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Impeachment news roundup: Oct. 16

Hoyer’s timetable for impeachment investigation, Trump defends Giuliani and says Obama tried to influence 2016 election

An aide and members of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s security team stand outside the deposition of George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
An aide and members of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s security team stand outside the deposition of George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff sent House Democrats a “dear colleague” letter Wednesday evening outlining progress made in the impeachment inquiry, clarifying the process the committee is using and discussing next steps.

“Witness interviews thus far have been thorough and productive, and we will announce further witnesses who will appear before the committees in the coming days,” Schiff said.

As for witnesses who have not complied with committees subpoenas, Schiff said it was “unacceptable” and reiterated that such defiance will be considered “evidence of the president’s effort to obstruct the impeachment inquiry.”

“We may also use that obstruction as additional evidence of the wrongfulness of the president’s underlying misconduct,” he said.

Here is the latest on the impeachment investigation:

Info please: The House Oversight and Reform Committee asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to immediately order Mazars USA to comply with a subpoena for eight years of Trump’s financial records, in part citing the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, sided with the House over Trump regarding the subpoena on Friday.

Trump, who filed a lawsuit to stop the subpoena, still could appeal to the full District of Columbia Circuit or the Supreme Court. But the committee told the D.C. Circuit that it doesn’t want to wait any longer to enforce the six-month-old subpoena as part of an investigation “into serious issues of national importance concerning Executive Branch ethics and conflicts of interest.”

Issuing a mandate immediately would mean “that the 116th House can review this material—which the Committee understands is voluminous—and use the information for legislative and oversight purposes before the expiration of its term in January 2021,” the committee states in the motion.

The financial records could be “highly relevant” to the impeachment inquiry as well, the committee states. If the appeals court doesn’t immediately issue a mandate, it should at least shorten the time for an appeal to a week, the committee said. Attorneys for Trump oppose that request and plan to fight it.

Moving quickly: House Democrats have decided not to use their inherent contempt power to enforce subpoenas related to the inquiry because it could be perceived as arbitrary and not reflective of the deliberative process Democrats are taking in their impeachment inquiry, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Wednesday. 

The Maryland Democrat also said he wants Democrats’ impeachment inquiry to wrap up “sooner rather than later.”

Asked if that meant weeks, Hoyer said it’s more likely months but hopefully not a lot of months and that his hope is that it could conclude by the end of the year. “But again I want to emphasize this is no rush to judgement,” Hoyer said.

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Trial mechanics: Senate Republicans heard a presentation at lunch from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the mechanics of an impeachment trial.

That discussion included an explanation that the Senate would need to convene six days a week — potentially including over holidays — for the duration of the trial. Those parameters could change if there is an agreement to establish new trial rules.

Buck stops where?: President Donald Trump suggested the Obama administration took nefarious actions to influence the 2016 election, alleging without evidence that such tactics could have gone “all the way up to President Obama,” and added: “I happen to think it does.”

Know nothing: Trump denied any knowledge about a recent trip his attorney general, William Barr, took to Italy to discuss the 2016 U.S. election with leaders there. “I don’t know anything about the meeting,” he claimed.

Never forget: Trump defended the actions in Ukraine of his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. He said the former New York mayor merely sensed there was “corruption” related to the 2016 U.S. election and sought to get to the bottom of it.

He alleged “the Democrats are treating the Republicans very, very poorly” as they conduct their impeachment inquiry. He accused Democrats of disrespecting the office of the president and said Republicans won’t forget Democrats’ tactics.

Trump also predicted Republicans will take back control of the House “because of impeachment.”

Access denied: House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney said Wednesday that GOP members requested to read the transcripts of testimony in the impeachment inquiry but were denied access.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs said that he has requested to read former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker’s testimony and was denied. Biggs sits on the Judiciary Committee, but not the three committees taking the lead on the impeachment inquiry.

