Democrats release transcripts of top witnesses in Trump impeachment probe
Former senior adviser Michael McKinley told the inquiry he resigned because of concerns about use of US embassies to dig up dirt for domestic political purposes
Washington — Ousted US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump that she felt threatened by Trump describing her to the leader of Ukraine as “bad news”, according to a transcript of her testimony released on Monday.
“I was very concerned,” she said in her October 11 testimony to the Democratic-led inquiry in the US House of Representatives. “I still am.”
The investigation into the Republican president is focused on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden, a former vice-president and contender for the Democratic Party nomination to run against him in the November 2020 election.
A previously released White House summary of the call showed that Trump told Zelenskiy that the ambassador was “bad news” and was going to “go through some things”. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and defended the call with Zelenskiy as “perfect”, accusing Democrats of unfairly targeting him to reverse his surprise election win in 2016.
In her testimony, some of which was previously leaked to news media, Yovanovitch also told lawmakers that she was “shocked” that Trump would repeatedly talk about her in the call or any ambassador that way to a foreign counterpart.
The transcript of an interview with Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to secretary of state Mike Pompeo, was also released by House committees on Monday.
McKinley told the inquiry he resigned because of concerns about use of US embassies to dig up dirt for domestic political purposes and “failure” to defend US diplomats, according to the testimony transcript.
He said he recommended a statement for support for Yovanovitch amid the decision to remove her from the embassy, but was told Pompeo decided “better not to … at this time”. Yovanovitch discussed at length with lawmakers her dealings with Ukrainian officials and concerns about corruption. She said she had first learnt in late 2018 that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had been involved with Ukraine, when Ukrainian officials alerted her to the former New York mayor’s communications with a former Ukrainian prosecutor general.
Giuliani’s connections with Ukraine have been a theme of testimony in the impeachment investigation. Yovanovitch was recalled as ambassador after a campaign, in which he was involved, questioning her loyalty to the president.
Four US officials called to testify by Democrats did not show up as requested on Monday, and the president pressed his demand for a whistle-blower to appear.
Some Democrats say Republican Trump, who has ordered administration officials not to co-operate, should face an obstruction of justice charge among the impeachment counts they plan to consider against him.
The testimony of the four witnesses — three White House budget officials and the White House National Security Council’s top lawyer — would have been part of the investigation into whether Trump used foreign aid to Ukraine as leverage to secure a political favour.
Lawmakers were especially interested in questioning the lawyer, John Eisenberg, who decided to take the unusual step of moving a transcript of the call into the White House’s most classified computer system, according to a person familiar with last week’s testimony by Lt-Col Alexander Vindman, who listened in on the call.
A few days after the call, Eisenberg also told Vindman not to discuss the matter, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. Vindman testified that he found it improper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen and was so worried about the implications that he took the matter to Eisenberg.
“There is no reason to call witnesses to analyse my words and meaning,” Trump tweeted on Monday.
Separately, Trump on Monday dismissed an offer by the anonymous US official whose whistle-blower complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry to answer Republican lawmakers’ questions in writing.
The official, a member of a US intelligence agency, has not been identified in keeping with longstanding practice to protect whistleblowers. Lawyers for the whistleblower say they have received death threats after conservative media outlets have floated possible names.
“He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!” Trump tweeted.
“There is no Whistleblower. There is someone with an agenda against Donald Trump. What he was blowing the whistle on didn’t happen. We have the transcript of the call. This is all a farce and no Republican should forget that.” @dbongino @foxandfriends— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 4, 2019
Democrats leading the effort say they don’t need to hear from the whistle-blower because other witnesses have corroborated much of the whistle-blower’s complaint. Republicans say they need to hear from the whistle-blower directly to assess their credibility.
If the House votes to approve articles of impeachment — formal charges — the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove the president from office.
Senate Republicans have so far show little appetite for removing the president.
Meanwhile, Trump’s accounting firm must hand over eight years of his tax returns to New York prosecutors, a US appeals court ruled on Monday in the latest setback for Trump in his tenacious efforts to keep his finances secret.
The ruling by a unanimous three-judge panel of the New York-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals backed the ability of prosecutors to enforce a subpoena for the returns against accounting firm Mazars.
Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, said the Republican president will appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court, whose 5-4 conservative majority includes two justices appointed by Trump.