Hill, the White House’s former senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs, also reportedly told House investigators during her marathon testimony yesterday she had strongly and repeatedly objected to the ousting earlier this year of the administration’s ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
Yovanovitch herself testified on Friday that Trump had pressured the State Department to remove her.
Hill’s lawyer Lee Wolosky, incidentally, potentially paved a path for other witnesses to follow when he sent the White House a stinging letter arguing that executive privilege could not be applied to “information which is no longer confidential and has come within the sphere of public knowledge through broad disclosure” and when “government misconduct” was the issue at stake.
While interviews have focused on the interactions with Ukraine, the probe could broaden as soon as next week to include interviews with White House budget officials who may be able to shed light on whether military aid was withheld from Ukraine as Trump and Giuliani pushed for the investigations.
The three committees leading the probe are understood to be seeking interviews next week with Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Michael Duffey, another OMB official who leads national security programmes.
The packed schedule of interviews comes as Democrats are methodically working to pin down the details of Trump’s pressuring Zelensky. Once Democrats have completed the probe and followed any other threads it produces, they will use their findings to help determine whether to vote on articles of impeachment. House speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wants the committees to move “expeditiously.”
Democrats have already obtained documents and testimony that verify parts of an original whistleblower’s complaint that launched the probe. A cache of text messages between three diplomats provided by one of the inquiry’s first witnesses, former Ukrainian envoy Kurt Volker, detailed attempts by the diplomats to serve as intermediaries around the time Trump urged Zelensky to start the investigations into a company linked to Biden’s son. Yovanovitch told lawmakers there was a “concerted campaign” against her based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
One of the diplomats in the text exchanges, US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, is expected to appear for a deposition under subpoena on Thursday. He’s expected to tell Congress that his text message reassuring another envoy that there was no quid pro quo in their interactions with Ukraine was based solely on what Trump told him.
Fiona Hill (Michael Reynolds/EPA)
Also up this week: Michael McKinley, a former top aide to secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who resigned last week. McKinley, a career foreign service officer and Pompeo’s de facto chief of staff, resigned on Friday, ending a 37-year career. He is scheduled to testify behind closed doors on Wednesday.
The committees are also scheduled to talk to deputy assistant secretary of state George Kent on Tuesday and Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department counselor, on Thursday. On Friday, the lawmakers have scheduled an interview with Laura Cooper, who is the deputy assistant secretary of defence for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. It is unclear if any of those officials will show up after Trump’s vow of non-co-operation.
Because of the Trump administration’s edict, the Democrats have been subpoenaing witnesses as they arrived for their interviews – a move sometimes known as a “friendly” subpoena that could give the witnesses additional legal protection as they testify. Both Yovanovitch and Hill received subpoenas the mornings of their testimony.
One witness who may not be called before Congress is the still-anonymous government whistleblower who touched off the impeachment inquiry. Top Democrats say testimony and evidence coming in from other witnesses, and even the Republican president himself, are backing up the whistleblower’s account of what transpired during Trump’s call with Zelensky. Lawmakers have grown deeply concerned about protecting the person from Trump’s threats and may not wish to risk exposing the whistleblower’s identity.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said on Sunday it “may not be necessary” to reveal the whistleblower’s identity as the House gathers evidence. He said Democrats “don’t need the whistleblower, who wasn’t on the call, to tell us what took place on the call” and said the “primary interest right now is making sure that that person is protected.”
Trump himself, of course, has shown no signs of backing down:
Republican lawmakers have aimed their ire at Democrats and the process, saying Pelosi should hold a vote to begin the inquiry and hold the meetings out in the open, not behind closed doors.
“The tragedy here and the crime here is that the American people don’t get to see what’s going on in these sessions,” said Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform panel.
Here’s more from Peter Stubley.