“Following this press conference, a group of my colleagues are going to go down and we’re going to ask for our opportunity to read the Volker transcript,” Biggs said.

New poll: A Gallup poll released Wednesday was the latest to show a majority of Americans favor impeaching Trump and removing him from office. The poll conducted from October 1-13 showed 52 percent favored impeaching the president and 46 percent were opposed. That’s nearly opposite of the results when Gallup polled on the question in June in the context of the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The increasing numbers for impeachment was fueled mostly by Democratic and independent voters.

The same poll showed approval of Congress at 25 percent, up from 18 percent in September before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry. Those numbers, too, reflected an increase among Democrats — from 19 percent to 34 percent — and independents — from 19 percent to 25 percent. Republicans’ approval of Congress remained at 17 percent from September to October.

More insider testimony: Members of the three House committees conducting the impeachment investigation are hearing testimony from Michael McKinley, who served as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before resigning last week.

McKinley is the latest foreign service official to testify about the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine and the delayed aid package to Ukraine that is being investigated as a pressure campaign to force the Ukrainians to investigate Trump political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which he suggested the Ukrainians do the White House a “favor” and investigate the Bidens is at the center of the House’s impeachment inquiry.

On Tuesday, they heard George Kent, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau, responsible for six countries including Ukraine, told members that he was instructed to “lay low” after he objected to outsiders running foreign policy with Ukraine.

Kent said acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney placed Volker, ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry in charge of Ukraine policy, Virginia Democrat Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, who heard Kent’s testimony, told reporters

Members will hear Thursday from Sondland, whose testimony last week was canceled late the night before he was supposed to appear before the committees.

Schiff said that the witnesses that have come before the House committees have been “fully cooperative.”

No vote: Pelosi on Tuesday evening defended House Democrats not deciding in a caucus meeting whether to hold a floor vote to formalize their impeachment inquiry.

“We’re not here to call bluffs,” Pelosi told reporters. House Republicans have been calling for a vote of the full House, saying that without one, the Democrats’ inquiry isn’t valid. Past presidential impeachment proceedings have been launched with a vote of the full House.

In the same news conference, Schiff addressed Republican complaints that the investigation has been held behind closed doors and that Republicans aren’t getting equal chance to participate.

He said that because there is no special counsel investigation into the Trump relationship with Ukraine, it is especially important that witnesses cannot see other witnesses’ testimony and alter their own statements to lawmakers. Schiff said there is more transparency ahead, and that he anticipates a time when transcripts will be released. He also suggested that witnesses, both new or returning, could be called in for open hearings.

Stood up: Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday they would not comply with congressional subpoenas. “If they enforce it, then we will see what happens,” Giuliani told ABC News.

Tuesday was the deadline for Giuliani to comply with a subpoena for a wide array of documents, notes and communications referring to or relating to Hunter Biden, interactions between Giuliani and Ukrainian officials and a wide range of other topics. Pence, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought, were also required to turn over documents Tuesday.

Schiff said Esper told the committees on Sunday that he would cooperate with their subpoena but the Pentagon sent a letter to the committees on Tuesday saying it would not comply.

Cashing in: The president appears to be leading his own legal defense, using tweets and public comments to claim House Democrats have no grounds to impeach him — and the Senate no reason to remove him — because he never outright asked Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens in exchange for U.S. aid.

A Trump 2020 campaign official told CQ Roll Call that it has seen “more and more people” using its website or other Republican Party online portals to register to vote since Pelosi announced the formal impeachment investigation three weeks ago. “We picked up, in the last couple of weeks, 50,000 new donors — that’s unheard of,” the official said.

Sessions subpoenaed: Former Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, who accepted campaign contributions from two associates of Giuliani who were indicted for campaign fund violations, was subpoenaed on Tuesday.

Sessions, who is running for a seat in another Texas district than the one he lost last year, told ABC News that he is cooperating with investigators and said he hasn’t been told he is the subject of the investigation. His spokesman said he is providing requested documents to authorities.

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