Official Tells Impeachment Probe He Wanted Pompeo to Back Envoy
(Bloomberg) -- The State Department’s top diplomat for Europe told impeachment investigators Saturday he was disappointed Secretary of State Michael Pompeo didn’t back the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine when she was targeted in a smear campaign by President Donald Trump and his associates, a person familiar with his testimony said.
Speaking for more than eight hours in a rare Saturday session, Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary for Europe, said he pushed department leadership to make a statement of support for Marie Yovanovitch to counter the push to get her recalled, led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani had worked for months to have Yovanovitch removed, believing she was opposed to the president. She was recalled in May 2019.
Reeker, who took the job in March, testified that he was disturbed by what was happening to Yovanovitch and opposed what Giuliani was doing at the time, the person said.
The release of a rough transcript from a July 25 call showed Trump denigrating Yovanovitch to Ukraine’s president.
Yovanovitch testified Oct. 11 that she was ousted after a “concerted campaign” by Trump and his allies, including Giuliani.
In his testimony, Reeker said he was largely cut out from the policy process on Ukraine because it was already dominated by Giuliani as well as Kurt Volker, the U.S. envoy for the country’s conflict with Russia, and U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Reeker said he was unaware at the time whether Trump was demanding an investigation into the Biden family or the 2016 election in exchange for military aid.
“He is corroborating previous witnesses and their testimony,“ Representative Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, told reporters outside the hearing room Saturday. “I think it is fair to say it’s a much richer reservoir of information than we originally expected.”
Representative Scott Perry, a Republican from Pennsylvania, called Reeker “credible” but said there were no “earth-shattering” revelations.
“The accusations against the president aren’t being corroborated in any of this witness testimony, and today in my opinion is not different,” Perry said.
Since the disclosure of a whistle-blower’s complaint last month, Trump, his aides and a White House memo have publicly confirmed many of the allegations. Republicans have largely complained about process and avoided questions about whether the president’s conduct is impeachable.
The inquiry is focused almost entirely on the question of whether Trump and a handful of close advisers put pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to conduct investigations of Trump’s political rivals, including by holding up U.S. military assistance.
Internal emails disclosed to lawmakers by the State Department’s inspector general on Oct. 2 show that Reeker was notified of a campaign to smear Yovanovitch as a liberal opponent of Trump, a notion he said at the time was “without merit or validation.”
Reeker’s testimony was originally scheduled for earlier this week before the House committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight. A career foreign service officer who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, he has been in his current post since March.
The State Department sent Reeker a letter late Friday directing him to not appear, which prompted a subpoena from the House panels to give him legal cover to testify, according to copy of the letter obtained by Bloomberg News. The congressional committees have issued similar so-called friendly subpoenas for other executive branch employees who were told to not participate in the inquiry.
“Lots of Americans are asking themselves why does the White House keep trying to blockade witnesses, why does the White House keep on trying to prevent documents from going to Congress,” Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said Saturday. “What exactly are they hiding?”
Trump and his Republican allies have continued to criticize Democrats for taking testimony in closed-door sessions, though Republican members of the three committees all have taken part in questioning witnesses.
Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said Saturday that the committees are “making rapid progress.”
“We are trying to work expeditiously, but we’re trying to be methodical in our work,” Schiff said.
This week, a group of Republicans, including some who are on one of the committees conducting the inquiry, stormed the secure areas where the witness interviews are being conducted to stage a sit-in. The move delayed the interview of a Pentagon official for about five hours.
Their complaints extended to scheduling Reeker’s appearance for Saturday.
“Chairman Schiff has chosen to conduct his inquiry behind closed doors with only a limited number of members present, allowing selective leaks of cherry-picked information to paint misleading public narratives,” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the Oversight committee, wrote in a letter to Reeker on Wednesday, referring to Schiff. “For these reasons, we were surprised and disappointed that you had agreed to appear for a deposition on Saturday.”
The schedule for next week includes testimony from former Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Charles Kupperman on Monday, and Timothy Morrison, a special assistant to the president, on Thursday.
But on Friday, Kupperman asked a federal judge whether he must appear. He said in court papers that he faces “irreconcilable commands” -- a subpoena from House Democrats requiring him to cooperate and an order from the White House not to testify.
His lawyer, Charles Cooper, said in a statement late Friday night that Trump “has asserted that Dr. Kupperman, as a close personal adviser to the president, is immune from Congressional process, and has instructed Dr. Kupperman not to appear and testify in response to the House’s subpoena.”
Kupperman, Cooper added, “cannot satisfy the competing and irreconcilable demands of both the legislative and executive branches, and there is no controlling judicial authority definitively establishing which branch’s command should prevail.”
The House committee leaders dismissed that argument in a letter Saturday, saying the lawsuit is “lacking in legal merit and apparently coordinated with the White House.” They warned that failure to appear for his deposition “will constitute evidence that may be used against him in a contempt proceeding.”
On Friday, the committee chairmen also sent subpoenas to Michael Duffey, the Office of Management and Budget’s associate director for national security programs, to testify Nov. 5 and to acting Budget Director Russell Vought to testify on Nov. 6. Vought had previously tweeted that the two wouldn’t testify voluntarily.
Department of State Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl was subpoenaed to appear at a deposition on Nov. 6.
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