Former White House adviser Fiona Hill on Monday became the third official to break with the administration and testify in the impeachment inquiry, opening a week of moves by House Democrats to advance the probe with Congress back from recess.
Republicans blasted Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff for issuing subpoenas when Ms. Hill had already agreed to testify.
“She was going to come voluntarily. But he’s going to subpoena her, I believe, so he can ask certain questions and again keep those secret,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican.
The subpoena was issued because of attempts by the Trump administration to limit the testimony of witnesses or even direct witnesses not to cooperate, an official working on the impeachment inquiry told The Associated Press. Ms. Hill complied with the subpoena and was answering questions from both Democrats and Republicans, the official said.
Ms. Hill was the first White House official to testify in the inquiry, which stems from a whistleblower complaint that Mr. Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Trump political rival Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.
The three Democrat-led committees conducting the inquiry expect to hear from two more key witnesses this week.
Ms. Hill was not directly involved in the Ukraine episode, nor is she mentioned in the complaint from a whistleblower, believed to be a CIA official assigned to the White House who has since left the agency.
She is still a State Department employee and the administration has intervened to block several current and former administration officials from cooperating with the Democrats on several fronts of their investigations.
Last week, White House counsel Pat Cipollone said the impeachment inquiry was invalid and Democrats have violated “fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process.”
House Democrats also succeeded in locking down testimonies from key figures in the Ukraine incident — former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland — after they sent out subpoenas.
It is surprising State Department officials would ignore a direct order from the administration.
“I think it is appropriate for the White House to be outraged that someone is disrespecting an instruction not to testify,” said Sam Dewey, an attorney at McDermott Will & Emery, who used to lead congressional investigations.
“You can’t tell someone under subpoena not to show up because that would be obstruction, but there is a colorable claim of privilege by the administration,”he continued. “I wonder if Yovanovitch would testify if [former Obama White House counsel] Greg Craig gave the order not to show up. It is a question that should be asked.”
The White House was able to block former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying before Congress in May as part of Democrats’ probes into allegations that President Trump tried to obstruct the Russia investigation. That legal battle is ongoing.
Mr. Sondland — who has come under increasing scrutiny after Democrats released text messages from yet another witness discussing delayed military aide — was blocked by the administration from testifying last week.
His counsel announced Friday morning that Mr. Sondland would be testifying anyway, “notwithstanding the State Department’s current direction to not testify.”
Witnesses coming forward helps Democrats, who are hoping to wrap up the impeachment inquiry by Thanksgiving, said University of Illinois law professor Andrew Leipold, who served on special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr’s team investigating President Bill Clinton.
“Their appearances move things along because the possibility of tying this inquiry up in the courts is, of course, high,” Mr. Leipold said. “If Congress has to go to the courts to enforce the subpoena, maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Then it would then head to the Supreme Court. If you want to have serious litigation with serious questions, it will take some time.”
In addition to Mr. Sondland, Democrats expect to hear from three other witnesses this week.
George P. Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, will testify Tuesday. An expert on Russia and Ukraine, Mr. Kent’s profile became public earlier this when Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, alleged without evidence Mr. Kent was working with liberal activist George Soros to find dirt on Trump campaign officials.
Before taking his current position, Mr. Kent served as the deputy chief of mission in Kyiv.
T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, the State Department’s top lawyer, is slotted to appear this week. A longtime friend of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the two men graduated from West Point together and both served in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Mr. Brechbuhl joined the State Department in 2018 and was among those on the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky.
Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, is also expected to testify over the phone this week.
“One individual can’t prove there was or was not quid pro quo, but … if there are a lot of witnesses who were in position to know something and they consistently say they did or did not see evidence of quid pro quo, there will be some credibility there,” he said.
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