Trump administration blocks official from appearing before House committee
Key facts and latest news
- The White House said it will not cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry, rejecting demands for documents and testimony.
- At the direction of the State Department, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. did not appear for testimony before House lawmakers. President Trump said he would “love” to send Gordon Sondland to testify, but not before what he called a “totally compromised kangaroo court.”
- On a July call between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr. Trump urged Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. Before the call, the president instructed acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to hold off on releasing military aid to Ukraine that had been appropriated by Congress.
- Soon after the July call, White House officials moved a record of the call to a highly classified computer system, severely restricting who could access it.
Washington — The White House told House Democrats it will not comply with demands for documents and testimony in Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, setting up a legal showdown between the two branches of government.
“You have designed and implemented your inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in an eight-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen of the committees leading the inquiry.
Cipollone argued the investigation is “invalid” because there has not been a formal vote to open an impeachment inquiry. He said the inquiry clearly seeks “to influence the election of 2020” and has “no legitimate basis.” The letter also condemned Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a frequent target of the president.
Also on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who was scheduled to be interviewed by House committees as part of the impeachment inquiry, was ordered not to appear for his deposition by the State Department, according to a statement issued by his attorney. Sondland was mentioned in the original whistleblower complaint and is a key witness to the Trump-Ukraine dealings.
Democrats issued a subpoena later Tuesday demanding documents from Sondland and setting a date for his deposition.
Sondland’s lawyer Robert Luskin said in the statement that Sondland “is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today.” Luskin said the ambassador had traveled from Brussels for the testimony and made arrangements with committee staff to appear. Sondland “believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States” and remains ready to testify “on short notice,” Luskin said.
Schiff told reporters on Tuesday that Sondland was in possession of documents on his “personal device” related to Ukraine, which he said the State Department is withholding from the committee.
“The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress,” Schiff said.
Democrats subpoena Sondland for documents and testimony
6:12 p.m.: House Democrats issued a subpoena for Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U., demanding documents and testimony about his involvement in the Ukraine matter. Democrats set a deadline of October 14 for Sondland to produce documents to the House Intelligence Committee, and scheduled a deposition for October 16.
“Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena, including at the direction or behest of the President, the White House, or the State Department, shall constitute further evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry and may be used as an adverse inference against you and the President,” three committee chairs wrote in a letter to Sondland. — Stefan Becket
White House says it won’t cooperate with impeachment inquiry
5:06 p.m.: White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and three House committee chairmen saying the White House will not cooperate with the House’s impeachment inquiry because the investigation “violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process.”
Cipollone accused the Democrats of cooking up an inquiry to “overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the President they have freely chosen.”
“Your highly partisan and unconstitutional effort threatens grave and lasting damage to our democratic institutions, to our system of free elections, and to the American people,” Cipollone wrote.
Cipollone argued the investigation is “invalid” because there has not been a formal vote to open an impeachment inquiry. He also wrote that the inquiry clearly seeks “to influence the election of 2020” and has “no legitimate basis.”
“We hope that, in light of the many deficiencies we have identified in your proceedings, you will abandon the current invalid efforts to pursue an impeachment inquiry and join the President in focusing on the many important goals that matter to the American people,” Cipollone concluded. — Grace Segers
Giuliani says he won’t cooperate with House as Graham asks him to testify in the Senate
5:02 p.m.: The president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, appeared poised to defy a subpoena by the House Intelligence Committee to provide documents by October 15. Giuliani told The Washington Post he “can’t imagine” other administration officials cooperating with the investigation.
“I wouldn’t testify in front of that committee until there is a vote of Congress and he is removed,” Giuliani said, referring to Schiff, the chairman.
Giuliani’s comments come after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham invited him to testify before the committee regarding his allegations about the Bidens in Ukraine.
“Have heard on numerous occasions disturbing allegations by @RudyGiuliani about corruption in Ukraine and the many improprieties surrounding the firing of former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin,” Graham wrote on Twitter, referring to unsubstantiated allegations that former VP Joe Biden pushed for Shokin to be removed because Shokin was investigating a company with ties to Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
“Given the House of Representatives’ behavior, it is time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine. … Therefore I will offer to Mr. Giuliani the opportunity to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee to inform the committee of his concerns,” Graham said.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Giuliani said he was “very interested in accepting Graham’s offer.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also expressed interest in Giuliani’s potential testimony, with the caveat that Giuliani would have to testify under oath. — Grace Segers
Trey Gowdy under consideration to join Trump’s outside legal team
4:26 p.m.: Former Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy is under consideration to join Mr. Trump’s outside legal team, which is seeking to expand amid the impeachment inquiry.
