The House impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump shifts into an accelerated phase as the three Democratic-run committees leading the inquiry hold their first weekend session to question the State Department’s top diplomat for Europe.
The closed-door testimony by Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs, precedes a full slate of interviews set for next week before the Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs committees.
Reeker arrived on Capitol Hill Saturday morning and will face questions about the role of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in the administration’s dealings with Ukraine and, in particular, the removal of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in the spring.
Yovanovitch testified Oct. 11 that she was ousted after a “concerted campaign” by Trump and his allies, including Giuliani.
Internal emails disclosed to lawmakers by the State Department’s inspector general on Oct. 2 show that Reeker was notified of a campaign to smear Yovanovitch as a liberal opponent of Trump, a notion he said at the time was “without merit or validation.”
Since the disclosure of a whistle-blower’s complaint last month, Democrats have been focused almost entirely on the question of whether Trump and a handful of close advisers put pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to conduct investigations of Trump’s political rivals, including by holding up U.S. military assistance.
Reeker’s testimony was originally scheduled for earlier this week. A career foreign service officer who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, he has been in his current post since March.
The State Department sent Reeker a letter late Friday directing him to not appear, which prompted a subpoena from the House panels to give him legal cover to testify, according to copy of the letter obtained by Bloomberg News. The committees have issued similar so-called friendly subpoenas for other executive branch employees who were told to not participate in the inquiry.
Trump and his Republican allies have continued to criticize Democrats for taking testimony in closed-door sessions, though Republican members of the three committees all have taken part in questioning witnesses.
This week, a group of Republicans, including some who are on one of the committees conducting the inquiry, stormed the secure areas where the witness interviews are being conducted to stage a sit-in. The move delayed the interview of a Pentagon official for about five hours.
Their complaints extended to scheduling Reeker’s appearance for Saturday.
“Chairman Schiff has chosen to conduct his inquiry behind closed doors with only a limited number of members present, allowing selective leaks of cherry-picked information to paint misleading public narratives,” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the Oversight committee, wrote in a letter to Reeker on Wednesday, referring to Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee chairman. “For these reasons, we were surprised and disappointed that you had agreed to appear for a deposition on Saturday.”
The schedule for next week includes testimony from Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Charles Kupperman on Monday, and Timothy Morrison, a special assistant to the president, on Thursday.
But on Friday, Kupperman asked a federal judge whether he must appear. He said in court papers that he faces “irreconcilable commands” -- a subpoena from House Democrats requiring him to cooperate and an order from the White House not to testify.
His lawyer, Charles Cooper, said in a statement late Friday night that Trump “has asserted that Dr. Kupperman, as a close personal adviser to the president, is immune from Congressional process, and has instructed Dr. Kupperman not to appear and testify in response to the House’s subpoena.”
Kupperman, Cooper added, “cannot satisfy the competing and irreconcilable demands of both the legislative and executive branches, and there is no controlling judicial authority definitively establishing which branch’s command should prevail.”
On Friday, the committee chairmen also sent subpoenas to Michael Duffey, the Office of Management and Budget’s associate director for national security programs,to testify Nov. 5 and to acting Budget Director Russell Vought to testify on Nov. 6. Vought had previously tweeted that the two would not testify voluntarily.
Department of State Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl was subpoenaed to appear at a deposition on Nov. 6.
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