WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump resumed on Saturday with testimony from a senior State Department official, a day after a federal judge buoyed the probe by dismissing Republican claims that it was illegitimate.
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers keynote remarks at the Shale Insight 2019 Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, met with the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees behind closed doors at the U.S. Capitol.
Lawmakers and staff held the first weekend deposition of the investigation, after Reeker’s testimony was postponed due to memorial events this week for the late Representative Elijah Cummings, who had played a lead role in the inquiry as chairman of the Oversight Committee.
Democrats claimed victory after a federal district court judge on Friday rejected a claim by Trump and his Republican allies that the process was illegitimate because the full House had not voted to authorize it.
The judge ordered the Trump administration to give the House Judiciary Committee secret material from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
The White House, citing the lack of an authorizing vote, had claimed the inquiry was “constitutionally invalid” and defied numerous congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony.
“The American people had another victory yesterday in the court decision validating not only the impeachment inquiry but the imperative that the administration stop stonewalling,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the inquiry, told Reuters.
But Republicans remained defiant. Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said the ruling ignored historical precedents set by past impeachment inquiries and that he looked forward to “an expeditious appeal.”
FOCUS ON UKRAINE
At the heart of the inquiry is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender to face Trump in the 2020 election, and his son Hunter, who had been a director of a Ukrainian energy company.
The Trump administration was withholding $391 million in security assistance for Ukraine at the time, and investigators are looking into whether Trump improperly tied the release of the aid to getting Ukraine’s help in probing the Bidens.
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified on Tuesday that Trump made the aid contingent on Zelenskiy announcing he would investigate the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
U.S. election law prohibits candidates from accepting foreign help in an election.
Trump denies wrongdoing. And, backed by his fellow Republicans in Congress, insists he is being treated unfairly.
Reeker, 54, a career diplomat whose portfolio includes Ukraine, is the latest on a growing list of current and former officials who have met with investigators despite the administration’s argument that the inquiry is invalid.
Among issues the committees are expected to explore with Reeker is Trump’s abrupt dismissal of Marie Yovanovitch in May as ambassador to Ukraine. According to emails given to congressional committees this month, Reeker sought to intervene when Trump supporters accused Yovanovitch of being disloyal to the president.
Another diplomat involved in those communications, George Kent, testified last week that he was told to “lie low” on Ukraine and instead defer to three of Trump’s political appointees. Yovanovitch has also testified, accusing the Trump administration of recalling her based on false claims.
The committees have scheduled several depositions for next week, all behind closed doors.
For Monday, they have called Charles Kupperman, a former deputy national security adviser to Trump, and on Tuesday, lawmakers expect Alexander Vindman, the White House National Security Council’s top expert on Ukraine.
Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security, is scheduled to appear on Wednesday, and Tim Morrison, a top White House adviser on Russia and Europe, is scheduled for Thursday.
Kupperman on Friday filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to determine whether he can testify. His lawyer said the judicial branch needs to weigh in on whether the president can block Kupperman and other White House officials from complying with congressional subpoenas.
Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler, Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis