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Impeachment news roundup: Oct. 21

OMB officials refuse to testify about Ukraine deal while Republicans move to censure Schiff

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Republicans will introduce a privileged motion to censure Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who is overseeing the impeachment investigation. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Republicans will introduce a privileged motion to censure Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who is overseeing the impeachment investigation. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is seeking details from the acting Director of National Intelligence and the intelligence community inspector general about efforts to protect the whistleblower who provided information about the conversation between President Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine.

The New York Democrat expressed concern amid ongoing and public attacks from Trump and threats to expose his or her identity. 

“I am concerned that he may disclose the whistleblower’s identity or cause it to be disclosed. If that were to happen, the two of you must be prepared to protect the whistleblower from both workplace reprisal and threats to his or her personal safety,” the New York Democrat wrote.

Trump Monday again suggested the intelligence community whistleblower who prompted House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry lacks the protection of federal laws that experts say clearly provide just that.

“So do we have to protect somebody that gave a totally false account of my conversation” with Ukraine’s new president? Trump asked rhetorically during remarks to reporters during a Cabinet meeting. “I don’t know, you tell me.”

Schumer acknowledged that some security measures have already been taken, but expressed worry that risk could increase in the event that the whistleblower’s identity is disclosed. 

“I also note reports that one or more additional whistleblowers may be coming forward, creating added security concerns,” Schumer said in the letter. 

Here’s the impeachment news:

Censure disposal: The House voted 218-185 Monday to table an effort to censure Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff.

The censure resolution was introduced by Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, who leads the House Freedom Caucus, and had the backing of GOP leadership in the House. Biggs and his allies recruited 182 members to co-sponsor the proposal, which alleges a pattern of misleading and concealing information on the impeachment inquiry from the public and other members of Congress.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer motioned to table, or dispose of the censure resolution.

More depositions, maybe: Duffey is one of several diplomats or members of the administration with knowledge of the Ukraine aid deal who are scheduled to give depositions this week.

Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who expressed alarm about withholding aid to Ukraine saying in a text message, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” is set to give a deposition behind closed doors to members of the three House committees leading the investigation.

He’ll be followed on Wednesday by Philip Reeker, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, who might have details on the decision to remove Marie Yovanovitch from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Duffey was also scheduled to testify on Wednesday.

Members were scheduled to hear testimony from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, who also may also be able to provide details about the Ukraine aid package, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs at the White House National Security Council, who might be able to shed more light on previous testimony from Fiona Hill, a former NSC adviser on Russia, that staff and career NSC officials were shut out of Ukraine foreign policy decisions.

Depositions the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs panels had scheduled for Thursday and Friday are being postponed due to memorial services for Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, an official working on the impeachment inquiry said Monday.

“Shifty Schiff”: Trump on Monday accused a key House committee chairman of orchestrating a false scandal in order to move ahead with an impeachment inquiry.

“Now, I happen to think there probably wasn’t an informant. You know, the informant went to the whistleblower, the whistleblower had second- and third-hand information. … Maybe the informant was ‘Shifty Schiff.’ Could be ‘Shifty Schiff,’” he said, referring to House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff.

“In my opinion,” the president said without providing evidence, “it was probably Schiff.”

Military Aid: Office of Management and Budget acting Director Russell Vought said Monday that he won’t be testifying this week as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Vought and Michael Duffey, associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, have been called by the three committees conducting the investigation about the decision to hold up $400 million in military aid for Ukraine that is at the center of the investigation. 

Vought had received a subpoena earlier this month focused on getting additional information about Trump’s decision to temporarily withhold aid to Ukraine. 

While OMB is refusing to comply with the three committees, it cooperated in some way with the House Appropriations and Budget Committees, after the panels’ top Democrats sent a letter asking for details about the Ukrainian aid. 

On Oct. 7 spokespeople for both panels said that they had “received a partial production of some documents from OMB,” but that they had “not received all the documents and information” requested.

