Ukraine Policy and the ‘Three Amigos’: Impeachment Update

Billy House and Erik Wasson
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Ukraine Policy and the ‘Three Amigos’: Impeachment Update

(Bloomberg) -- Investigators in the House impeachment probe of President Donald Trump are questioning George Kent, a State Department official who tried to defend then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch against accusations from Rudy Giuliani and others.

Here are the latest developments:

Top Diplomat Testifies of ‘Three Amigos’ (9:35 p.m.)

Read the letter from Jon Sale

George Kent, a senior State Department official, told House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney organized a meeting in May after which a team of “three amigos” were designated to bypass formal U.S.-Ukraine policy.

Kent did not personally attend that meeting on May 23, but department officials were informed afterward that then-Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, would be in charge of the policy.

Neither Secretary of State Michael Pompeo nor other officials who would normally form the diplomatic channels of American foreign policy in Ukraine were to be involved, according to a recounting of Kent’s testimony by Representative Gerald Connolly of Virginia, a senior Democrat on the Oversight and Reform Committee.

Connolly added that Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of State, referred to the trio as the “three amigos.”

Obstruction Case is Building, Democrat Says (7:15 p.m.)

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff told reporters, “the case for obstruction of Congress continues to build” as three House panels pursue their impeachment investigation.

He cited a “complete effort by the administration to stonewall” the probe.

Schiff said he expects the committees to release transcripts at some point and to call some witnesses back for open hearings.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that the full House won’t vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry at this point, repeating her argument that there is “no requirement” for there to be a floor vote for the investigation to continue.

Ex-Lawmaker Cooperating With Giuliani Probe (7:03 p.m.)

Former Representative Pete Sessions is cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan in its investigation of Giuliani and his associates, his spokesman said Tuesday night.

Sessions, a Texas Republican who was defeated for re-election last November, “will be providing documents to their office related to this matter over the next couple of weeks as requested,” according to the spokesman, Matt Mackowiak.

Mackowiak said he could not confirm or deny a report in the Wall Street Journal that Sessions, who has been trying to revive his political career, had been subpoenaed for documents relating to the inquiry into the activities in Ukraine of Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer, and his associates.

No Vote Planned Yet on Inquiry, Democrats Say (6:48 p.m.)

House Democrats haven’t decided whether to hold a vote on formally authorizing an impeachment investigation, lawmakers said after a closed-door caucus meeting on Tuesday.

Representatives Steve Cohen and Alcee Hastings said lawmakers aren’t ruling out such a vote at some later time.

Asked whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had foreclosed the possibility of ever holding such a vote, Representative Joe Kennedy said: “Certainly not forever.” -- Billy House, Erik Wasson

Pence Rebuffs House Document Requests (5:58 p.m.)

Mike Pence’s counsel told House lawmakers in a letter Tuesday that the vice president’s office isn’t cooperating with a request for documents related to the probe of Trump’s relations with Ukraine.

“The Office of the Vice President encourages the committees to forgo their request to the Office of the Vice President, or hold it in abeyance, pending your discussion with the White House Counsel’s Office concerning compliance with constitutionally mandated procedures,” Pence’s counsel Matthew Morgan wrote to Democratic Representatives Elijah Cummings, Adam Schiff and Eliot Engel.

In the letter, Morgan repeated claims the White House has already made, including that the investigation isn’t legitimate because there hasn’t been a full vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry. -- Billy House

Budget Office Won’t Provide Ukraine Records (5 p.m.)

The White House Office of Management and Budget won’t turn over documents about withholding military aid to Ukraine, said a senior administration official. The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees asked the budget office on Oct. 7 to provide the documents by Tuesday.

The official also indicated that acting budget director Russell Vought won’t comply with the committees’ request that he testify on Oct. 25. The official said OMB won’t participate in a process the White House views as a sham.

The House is looking into whether Trump ordered a delay in military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.

Earlier Tuesday, Giuliani’s lawyer told the House that the president’s personal attorney will defy a subpoena issued as part of the inquiry.

Democrats could go to court to enforce the subpoenas and are talking about re-activating a dormant congressional power to directly impose fines and punishments to enforce subpoenas. -- Billy House

Giuliani Defies House Subpoena for Documents (3:54 p.m.)

Giuliani will not turn over the documents demanded by the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry, according to a letter from Jon Sale, the attorney who represented Giuliani until Tuesday. Sale wrote that the subpoena Giuliani received was “overbroad, unduly burdensome and seeks documents beyond the scope of legitimate inquiry.”

