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Impeachment news roundup: Oct. 17

Ambassador Sondland on the Hill, investigation goes on despite Cummings’ death

Gordon Sondland, second from left, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, arrives at the Capitol on Thursday for his deposition as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Gordon Sondland, second from left, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, arrives at the Capitol on Thursday for his deposition as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Capitol Hill was shocked Thursday morning by the death of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, one of the three committees conducting the impeachment investigations, but it didn’t affect scheduled hearings. 

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key player in the investigation into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, testified Thursday before the three House Committees conducting the impeachment inquiry.

Also on Thursday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry informed President Donald Trump he intends to step down. The announcement came just hours after acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters Trump instructed Perry to consider his personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, the lead on all Ukraine policy matters.

Perry’s resignation comes a day before a Friday deadline for Perry to comply with a House impeachment inquiry subpoena, first issued Oct. 10. The subpoena is seeking documents and communications related to interactions between Trump, Ukrainian officials, a roster of U.S. officials and Giuliani associates.

[Sondland’s hotel business getting backlash over his role in Trump-Ukraine affair]

Here is the latest on the investigation:

Nothing to do with it: The Trump administration holding up funds for a military aid package for Ukraine had “absolutely nothing” to do with the president’s request that its government investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, Mulvaney told reporters on Thursday.

Mulvaney offered a lecture about the role of politics in foreign policy, saying political factors will always help shape U.S. policy toward other countries.

“Elections have consequences,” he said amid Democrats’ charges that Trump linked military aid to a Biden probe in the July 25 call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Cummings’ successor: Rep. Carolyn Maloney will serve as acting chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform after Cummings’ death, with House Democrats choosing a formal replacement at “a later time,” a senior Democratic leadership aide told CQ Roll Call.

The next leader of the committee will step into a bright spotlight, with the panel conducting multiple investigations into Trump and his administration and playing a key role in the impeachment process headed by Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.

Sondland speaks: Sondland was to testify that he was unaware of any potential connection to a Ukrainian investigation of Hunter Biden at the time he, Perry and Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker were asked by Trump to discuss Ukraine concerns, according to his prepared testimony.

“I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign,” Sondland said in his opening statement.

Sondland, a hotelier and Trump donor, was scheduled to testify to the committees last week, but he canceled his appearance just hours before after being ordered to by the State Department.

Mission creep: Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the conflict with President Donald Trump regarding his decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria won’t bleed into the House impeachment inquiry.

“It’s not about impeachment. It’s about policy and that’s a different debate,” she said Thursday.

Pelosi noted that when she was serving as speaker the first time and she was asked to impeach former President George W. Bush over the war in Iraq, she declined, telling people, “That’s a policy matter. That isn’t in my view an impeachment matter.”

Pelosi walked out of a contentious meeting over Syria policy at the White House on Thursday after he called her a “third-rate politician.” Pelosi and other Democrats at the meeting said Trump appeared to have a “meltdown.”

About that photo: Asked about a photo from the meeting that Trump tweeted and said it showed Pelosi having an “unhinged meltdown,” the speaker responded, “I think I was excusing myself from the room.”

“At that moment I was probably saying, ‘All roads lead to Putin,’” she added.

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