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Schiff angry at delays, but Trump defiant about impeachment

Updated October 8, 2019 - 5:12 pm

WASHINGTON — A House Democrat leading an impeachment inquiry into the president’s request of a foreign government to investigate a political rival said Tuesday that the State Department is withholding messages and testimony relevant to the congressional investigation.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s lead in-house lawyer wrote a defiant letter to House Democrats, accusing them of trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election and influence next year’s balloting.

The White House blocked the testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, before his scheduled appearance before the members of House committees and issued a letter saying the administration would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the blocked testimony and documents are “further acts of obstruction of a co-equal branch of government” by the Trump administration.

Schiff said that not only was Congress deprived of testimony, “but we are also aware that the ambassador has text messages or emails on a personal device, which had been provided to the State Department, although we have requested those from the ambassador, and the State Department is withholding those messages as well.”

Later on Tuesday, Schiff and other committee chairmen subpoenaed Sondland to testify and provide his documents.

Sondland attorney Robert Luskin said his client “is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify” and “believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States.”

Defiant Trump letter

Meanwhile, the Trump White House declared political war on House Democratic leaders in a letter that laid out the administration’s reasons for not complying with multiple House subpoena requests.

The letter — addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen of the foreign affairs, intelligence and oversight committees — was released Tuesday around 5 p.m. and signed by Trump’s head in-house lawyer, Pat Cipollone.

Cipollone accused House Democrats of depriving the president of due process by holding hearings in secret and denying the president the right to cross-examine witnesses and have counsel present.

“Put simply, you seek to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the president they have freely chosen,” Cipollone charged. “Many Democrats now apparently view impeachment not only as a means to undo the democratic results of the last election, but as a strategy to influence the next election, which is barely more than a year away.”

The White House list of grievances included Pelosi’s refusal to hold a vote to approve an impeachment inquiry and Schiff’s false statements to the media in which he denied that his staff had been in contact with the whistleblower who filed a complaint about the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. There are reports that Schiff’s committee advised the whistleblower before the complaint was filed.

Impeachment inquiry

Pelosi, D-Calif., launched an impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, the day before the White House released the rough transcript of Trump’s call with Zelenskiy.

In the call, Trump asked the Ukrainian for “a favor” and urged him to investigate Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful and political rival, and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

The request was made as the administration withheld nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine that had been approved by Congress.

Text messages about efforts to sway the Ukrainian government to investigate were turned over to the House by Kurt Volker, the president’s former special envoy to Ukraine.

Volker testified privately before lawmakers last week.

Messaging between Trump administration officials also show an attempt to arrange a White House visit for the Ukrainian leader in exchange for his cooperation with the request.

The White House has stonewalled the investigation, and Trump has accused House Democrats of launching a “witch hunt” into a “perfect” telephone conversation between two leaders.

“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,” Trump said on Twitter.

Later, the White House sent the House a letter saying it would not cooperate in the impeachment inquiry.

Pompeo ignoring subpoena

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who confirmed that he was on the call with Trump and the Ukrainian president, ignored a subpoena by House Democrats last week and did not release documents about discussions between the two leaders.

He also ordered other State Department employees not to appear before the panel, claiming that he was protecting civil service workers from “bullying” tactics of investigating Democrats.

House Republicans have offered a tepid defense of Trump but have attacked Democrats on the impeachment inquiry process. They have joined Trump in seeking a vote to put lawmakers on the record calling for an impeachment investigation.

Nevada’s congressional delegation is split along party lines, with Democrats backing Pelosi in her launch of an inquiry and Rep. Mark Amodei, the lone Republican, backing House GOP leaders on recent process votes. Amodei has said, however, that he supports letting the inquiry play out to learn whether rules were broken in Trump’s call.

In the Senate, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, invited the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to testify about Ukraine and corruption.

Graham has defended Trump in the impeachment battle between the White House and the Democrat-controlled House.

Giuliani was seeking the Ukrainian investigation into the role the Bidens played in an energy company and the firing of a former prosecutor.

Senate Democrats on the judiciary panel welcomed Giuliani’s testimony under oath about the role he played in the president’s attempt to coerce a foreign government to investigate one of his political rivals.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. Review-Journal White House Correspondent Debra J. Saunders and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the date on which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

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