U.S. House impeachment probe on Trump hears from ex-aide to secretary of state

Politics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A former adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who abruptly resigned last week, on Wednesday spoke to an impeachment inquiry into allegations President Donald Trump pursued political interests in his dealings with Ukraine.

Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, arrives to testify at a closed-door deposition as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump led by the House Intelligence, House Foreign Affairs and House Oversight and Reform Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

The latest senior administration official to give closed-door testimony to the Democratic-led inquiry testified as Republicans in Congress stepped up their attacks on a process the White House has vowed to stonewall.

Former Pompeo adviser Michael McKinley entered a secure area in the U.S. Capitol to face questions from investigators who could recommend Trump’s impeachment to the House of Representatives before the end of the year.

Lawmakers are examining whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival and leading candidate for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.

McKinley, a veteran diplomat who had served as ambassador to Brazil and Afghanistan, was expected to tell investigators that some career diplomats had their careers derailed for political reasons while he served as adviser to Pompeo from May 2018 until last Friday, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper said he resigned over State Department leadership’s unwillingness to defend former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch against an effort to intervene in the country for Trump’s political benefit. Yovanovitch, who was withdrawn earlier this year, told investigators last week that the president ousted her on “unfounded and false claims.”

Previous witnesses have described how policy staff were sidelined on Ukraine by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others.

“We’ve uncovered significant evidence of Trump’s abuse of power. And we’ll continue to expose the truth,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment inquiry, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

House Democrats on Tuesday said Schiff will at some point move the impeachment inquiry into a public hearing phase.

Trump, who denounced the inquiry as a “witch hunt” on Twitter early on Wednesday, later told reporters that Democrats were being disrespectful. He accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of handing out subpoenas “like cookies.”

In related news, the FBI on Wednesday arrested David Correia, one of four people charged last week in an alleged scheme to funnel $1 million in donations to politicians and political candidates to benefit a planned marijuana business funded by an unnamed Russian businessman.

REPUBLICAN BLASTS ‘CLOSED SYSTEM’

House Republicans, ramping up attacks on Democrats, complained of being denied access to witness transcripts and said they had nearly 150 co-sponsors for a censure resolution against Schiff.

“This is a closed system,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry.

A House vote to impeach Trump would lead to a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate that could result in his ouster. But so far, few Senate Republicans have criticized the president.

The House’s probe is focused on a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate unsubstantiated allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Democrats accuse Trump of pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on a domestic rival after withholding $391 million in U.S. security aid to help combat Russian-backed separatists. Zelenskiy agreed to investigate. Trump eventually allowed the aid.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and defended his request to Zelenskiy. Biden and his son also deny wrongdoing.

Pompeo, a close Trump ally, has directed State Department employees not to cooperate with the inquiry, but with only limited success.

Career diplomat George Kent testified on Tuesday. Congressional investigators also heard on Monday from Trump’s former Russia adviser, Fiona Hill.

Gordon Sondland, a Trump political donor and a key actor in the unfolding political drama as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, is expected to appear this week in response to a subpoena after he initially declined to testify.

Kurt Volker, who served as Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, made a surprise appearance on Wednesday. Volker, who testified on Oct. 3, was on Capitol Hill to review a transcript of his testimony, according to a source familiar with the matter.

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Other Trump administration officials have remained defiant, as has Giuliani. Vice President Mike Pence have refused to comply with a request for documents related to efforts to pressure Ukraine. The Pentagon also said it could not to share documents with lawmakers, citing “legal and practical concerns.” The White House budget office also faced a Tuesday deadline to respond.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry declined to tell an interviewer whether he would comply with a subpoena for documents.

Reporting by Richard Cowan, Patricia Zengerle and Andy Sullivan; additional reporting by Steve Holland, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey, David Brunnstrom, Arshad Mohammed and Lisa Lambert; Writing by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

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