Gowdy, a state and former federal prosecutor, is seen as a potentially valuable TV and legal spokesperson for the president. Gowdy served as the chair of the House Oversight Committee until the beginning of this year, and did not seek reelection in 2018. — Major Garrett
House lawyer says impeachment inquiry extends beyond Ukraine
2:48 p.m.: A lawyer for the House told a federal judge that Democrats’ impeachment inquiry extends beyond the Ukraine controversy and includes potential obstruction of justice by the president.
Over the course of two hours in U.S. District Court in Washington, government lawyers on opposing sides of an effort to obtain secret grand jury proceedings illustrated the evolving nature of the House’s impeachment inquiry.
Douglas Letter, the lawyer for the House, urged the judge to grant the House Judiciary Committee access to currently redacted material in the special counsel’s report, specifically the underlying grand jury material collected during the Mueller investigation, and FBI documents. Elizabeth Shapiro, a Justice Department lawyer, opposed releasing the grand jury information, and argued certain FBI documents contain confidential communications between White House advisers and should remain redacted.
Letter argued the House impeachment inquiry extends beyond the circumstances surrounding the president’s call with Ukraine, pointing to the fact that the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees had already opened informal impeachment probes before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched an official inquiry.
“[An] impeachment inquiry was already going on,” Letter said in response to questioning by Chief Judge Beryl Howell. — Clare Hymes
Senate Intelligence Committee releases report on Russian use of social media
1:45 p.m.: The Senate Intelligence Committee released the second volume of its bipartisan report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, detailing Russian use of social media to stoke division among the American public.
Among its findings:
- The Internet Research Agency, the Russian-backed disinformation group, “sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”
- “Russia’s targeting of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society.”
- “The IRA targeted not only Hillary Clinton, but also Republican candidates during the presidential primaries. For example, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were targeted and denigrated, as was Jeb Bush.”
- “No single group of Americans was targeted by IRA information operatives more than African-Americans. By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016.”
Read the full report here.
House Democrats say they’ll subpoena Sondland
11:47 a.m.: The three Democratic chairmen leading the impeachment inquiry say they plan to subpoena Sondland, after he declined to appear Tuesday.
Schiff, Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings announced their intention to subpoena Sondland for his testimony and documents on Tuesday. “
“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” they wrote.
Top House Democrats slam Trump for “obstructing” impeachment inqiury
11:45 a.m.: Three top House Democrats — Schiff, Engel and Cummings — slammed the White House’s efforts to block Sondland from testifying in a closed-door session on his knowledge of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine dealings.
In a joint statement released by the committee chairs, they said the White House’s efforts to block Sondland’s testimony shows their attempts “to impede and obstruct the impeachment inquiry.”
According to a statement by Sondland’s attorney, the direction to not appear came from the State Department, just hours before he was to testify.
“These actions appear to be part of the White House’s effort to obstruct the impeachment inquiry and to cover up President Trump’s misconduct from Congress and the American people. Ambassador Sondland’s testimony and documents are vital, and that is precisely why the Administration is now blocking his testimony and withholding his documents,” the committee chairs said.
Now, Schiff, Engel and Cummings say they will move to issue a subpoena for Sondland’s testimony and any related documents.
“We consider this interference to be obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” they added.
Schiff says State Department is withholding documents from Congress
9:39 a.m.: Schiff says that Sondland has texts and documents on his “personal device” relating to Ukraine that the State Department is withholding from Congress. He told reporters the committee views the government’s refusal to allow Sondland to testify as evidence of obstruction.
“The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider…additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress,” Schiff said. “The American people have a right to know if President Trump is working for their interests or in his own political interests.”
However, Republican committee members defended the State Department’s decision to block Sondland’s testimony, complaining that Democrats had treated former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker unfairly during his testimony before the committee last week. They also called for the full transcript of Volker’s testimony before the committee to be released.
Trump confirms that he was involved in decision not to allow Sondland to testify
9:23 a.m.: In two tweets on Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump confirmed that he was involved in the decision not to allow Sondland to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.