Schiff censure: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News on Sunday that House Republicans will offer a privileged motion to censure Schiff for his conduct leading the impeachment inquiry. That vote had been scheduled for last Thursday, but Republicans agreed to delay it after the death of Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings.

“The very least we can do is censure him,” McCarthy said on “Sunday Morning Futures,” and later tweeted that if Democrats don’t vote with Republicans on the motion, “it will say a lot about their priorities—putting politics over the truth.”

Trump endorsed the effort Monday morning.

Democrats are roundly expected to reject the motion.

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

He promised more open hearings after an initial wave of closed hearings because he said there is no special counsel investigation into the Trump relationship with Ukraine, making it especially important that witnesses cannot see other witness’ testimony and alter their own statements to lawmakers.

Fissures or cracks?: Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, who announced Saturday that he was retiring from Congress at the end of this term, told CNN on Sunday that he wasn’t “100 percent sure right this second” how he would vote on impeachment, and said that he wanted to hear what Taylor says on Tuesday and hopes to hear from John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser who resigned last month, before he’d have to vote, but “what I’ve heard so far is quite troubling.”

Several Republicans have grown increasingly receptive to the House impeachment inquiry after acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted in a televised press briefing on Thursday that the administration temporarily withheld military aid to Ukraine because it sought help investigating Democrats’ actions in 2016.

Asked if he would be open-minded about impeachment, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally who has broken with him on the U.S. pullout of troops from northern Syria, told “Axios on HBO” on Sunday, “Sure, I mean show me something that is a crime. If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”

Impeachment inevitable?: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told colleagues that Senate Republicans should prepare for an impeachment vote in the Senate.

While McConnell has said that parliamentary rules give him no choice but to take up a vote, he also sees the vote as politically necessary to help protect vulnerable Republicans up for reelection next year who must show they are giving impeachment are fair review, The New York Times reported.

Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina are embroiled in 2020 Senate races rated Tossups by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Joni Ernst of Iowa are also expected to face tough competition from whichever Democrat emerges from their primaries.

Mulvaney fallout: Mulvaney told Fox News on Sunday that he was not pressured to resign after his disastrous news conference last week where he admitted the administration withheld military aid for Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into Trump’s political rivals.

“Absolutely, positively not,” Mulvaney said, when asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace whether his resignation was discussed after the rare press briefing.

“Listen, I am very happy working there. Did I have the perfect press conference? No. But again, the facts are on our side,” the former South Carolina congressman said.

The White House, including Mulvaney, has tried to backtrack from his comments, but Democrats, and many Republicans, were not willing to accept the correction.

No-go on Doral G-7: In his Fox interview, Mulvaney said he was “honestly surprised at the level of pushback” on Trump’s initial decision announced on Thursday to hold the next G7 summit at his Doral resort in Florida.

The White House said Saturday that it decided not to hold the summit at Doral, bending to pressure from lawmakers, including many of Trump’s GOP allies, who had criticized the administration for selecting a location that the president himself owns, potentially lining his pockets with thousands of foreign emoluments — profits stemming from his position in the Oval Office — in violation of the Constitution.

Trump still views himself as working in the “hospitality business,” Mulvaney explained in his Fox interview, even though he has been president for nearly three years and claims not to have any role overseeing his vast real estate business.

Even though he backed down from a Doral G7, Trump defended the initial decision because it “would have been the best place to hold the G-7, and free,” He blamed the “Do Nothing Radical Left Democrats & their Partner, the Fake News Media” for raising the uproar.

“We’ll find someplace else!” Trump wrote.

But it wasn’t just Democrats who were upset with the Doral decision. Some Republicans expressed frustration last week over having to defend a president who often makes brash political calculations.

“You have to go out and try to defend him. Well, I don’t know if I can do that!” Rep. Mike Simpson said, according to the Washington Post. “I have no doubt that Doral is a really good place — I’ve been there, I know. But it is politically insensitive. They should have known what the kickback is going to be on this, that politically he’s doing it for his own benefit.”

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