“Mr. Giuliani will not participate because this appears to be an unconstitutional, baseless and illegitimate ‘impeachment inquiry,’” Sale’s letter says. “Moreover, documents sought in the subpoena are protected by attorney-client, attorney work-product, and executive privileges.”

The letter follows a pattern of stonewalling from the White House, as Trump continues to denounce the impeachment inquiry as a “witch hunt” against him. House committees have, however, secured the testimony of former and current officials by issuing subpoenas to compel them to appear. -- Jordan Fabian

Giuliani Parts Ways With His Own Attorney (3:16 p.m.)

Attorney Jon Sale says he is no longer representing President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on impeachment-related matters.

Sale said in a brief phone interview that he was hired by Giuliani solely to respond to the Democrats’ subpoena and the task has been completed.

“That was the extent of it,” Sale said, adding that the parting was not acrimonious. He said parting at this point was the plan all along.

Sale said he sent a letter to Capitol Hill earlier Tuesday responding to the subpoena, but he declined to reveal its contents. Tuesday is the deadline set by the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry for Giuliani to provide documents and records demanded in a subpoena.

Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ABC News reported that Giuliani said he won’t comply with a congressional subpoena and said “we will see what happens” if Congress tries to enforce it. -- Jordan Fabian

House Democrats Meet Tuesday on Inquiry Plan (2:48 p.m.)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi will meet with House Democrats at 6 p.m. Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss their plan for the impeachment inquiry, according to a congressional aide.

Congress has been in recess for two weeks and returns to Washington for votes Tuesday evening. Republicans have dismissed the impeachment process as invalid until the full House votes to open the inquiry, although Democrats say that step is unnecessary. -- Erik Wasson

White House Budget Director Asked to Testify (11:23 a.m.)

House impeachment investigators asked acting White House budget director Russell Vought to testify on Oct. 25 about the withholding of military assistance to Ukraine and any possible efforts to cover up those actions.

Vought, who runs the Office of Management and Budget, was given the request in a letter dated Friday from the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs committees.

“The committees are investigating the extent to which President Trump jeopardized U.S. national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election and by withholding a White House meeting with the president of Ukraine and military assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression, as well as any effort to cover up these matters,” states the letter.

The chairmen wrote to Vought, “Based upon public reporting and evidence gathered as part of the impeachment inquiry, we believe you may have information relevant to these matters.”

The House is investigating whether Trump ordered the aid to be withheld to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.

The three committees on Oct. 7 had asked OMB for information related to the withholding of military assistance and gave the office a deadline of Tuesday to respond.

The budget office on Oct. 3 turned over some documents related to the Ukraine aid to the Appropriations and Budget committees, according to two House Democratic aides. The committees are still reviewing the partial disclosure. -- Billy House

State Official Kent Arrives for Testimony (19:03 a.m.)

Kent arrived Tuesday morning to give testimony behind closed doors to the three House committees conducting the impeachment investigation.

The deputy assistant secretary in the European and Eurasian bureau overseeing policy toward Ukraine had warned in emails to colleagues in March that Yovanovitch was the target of a disinformation operation.

That message and other documents were turned over to Congress by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick early this month. Copies were obtained by Bloomberg.

Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in in May, earlier than expected, after being accused by Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, of trying to undermine the president and blocking efforts to spur an investigation by Ukrainian authorities into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

In a March 27 email to colleagues, Kent pointed to what he said were holes in one theory against her outlined in a Capitol Hill newspaper column. The column focused on an alleged list of people she gave to Ukraine officials to not prosecute, in order to protect Biden and others.

Kent wrote that it was “a totally manufactured/fake list of alleged untouchables.” He said “one key sign of it being fake is that most of the names are misspelled in English -- we would never spell most that way.” -- Billy House

Key Events

Investigators heard on Monday from former National Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill, who left the administration last summer, before the controversial July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Republicans objected that she shouldn’t be testifying behind closed doors.This could be a pivotal week in the probe, with at least three other witnesses scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees.Trump said on Twitter that the whistle-blower who raised concerns about his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president “must testify” to explain why his interpretation of the conversation was “sooo wrong, not even close.”

--With assistance from Jack Fitzpatrick, Billy House and Jordan Fabian.

To contact the reporters on this story: Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net;Erik Wasson in Washington at ewasson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo

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