House Democrats expanded their impeachment probe Monday by issuing subpoenas to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon.
The latest rounds of subpoenas aim to get at the heart of the accusation that President Trump withheld $250 million of military aid to Ukraine to force the U.S. ally to investigate political rival Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.
The chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees gave Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and acting OMB Director Russell Vought until Oct. 15 to comply.
“The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the committees to examine this sequence of events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that were appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression,” they wrote.
Democrats also want Vice President Mike Pence to produce documents related to his role in the delayed aid by the same date.
President Trump reiterated Monday that the impeachment inquiry is a “scam,” but admitted that it is making it “harder to do my job.”
In June, the Trump administration froze the $250 million military aid package.
While the president denies having used the aid as leverage — and it wasn’t mentioned in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy — Democrats contend the Ukrainians were contending with the threat of losing on the aid.
“President Trump urged the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into former Vice President Biden immediately after the Ukrainian president inquired about the status of the U.S. military assistance, included his desire to procure U.S.-manufactured Javelin missiles,” they wrote.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and the White House itself also have been slapped with subpoenas as Democrats center their impeachment inquiry on the Ukraine incident.
Steve Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall Law School, said, while the inquiry is an important political moment, it’s not surprising to see the committees extend their subpoenas further into the administration — especially since it has been hit with a number of subpoenas over the past few months.
“This is really big, important stuff that’s going on, on the one hand, but on the other hand — given where we are — it’s kind of entirely expected and exactly what we would think any investigation would do,” he told The Washington Times.
House Democrats last week released text messages between Ukrainian and American officials that show one top diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, openly concerned about quid pro quo with the aid and attempts to pressure an ally.
Republicans fought back, saying former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker explained in his testimony to lawmakers Thursday that Mr. Taylor’s information about the aid came from an August Politico article but he had no independent information.
Additionally, a second whistleblower has reportedly spoken with the inspector general, with first-hand knowledge of the details in the original whistleblower complaint.
Mr. Volker in his nine hours of congressional testimony said the military aid to Ukraine became an issue in mid-July, around the time he was setting up a meeting between Mr. Guliani and Mr. Zelensky’s aide. However, he said he did not “perceive these issues to be linked in any way.”
He also said Mr. Giuliani was warned that the narratives about the Bidens profiting from a corrupt Ukrainian energy company and Ukrainians conspiring with Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign were being pushed by the “self-serving” former Ukrainian prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko.
“There are a lot of moving pieces here and I think we need to keep an eye on all of it,” Mr. Schwinn said. “Beyond that, I think as the House Democrats continue to dig in on this and new evidence continues to emerge, my guess is that there will be new aspects to this that we haven’t even anticipated yet.”
For him, one of the more important things to watch as the situation unfolds is the how the White House responds — or refuses to respond — to Congress’ demands.
He warned that Democrats’ threats — that any continued stonewalling could merit impeachment on obstruction of justice — shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“I think it’s a very serious threat,” he said. “They stand on firm ground when they make those claims, and I fully expect them to go through with it.”
Democrats are set to hear this week from Gordon Sondland, the Trump-appointed ambassador to the European Union, and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.
Mr. Sondland is a key figure in Mr. Volker’s text messages, where he’s seen pushing back on Mr. Taylor’s concerns of quid pro quo.
Mr. Schwinn said Democratic lawmakers are going to be looking for the primary source validation that they need as they head into those meetings.
“Any direct evidence of the allegations and the whistleblower complaint, I think, are going to be important,” he said.
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