House Dems launched their first salvo in the impeachment investigation against Trump on Friday, serving State Department with a flurry of subpoenas and scheduling depositions with key personnel mentioned in the whistleblower report.
Three congressional committees — Intel, Oversight and Foreign Affairs — hit Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with a demand for records on Rudy Giuliani’s “backchanneling" the federal government in the Ukraine.
“The Committees are investigating the extent to which President Trump jeopardized national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression,” according to a letter from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Adam Schiff (D-MA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD).
Pompeo refused to turn over the records weeks ago and the congressman warned that under an impeachment inquiry, the consequences for continuing to stonewall could be dire.
"Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry,” the letter cautioned.
The committees also lined up deposition for next week to grill State Department officials mentioned in the tell-all report.
Pompeo wasn’t the only cabinet level officials to be targeted by the Dems.
Attorney General William Barr was accused Friday of “going rogue” to protect President Trump from impeachment as the White House admitted it sought to hide the incriminating transcript of the president’s call seeking dirt on Joe Biden from Ukraine.
The nation’s top law-enforcement officer came under intense new scrutiny as officials confirmed the latest key detail of the intelligence whistleblower’s explosive complaint that Barr sought to squelch.
“He’s gone rogue,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “To have a Justice Department to go so rogue ... well, they have been for a while and not it just makes matters worse.
A White House official that lawyers ordered the transcript of a damning call between President Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky moved to a top-secret server — but didn’t explain why.
Trump again claimed that the phone call with Zelensky was “perfect” and accused impeachment-happy Democrats of seeking for new excuses to remove him from office after the Russia collusion investigation flopped.
He compared the whistleblower to a spy and suggested he should face harsh punishment, even though federal law bars retaliating against those who file such complaints.
Trump also cryptically complained that his critics misspelled his derisive jibe at ‘Liddle’ Adam Schiff, the Democrat leading the probe.
Schiff (D-Cal.) said hearings could start as soon as next week, adding “it will be a busy couple of weeks.”
Democrats plan a streamlined impeachment probe that will only examine Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine, not the myriad other issues they say could amount to impeachable offences.
Trial by Mitch
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says that if the House of Representatives votes to impeach Trump, the Senate “has no choice” but to conduct a trial to determine whether the president is removed from office.
“If the House were to act, the Senate immediately goes into a trial,” McConnell said.
Retired Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) objected to a report that a Republican senator told a GOP operative that 30 Republican senators would vote to remove Trump from office if it were a secret ballot.
“That’s not true,” said Flake, a sometime critic of Trump. “There would be at least 35.”
The vote will be held in public.
It’s the aid, stupid.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester) demanded that White House budget officials hand over documents related to Trump’s controversial order to put a hold on $400 million in defense assistance to Ukraine as he pressured its leader to help him unearth dirt on Biden.
A letter from Lowey and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) called it an “abuse” that budget officials did not give the money to the beleaguered nation in a timely way even though Congress had appropriated it.
If you’re happy about impeachment, you might want to get Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s new T-shirt. But you better hide it from the kids.
The firebrand lawmaker is hawking $29 “Impeach the MF” T-shirts, capitalizing on her famed Election Night 2018 rant about President Trump.
A Rose-y dozen
There are now just 12 Democratic representatives who do not support impeachment, most of them moderates from Trump-leaning districts. Long-shot presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) announced her support Friday.
Max Rose (D-NY) is the only local Democrat to hold out against impeachment. He put out a fresh statement suggesting he could still come around: "this story is far from over.
"Under no circumstances will I allow politics to influence my decision regarding this matter,” Rose added.
He slammed the “quote unquote inquiry” at an event with ex-Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump supporter, and predicted impeachment would bring government to a standstill.
“Where does it go ultimately? Nowhere,” Cuomo said.
Be nice to Mike.
Vice President Mike Pence, who would take over as president if Trump is removed from office or resigns, reportedly favored keeping the damaging call transcript secret, but Trump overruled him.
The White House had been pursuing a strategy of stonewalling any and all inquiries into its conduct. But Trump shifted gears on the Ukraine scandal, apparently believing that it would not be politically feasible to block release of the call transcript and the whistleblower complaint.
Senior administration official confirmed the whistleblower’s claim that the rough transcript of the now infamous July 25 phone conversation was moved to a highly classified system maintained by the National Security Council, the Associated Press reported.
The official, who was not identified, would not explain when the transcript was moved and did not offer any explanation for the action, which critics say proves that the White House was seeking to cover up evidence of Trump’s abuse of power.
The whistleblower complaint, which is at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, said the move to “lock down” details of the call suggested that “White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”
It’s not clear what legitimate explanation the White House could come up with to explain away the effort to hide the transcript. The top-secret server is supposed to be used only for the most sensitive matters of national security, not politically embarrassing presidential phone calls.
The whistleblower tantalizingly wrote that White House officials told him other damning Trump statements had also been improperly moved to the top-secret server to shield them from public scrutiny.
The explosive complaint has proven remarkably accurate so far, despite attempts by Republicans and the White House to dismiss it because the CIA agent that filed it did not hear the call firsthand or directly witness some of the disturbing actions it relates.
Even before the report about moving the transcript, Barr was under intense fire for trying to squelch the explosive whistleblower report about Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine into digging up dirt on presidential rival Joe Biden.
The Justice Department ordered Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire not to send the report to Congress as required by law.
Critics say Barr violated legal ethics by failing to recuse himself from the issue when he is named in the whistleblower complaint and therefore stood to personally benefit if it had been successfully buried.
The first paragraph of the whistleblower complaint alleges that “Attorney General Barr appears to be involved” in the scheme outlined in the complaint.
Yet he’s not recused?
While the complaint was kept under wraps, White House officials sought to cover up Trump’s alleged abuse of power by moving the transcript of his call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to a computer server reserved for highly classified intelligence matters.
“I think where they’re going is a cover-up of the cover-up,” Pelosi said.
Barr infamously secured his place in Trump’s good books by previously refusing to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation even though he had written a memo denouncing it as a sham months earlier. Former Attorney General Sessions enraged Trump by stepping back from the Russia probe.
He also penned the misleading “summary” of Mueller’s findings which critics say improperly cleared Trump of wrongdoing while keeping his full report a secret for weeks.
Barr was apparently following the same playbook by seeking to keep the whistleblower’s complaint out of the public eye for as long as possible. That strategy fell apart with the intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson disclosed its existence to congressional leaders, who pressed for it to be made public.