts to obstruct justice.
The memos go to “the very heart of what we need to look into” in the current impeachment inquiry, Letter told Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court Tuesday.
The House has seen no FBI interview notes (so-called 302s) from McGahn or his deputy Annie Donaldson or of “others in the White House, despite saying they need them and the Justice Department agreeing to share some of the memos with the House.
The House has seen “nowhere near” what it thought it would see after the Mueller investigation.
“We’re getting almost nothing" Letter said.
Meanwhile, the House is arguing in court that it’s “fully engaged” in the impeachment inquiry and it didn’t need a formal vote to start that proceeding.
Federal Judge Beryl Howell is pressing the House over what protected information the House may gain access to at this time through the court.
The hearing comes the same morning the Trump administration has begun to stonewall the House’s impeachment inquiry because it hasn’t passed a resolution to formalize it — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had only announced the inquiry.
The Justice Department has not yet told the judge its arguments in the ongoing court hearing.
Sen. Lindsey Graham extended an invitation to President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about Ukraine.
In a tweet, Graham said he has "heard on numerous occasions disturbing allegations by [Giuliani] about corruption in Ukraine."
Graham added: "Given the House of Representatives’ behavior, it is time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine."
Asked by CNN about the invite, Giuliani responded:
“Love Lindsey, but I am still a lawyer and I will have to deal with privilege.”
CNN asked if Giuliani thinks Trump would waive attorney-client privilege and release him to testify. Giuliani has not yet responded.
Why are we talking about Giuliani here: Giuliani has been vocal since the Ukraine scandal broke, claiming that he has dirt on Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Earlier this month, Giuliani first denied then admitted in an interview on CNN that he asked Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden. Important to note, there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe Biden or his son.
Giuliani has also been among the people pushing a theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election through “collusion” with Democrats.
The White House Counsel's office consulted with the State Department to block Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony today.
Why this matters: This is a clear sign that the White House counsel’s office is directing other government agencies.
During a photo op of his meeting with the Estonian foreign minister, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ignored a shouted question about why he blocked Ambassador Sondland’s testimony today.
Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said Republicans understand why the Trump administration's State Department blocked Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony today.
"It’s based on the unfair and partisan process that Mr. Schiff has been running," Jordan said, referencing House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff.
"You think about what the Democrats are trying to do: Impeach the President of the United States 13 months prior to an election, based on an anonymous whistleblower with no firsthand knowledge who has a bias against the President," Jordan said.
Jordan added that Republicans were "looking forward" to the testimony.
Some context about Jordan's comments: Republicans have repeatedly criticized the whistleblower for lacking firsthand knowledge of the conduct outlined in the complaint. But the intelligence community inspector general has pushed back on that criticism, and has made clear that the whistleblower was not simply communicating secondhand knowledge.
The "possible political bias" mentioned — and then dismissed — in the Intelligence Community Inspector General report refers to the fact that the whistleblower is a registered Democrat. The intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, said that regardless of the possible bias, the complaint appeared to be credible.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said both Congress and the American people are "being deprived" of US Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony today.
Earlier today, Sondland's lawyer said the Trump administration's State Department ordered him not to appear before Congress.
Schiff said Sondland has "text messages or emails on a personal device" the committee would like to see.
"Although we have requested those from the ambassador, and the State Department is withholding those messages as well," Schiff said. “Those messages are also deeply relevant to this investigation and the impeachment inquiry.”
"The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress.