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Impeachment news roundup: Oct 30

More testimony about Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine; Gaetz files ethics complain against Schiff

Catherine Croft, a State Department Ukraine specialist, arrives Wednesday for a closed-door deposition in the Capitol as part of the House's impeachment inquiry. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Catherine Croft, a State Department Ukraine specialist, arrives Wednesday for a closed-door deposition in the Capitol as part of the House's impeachment inquiry. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A current State Department official and a former one are slated to testify Wednesday to provide more context and corroborate details from other witnesses about the Trump administration’s policy toward Ukraine, including ex-national security adviser John Bolton’s wariness of the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Catherine Croft, special adviser for Ukraine at the State Department and a former national security council expert on Ukraine, began her testimony around midday Wednesday, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry. Christopher Anderson, an assistant to former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Croft’s predecessor at State, is also expected to appear in closed session Wednesday.

Volker, Anderson and Croft’s former boss, answered questions before impeachment investigators earlier this month.

On Tuesday, NSC Ukraine expert and Army Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman told lawmakers that he listened in on the July 25 telephone conversation between President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart and that he twice sounded the alarm to NSC lawyers regarding Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.

Later Wednesday evening, the House approved a resolution establishing the format and rules of the public phase of the impeachment inquiry. The rules package will also provide for the release of transcripts from impeachment depositions taken so far.

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Here is the latest on the impeachment inquiry:

To the floor: The House Rules Committee on Wednesday sent to the floor a resolution that will govern the remainder of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. 

The panel did not adopt any amendments and shot down all Republican amendments offered at the markup before advancing the resolution on a party-line 9-4 vote.

Round Two: Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor is willing to return to the Capitol to testify in a public impeachment hearing, CNN reported Wednesday, citing an anonymous source familiar with the potential star witness’ thinking.

In his testimony last week, Democratic lawmakers said, Taylor drew a direct link between the withholding of military aid to Ukraine and requests from the White House for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open up anti-corruption probes into Trump’s political rivals.

That allegation, first made public last month after an unidentified whistleblower filed a complaint about the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy, has been the central focus of the impeachment inquiry.

Taylor testified last week that he saw concerning things about U.S. diplomatic operations in Ukraine as soon as he arrived at the State Department in June, including secondary diplomatic channels fueled by Giuliani that he called “highly irregular,” according to his opening statement, which has been published by multiple media outlets.

“Once I arrived in Kiev, I discovered a weird combination of encouraging, confusing and ultimately alarming circumstances,” Taylor said, referring to the president’s outsourcing of foreign policy in the region to Giuliani, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — often to the exclusion of typical State Department channels.

“At the direction of the President”: The Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to compel Croft’s testimony Wednesday after the White House and State Department directed her not to appear for her deposition, according to an official working on the inquiry.

On July 18, Croft learned of the White House’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine during a video conference call with acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and officials from the Office of Management and Budget, she told lawmakers, according to a draft of her opening statement obtained by multiple media outlets.

“The only reason given was that the order came at the direction of the President,” Croft told impeachment investigators.

Croft was also expected to provide more details on efforts from those outside the White House to recall then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a longtime goal of Giuliani and the cabal of advisers outside of official State Department channels who allegedly influenced the president’s decision-making in Ukraine.

Yovanovitch was relieved of her duties in May after reportedly refusing to ask Ukrainian officials to launch investigations examining Giuliani’s conspiracy theories about Trump’s Democratic rivals.

Yovanovitch ‘smeared’: A top State Department official who has been tapped to be Trump’s new ambassador to Russia corroborated on Wednesday Yovanovitch’s testimony before impeachment investigators this month that she was recalled as ambassador to Ukraine after a concerted “smear” effort by Giuliani and his allies close to the president.

At a confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez asked Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, Trump’s pick to be the next ambassador to Russia, if he thought Giuliani had been “seeking to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch, or have her removed.”

“I believed he was, yes,” Sullivan said.

Yovanovitch told impeachment investigators earlier this month that Sullivan told her she had served “capably and admirably” and that her recall was different from others who had been recalled from their diplomatic posts “for cause.”

Sullivan on Wednesday confirmed Yovanovitch’s testimony, in which she also speculated that “individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

Impeachment throwback: Croft’s testimony in the impeachment inquiry Wednesday brought up a name famous for drama that played out during the last time a president was in the impeachment spotlight: former Republican Rep. Bob Livingston.

Livingston, now a lobbyist, “repeatedly” called Croft in 2017 and 2018 while Croft worked for the NSC asking her to remove Yovanovitch.

In 1998, the Louisiana Republican was chosen by his colleagues to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker after Gingrich admitted to a sexual affair with a congressional staffer 23 years younger than him.

But on the day before the House vote to impeach Bill Clinton, whose scandal surrounded a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Speaker-designate Livingston admitted to his colleagues that he, too, had engaged in an extramarital affair.

The Giuliani obstacle: Anderson, another of Volker’s former assistants at the State Department and Croft’s predecessor, is expected to tell lawmakers at his deposition Wednesday about a meeting this summer where ex-national security adviser Bolton warned about Giuliani’s outsized influence on the president’s views toward Ukraine.

