Trump’s impeachment barricade crumbles

Source: Politico | October 15, 2019 | Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio

Key witnesses are ignoring Trump and delivering bombshell testimony in Democrats’ Ukraine investigation.

Donald Trump’s impeachment blockade has collapsed.

The president’s former top Russia adviser, Fiona Hill — the first White House official to cooperate in Democrats’ investigation of the Ukraine scandal — has sketched for lawmakers a trail of alleged corruption that extends from Kiev to the West Wing. In dramatic testimony on Monday, she roped in some of Trump’s top advisers as witnesses to the unfolding controversy.

And on Tuesday, a senior State Department official, George Kent, appeared on Capitol Hill to testify about his knowledge of the episode despite an attempt by administration lawyers to block him, according to a source working on the impeachment inquiry. The House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena for his testimony Tuesday morning, and Kent complied.

It’s the latest evidence that the White House’s stonewalling against congressional requests for documents and testimony is crumbling — and Democrats are feeling a new sense of momentum.

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In closed-door testimony described by a source in the room, Hill detailed increasing alarm among White House officials over the shadow diplomacy efforts of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who mounted a months-long campaign to dirty Biden on unfounded charges.

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As lawmakers return to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, a growing number of witnesses this week will describe their own role in the controversy, even as the White House has vowed not to engage with House Democrats’ “illegitimate” impeachment effort.

On Wednesday, Michael McKinley, a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who resigned abruptly last week — intends to testify before lawmakers.

On Thursday, comes Gordon Sondland, the EU ambassador whose text messages revealed by lawmakers indicated he was aware of efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden. Sondland is reportedly ready to deflect any blame on to Trump about whether there was any quid pro quo.

Congressional investigators on Friday will hear from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, who oversees Russia- and Ukraine-related matters at the Pentagon.

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But Hill’s account underscores how the president’s once-impenetrable barrier to meaningful testimony in Democrats’ impeachment inquiry has been blown apart.

“The walls are closing in. The details we are learning about the shadow foreign policy operation Trump has been running to benefit himself personally are stunning,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee late Monday. “Why have a democracy, if we allow this to happen without consequence?”

Though Hill’s testimony was the most damning to date, she wasn’t the first to put a crack in Trump’s wall.

Earlier this month, former Ambassador Kurt Volker provided text messages between himself and other diplomats in which they described concerns that Trump was using a potential White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and possibly even military aid, as a cudgel to force the besieged country to probe Biden. Volker testified for nine hours to lawmakers and aides behind closed doors. Trump has forcefully denied any sort of “quid pro quo” occurred.

Last Friday, former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified about her abrupt removal by Trump, which came amid a smear campaign by Trump’s allies that accused her of disloyalty. Yovanovitch’s ouster in May infuriated senior State Department hands, and she testified that the ability of bad actors to engineer her removal could be exploited by foreign adversaries.

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