WASHINGTON – Several months ago, Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, sent a dossier full of debunked allegations and political smears targeting the president’s perceived enemies to the State Department and asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate.
On Wednesday, that packet ended up on Capitol Hill – delivered by the State Department’s top watchdog, who told House and Senate staffers that he didn’t know its origins but thought it might be relevant to the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
It was, sort of. But it was not the bombshell Democrats anticipated, and instead it seemed to raise more questions than it answered.
Giuliani's admission that he was the source of the dossier, during a late-night interview with CNN, marked an anti-climatic end to another drama-filled day in Washington.
The State Department's inspector general billed Wednesday's briefing as an “urgent” matter related to Ukraine; arrangements were quickly made for him to speak with congressional staff in a closed-door room reserved for classified briefings.
After the hour-long briefing, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., emerged and seemed befuddled by what he'd learned. The Maryland lawmaker said he'd expected to hear about possible threats of retaliation against State Department employees who agreed to cooperate with the Democrats' impeachment inquiry.
But that subject did not come up, Raskin said. Instead, he came out with about 40 pages of nonsense that he said seemed like an irrelevant distraction.
"It is a package of propaganda, of disinformation and conspiracy theories," Raskin, a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Hours later, the trio of chairman leading the impeachment inquiry offered a more somber assessment.
“The briefing and documents raise troubling questions about apparent efforts inside and outside the Trump Administration to target specific officials, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly removed as Ambassador in May after a sustained campaign against her by the President’s agent, Rudy Giuliani," the three chairmen wrote. They are: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
The packet was in an envelope labeled White House and addressed, in calligraphy, to Pompeo with "attn: Ruth" written underneath the secretary's name. The envelope also included folders labeled "Trump Hotel," creating another mystery.
'Package of propaganda'
In the briefing, Steve Linick, the inspector general, told congressional aides that his office interviewed Pompeo’s counselor, Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl, about the origins of the packet, according to the chairmen's account. Brechbuhl said Pompeo told him the packet "came over," and Brechbuhl "presumed it was from the White House," the chairmen said, trying to divine the documents' potential origins.
"These documents also reinforce concern that the president and his allies sought to use the machinery of the State Department to further the President’s personal political interests," the three House chairmen said.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the documents raise fresh questions about Pompeo's leadership of the State Department.
“We are just beginning to examine the documents provided by the State Department Inspector General, but they appear to contain long-debunked theories and false statements about the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and one of President Trump’s political opponents," Menendez said.
“We also need to understand Secretary Pompeo’s role, given that it appears that he discussed these documents with at least one of his top aides and that the documents were distributed at the highest levels of the State Department," the New Jersey Democrat said.
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How, or if, the dossier fits into the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry remains an open question.
That probe is examining whether Trump used the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. It centers on Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump pressed his counterpart to open an investigation of Biden and his son, Hunter, who once had business dealings in Ukraine.
Raskin said he was not convinced the envelope of conspiracy theories, even one the State Department may have distributed or investigated, would be of any use as they try build a case that Trump solicited foreign assistance in the 2020 election.
"The (inspector general) was basically just saying we’re sitting on this packet of disinformation, which came from some uncertain place," he said. "There may be misconduct by the secretary of state or other State Dept employees" if they were distributing the material, Raskin said.
By Wednesday evening, Giuliani ended the mystery, telling CNN he passed the packet of Ukraine conspiracy theories and attacks on the U.S. ambassador to Pompeo.
"They (the State Department) told me they would investigate it," the former New York mayor said.
Lotta head scratching out of the IG briefing on the Hill, which the State IG conveyed was “urgent.” Raskin showed us a 40-page packet of what he describes as conspiracy theories and propaganda about Ukraine/Biden/ targeting former ambassador Yovanavitch.— Manu Raju (@mkraju) October 2, 2019
'I was on the phone call': Pompeo acknowledges he was listening to Trump's phone call with Ukraine president
On Tuesday, Pompeo accused congressional Democrats of trying to "intimidate" and "bully" career State officials into testifying against Trump. And he butted heads with House Democrats over the scheduling of five department officials the lawmakers wished to depose.
Schiff, Engel, and Cummings sent Pompeo a letter Tuesday saying he had an "obvious conflict of interest" as a witness to the July 25 call and warned him that any effort to block officials' testimony could be interpreted as a "cover-up."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine: Lawmakers say mysterious packet raises 'troubling questions'