At the meeting, “[Bolton] cautioned that Mr. Giuliani was a key voice with the President on Ukraine which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagement,” Anderson will tell impeachment investigators in his opening statement, obtained by multiple media outlets.

Anderson left his post under Volker in mid-July, a couple weeks before Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy in which the president urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Trump’s domestic political rivals in exchange for releasing a $400 million military aid package.

What Volker said: Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine who was Anderson and Croft’s boss, has already told the impeachment panel about Giuliani’s role in shaping Trump’s views on Ukraine and affecting foreign policy there.

At a conference in Toronto in early July, Volker advised Zelenskiy that he would be wise to tell Trump he wanted to launch anti-corruption investigations and look into Giuliani’s widely discredited conspiracy theories about the Democratic National Committee and possible Ukrainian interference on behalf of the Democrats in the 2016 election.

Volker also provided lawmakers with text messages that appear to show that Trump sought a public announcement from Zelenskiy that Ukraine would investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in exchange for military aid and a meeting between the two leaders at the White House.

You can until you can’t: House Democrats on Tuesday introduced their resolution that lays out the process for how the investigation will be conducted.

Procedures released later for the House Judiciary Committee allow Trump and his counsel to attend all panel proceedings and ask questions and request additional evidence or witness testimony, but the committee will determine whether the evidence is “necessary or desirable.”

Nadler has “the discretion” to deny the president and his counsel the ability to call or question witnesses or otherwise “impose appropriate remedies” if the administration refuses to make witnesses available for testimony or fails to produce documents to any House investigating committee.

The White House has already blocked administration officials from participating in closed-door depositions in the impeachment inquiry led by the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs panels, although some have defied the order and testified under subpoena.

“Just a precaution”: House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler told CQ Roll Call a provision in the impeachment procedures for his panel that give him the discretion to deny Trump and his counsel access to the proceedings if they stonewall producing witnesses or documents to any of six House investigating committees is “just a precaution.”

“I hope we don’t need to use it,” the New York Democrat said.

Nadler declined to elaborate further about the rationale for the provision, which House Republican aides said is unprecedented because no such provision was included in procedures for the Bill Clinton and Richard M. Nixon impeachment proceedings.

Republicans united: Ahead of Thursday’s scheduled vote on House Democrats’ proposed rules for impeachment proceedings, Republican Whip Steve Scalise said he does not know of any GOP votes in favor of the measure.

The Louisiana Republican said the president is not helping with the whip effort.

Even Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, one of the few Republicans who occasionally votes with Democrats, told CQ Roll Call Tuesday he would vote against the measure.

Not legit: Republicans received the Democrats’ resolution as too little, too late.

“They can’t fix it,” Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming said. “The process is broken. It’s tainted.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California stressed that moving forward with a vote to establish procedures for public hearings and subsequent steps in the inquiry will not legitimize it in the eyes of Republicans.

“I applaud the speaker for finally admitting it is an entire sham. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” McCarthy said. “A due process starts at the beginning.”

Ethics complaint: Rep. Matt Gaetz submitted an official complaint to House Ethics Committee on Wednesday regarding Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff.

The Florida Republican cites Schiff’s comments at a Sept. 26 hearing characterizing the July phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine at the center of the impeachment inquiry as a violation of parliamentary precedent barring lawmakers from accusations that the president has committed a crime.

Gaetz also claims that when he was barred Oct. 14 from accessing an impeachment inquiry deposition, Schiff was in violation of the 116th Congress’ rules on deposition authority.

In his letter to the ethics panel, Gaetz urges the committee to investigate the complaint and “make appropriate referrals to the Department of Justice for further investigation.”

Gaetz himself is under investigation for a tweet in which he appeared to threaten Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, before his appearance in front of the Oversight Committee.

Witness protection: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is sending a letter to the Secretary of the Army and Army chief of staff requesting that Vindman be afforded the same protections as federal whistleblowers and be “protected from reprisal.” Vindman testified under oath Tuesday that he is not the whistleblower at the center of the inquiry.

Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday that the Army lieutenant colonel is “standing up for the Constitution they swore to protect and defend” and that his and the whistleblower’s life and family “must not be put in jeopardy by an outrageous attack or disclosure.”

Job security?: Trump accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of preparing to bring articles of impeachment to a floor vote in order to remain in her post during the next Congress. He quoted Fox News morning host Steve Doocy saying that, then added in a tweet: “A disgraceful use of Impeachment. Will backfire!”

Pep talk: Trump applauded congressional Republicans for “starting to go after the Substance even more than the very infair Process,” misspelling unfair in a Wednesday morning tweet.

He described the GOP as “very unified and energized in our fight on the Impeachment Hoax with the Do Nothing Democrats,” and ended a tweet series with something of a pep talk for his fellow Republicans.

“Republicans, go with Substance and close it out!” On Monday, the president urged Hill Republicans to focus on the substance of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president rather than how House Democrats are conducting the inquiry.

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