The first full week of the Congressional Impeachment Inquiry is in the books. Unlike Robert Mueller’s tight-lipped investigation, information concerning the process and the president’s transgression has trickled out steadily. President Trump sits accused of withholding $391 million in military aid from Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into political adversary Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have interviewed key personnel and subpoenaed pertinent documents in an effort to bolster the case for impeachment. Trump paradoxically admits to the substance of the allegations against him, yet denies any wrongdoing.
Kurt Volker, a state department diplomat familiar with the matter testified behind close doors on Thursday. He turned over a series of text messages from himself, William B. Taylor, Ambassador to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, US Ambassador to the EU. The texts read like a dispute between diplomats over whether Trump was using military aid as leverage to dig up dirt on rival Biden. Taylor wrote Sondland via text on September 9th expressing his concerns, stating: [I]t’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.’’ Sondaland attempted to put his mind at ease by echoing Trump’s current position that there is ‘’no quid pro quo’s of any kind.’’ To further dispel notions of a quid pro quo, Sondland added: “The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.’’ Both of Sondland’s attempts to assuage concern over potential wrongdoing sound eerily similar to Trump’s current defense of his conduct. Casting doubt on these assertions are the text messages Volker divulged that reveal a meeting between Trump and Zelensky appeared conditional on the latter’s willingness to open the desired investigations. Volker texted Zelensky’s aide hours before the now infamous phone call between the two leaders; ‘’heard from White House – assuming Z convinces trump he will investigate/get to the bottom of what happened in 2016, we will nail down a date for a visit to Washington.’’ Volker is mentioned repeatedly in the whistleblower complaint, which contends he advised the Ukrainian government how to ‘’navigate’’ Trump’s demands. For his part, Volker describes himself as a diplomat trying to solve a problem, but ‘’not fully in the loop.’’
Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s Inspector General who found the whistleblower complaint ‘’urgent and credible, was interviewed Friday in a private session. Little in the way of specific detail has been made public. The substance of his testimony were the reasons why he found the said complaint ‘’urgent and credible.’’ Consensus amongst Democrats was that Atkinson was helpful in confirming what they knew of the complaint and in moving the investigation forward.
Over the course of the week numerous subpoenas were issued for documents related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who initially denied knowledge of, then confirmed he was listening in on the Trump/Zelensky phone call, missed Friday’s deadline to respond to just such a subpoena. The request was for documents related to the State Department interactions with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Ukrainian leaders. Despite a pledge to follow the law, Pompeo is currently stonewalling House Democrats under the dubious cover of protecting rank and file government employees.
In an unprecedented move, the Intelligence Committee served White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, with a subpoena for all documents related to the delay of military aid and all records of the call between Trump and Zelensky. The subpoena comes after two letters demanding the aforementioned materials went unanswered. ‘’After nearly a month of stonewalling, it appears the President has chosen the path of defiance, obstruction and cover-up’’ reads the letter accompanying the demand. Mulvaney has until the 18th of October to comply. The letter warns that failure to do so will be considered obstruction of the inquiry and can be held against Mulvaney and Trump.
This next week bears watching as a second whistleblower with more direct information is considering coming forward with a complaint. Gordon Sondland is also expected to appear before the House Intelligence Committee.
Photo by Connor Jalbert