“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public … to see. Importantly, Ambassador Sondland’s tweet, which few report, stated, “I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” That says it ALL!” Mr. Trump wrote.
According to a statement by Sondland’s attorney, the Department of State directed him not to appear for his interview before the House Joint Committee. The order came just hours before his scheduled meeting.
CBS News contributor Jonathan Turley noted that Mr. Trump’s stated opposition to Sondland’s testimony before the committee could undermine claims of executive privilege. The president tweeted that he didn’t want him testifying before a “a totally compromised kangaroo court.”
Saying that he doesn’t trust the committee is different that claiming executive privilege, which is based on protecting confidential communications and diplomatic relations. The former, Turley pointed out, is not a ground for refusal if a subpoena were to be issued.
Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to E.U., will not appear before Congress
8:26 a.m.: Sondland will not be appearing for his scheduled congressional interview today, after the State Department ordered him not to appear.
According to a statement by Sondland’s attorney, the direction came just hours before he was to testify.
“Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena, in order to answer the Committee’s questions on an expedited basis. As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department’s direction,” Sondland attorney, Robert Luskin, said in a statement. He said the ambassador was “profoundly disappointed” that he was not able to testify.
“Sondland believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the Committee’s questions fully and truthfully,” Luskin added.
Sondland was mentioned in the original whistleblower complaint and is considered a key witness in the president’s dealings with Ukraine.
Text messages released last week between Sondland and other U.S. diplomats discussed efforts to get the Ukrainians to draft a statement agreeing on investigations into Burisma, the energy company that hired Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and Ukraine’s alleged involvement in the 2016 U.S. election. The Ukrainians hoped to secure a White House meeting with President Trump.
But after Politico reported on August 29 that the president had decided to pause U.S. aid for Ukraine, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, wrote, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland replied that Taylor was “incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” saying the president had been “crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”
Former senior White House aides: Trump not receiving good advice on Ukraine, Syria
6:57 a.m.: CBS News has spoken to several former senior administration aides over the last few days, including former senior White House advisers who have been largely critical of how the White House has been handling recent situations including the Ukraine call, the release of the call’s summary, the impeachment inquiry and now Syria.
The former senior advisers believe that there is a dearth of advisers in the current White House who have the ability or willingness to dissuade the president from bad political decisions.
“There is no one really left who can say, ‘that’s a bad idea,'” one former senior Trump aide said. –– Fin Gomez, Sara Cook and Weijia Jiang
Trump calls impeachment inquiry a “scam”
Monday, 4:54 p.m.: After signing a pair of trade deals with Japan at the White House, the president took questions from reporters and called the impeachment probe a “scam.”
“The impeachment inquiry is a scam. The conversation that I had with the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, was a very good, it was a very cordial conversation,” Mr. Trump said.
He again criticized House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff for paraphrasing his remarks on the call during a congressional hearing last week, calling him a “fraud.” — Stefan Becket
GOP senator says Trump “should not have raised the Biden issue” on Ukraine call
Monday, 4:21 p.m.: Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said the president raising the prospect of investigating the Bidens on the July 25 call with the president of Ukraine was “not appropriate” but said he doesn’t think it rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
“The president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period. It’s not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government in an investigation of a political opponent,” Portman said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch published Monday. “I don’t view it as an impeachable offense. I think the House frankly rushed to impeachment assuming certain things.”
The president called Portman “honorable” last week after Portman said he was given a “consistent reason” for the delay in releasing Ukraine aid. — Stefan Becket
Pentagon and Office of Management and Budget subpoenaed
Monday, 12:39 p.m.: The Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have been subpoenaed for documents in House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and OMB Acting Director Russell Vought on Monday informing them of the subpoenas.
“Pursuant to the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, we are hereby transmitting a subpoena that compels you to produce the documents set forth in the accompanying schedule by October 15, 2019,” the chairmen wrote in their letter.
The White House was also subpoenaed for documents late Friday.
At least one week before Mr. Trump spoke by phone with the Ukrainian president in late July, he instructed his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold off on releasing nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine that had already been appropriated by Congress. A senior administration official with direct knowledge of the Trump administration’s actions regarding the funds previously confirmed to CBS News the delay in military aid.
Read the full article at: cbsnews.com