/Live impeachment updates: John Bolton defies House summons for closed-door testimony

Live impeachment updates: John Bolton defies House summons for closed-door testimony

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton and an aide to Vice President Mike Pence were invited to testify behind closed doors before a House impeachment panel Thursday, but Bolton failed to appear.

The House Intelligence Committee said his lawyer informed the lawmakers that Bolton would take the panel to court if it subpoenaed him, according to a committee official who requested anonymity to describe the situation. Three other National Security Council officials have testified under subpoena.

But Bolton’s former deputy, Charles Kupperman, filed a federal lawsuit asking the courts to rule which was more powerful: a congressional subpoena to testify or a White House directive to defy the subpoena. But no decision was expected until late December or early January, while public House hearings in the impeachment inquiry are scheduled to begin Wednesday.

The House withdrew its subpoena of Kupperman on Tuesday, saying it would rely on the U.S. District Court decision in the case of former White House counsel Don McGahn, who defied his own subpoena. McGahn’s case has been argued, but no decision has been released.

The committee regretted Bolton’s decision not to appear voluntarily, but the panel had no interest in waiting months for court decisions, according to the committee official. The White House instruction for Bolton not to appear will be added to evidence of Trump’s possible obstruction of Congress in any potential articles of impeachment, according to the committee official.

Then-national security adviser John Bolton observes President Donald Trump in 2018.

Bolton is a hard-charging hawk who clashed repeatedly with Trump, and left the White House under acrimonious circumstances. Previous witnesses have portrayed him as a leading critic of the effort, led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine’s new leader to open two investigations that would have benefited Trump’s domestic political prospects ahead of the 2020 election.

Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for Europe and Russia and who is a career Foreign Service officer, arrives for a closed-door interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday.

Follow along for the latest:

Kent details effort to undermine Yovanovitch

George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of State, told the House impeachment inquiry that efforts to undermine Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, began a year before President Donald Trump recalled her in May, according to a transcript released Thursday.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, met with former Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, on May 19, 2018, according to Kent. That’s the day Sessions wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “impugning Ambassador Yovanovitch’s loyalty and suggesting that she be removed,” Kent told lawmakers Oct. 15.

Parnas and Fruman have since been charged with campaign-finance violations, for which they’ve pleaded not guilty.

Kent also said that Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, “vowed revenge” after Yovanovitch encouraged reforms in his office.

“Based on what I know, Yuriy Lutsenko, as prosecutor general, vowed revenge, and provided information to Rudy Giuliani in hopes that he would spread it and lead to her removal,” Kent said.

Kent: Giuliani’s ‘campaign of slander’

Kent joined other witnesses in describing Giuliani guiding a back-channel of diplomacy urging Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Kent said a “campaign of slander” unfolded against Yovanovitch by Giuliani from March 20 to 23 through television appearances, newspaper articles and Giuliani’s Twitter feed.

“It was, if not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs,” Kent said.

But Kent said there was no statement supporting Yovanovitch from Pompeo or other top-level State Department officials.

Pompeo refused to say Thursday why he didn’t come to the ambassador’s defense. But he said his former deputy, Michael McKinley, “didn’t say a thing to me.”

McKinley has testified that he resigned on Sept. 30 over Pompeo’s general failure to defend State Department professionals. “I was pretty direct. I said, you know, this situation isn’t acceptable,” he told lawmakers.

Pompeo’s response to deposition requests was inaccurate, Kent said

Kent testified that he felt Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s letter to the House committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry was inaccurate. Pompeo had blasted the impeachment inquiry and suggested he would fight their requests to depose department officials, prompting Democrats to accuse him of “stonewalling” and witness intimidation.

“I’m concerned with aspects of the committee’s request that can be understood only as an attempt to intimidate, bully and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State,” Pompeo wrote Oct. 1.

But Kent disputes that characterization.

“Well, there was a line in there that the committees had been attempting to bully, intimidate and threaten career foreign service officers. And I was one of two career foreign service officers which had received letters from the committees, and I had not felt bullied, threatened and intimidated,” Kent said in his testimony.

Williams departs after five hours

Jennifer Williams has departed after five hours of testimony before the House Oversight, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence Committees. She did not answer any questions as she walked out of the basement of the Capitol. 

Pompeo sidesteps on McKinley’s request to support Yovanovitch

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused on Thursday to explain his refusal to issue a public statement of support for Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted from her post as America’s ambassador to Ukraine after a concerted campaign led by Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.

When pressed on that at a news conference in Germany on Thursday, Pompeo engaged in some apparent verbal gymnastics to suggest his former top deputy, P. Michael McKinley, never asked him to come to Yovanovitch’s defense. 

But, McKinley, a senior adviser to Pompeo until he resigned in frustration last month, told the House impeachment panel that Pompeo refused his repeated requests to publicly defend Yovanovitch as a “strong, professional career diplomat” who still enjoyed his confidence. McKinley, himself a career diplomat who previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Brazil and Afghanistan, made the request after the Trump administration released a rough transcript of President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

In that call, Trump disparaged Yovanovitch as “bad news” and said “she’s going to go through some things,” without elaborating on what he meant. Trump had already ordered Yovanovitch’s early removal from the ambassador’s post, after Giuliani targeted her with what she says were “unfounded and false claims.”

McKinley told lawmakers he was shocked at Trump’s statement and wanted Pompeo to correct the record. “It shouldn’t be difficult to put out a short statement that’s not political, stating clearly that we respect the professionalism, the tenure of Ambassador Yovanovitch in the Ukraine,” McKinley told lawmakers in describing his request to Pompeo. He said he pressed Pompeo on the matter about three times, and each time Pompeo did not respond.

On Thursday, during a news conference with Germany’s foreign minister, a reporter asked Pompeo this question: “You have said that Ambassador McKinley did not make known to you his objections over the recalling of Ambassador Yovanovitch. But he has testified that three times he directly appealed to you to make a statement in her support. You did not. Why not?”

Pompeo responded by first noting that McKinley also testified that he was not heavily involved in Ukraine matters. “So it’s not surprising that when Ambassador Yovanovitch returned to the United States that he didn’t raise that issue with me,” Pompeo continued. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that in May when that took place, he didn’t say a thing to me.”

Pompeo’s response seems misleading, since Yovanovitch was recalled in May. McKinley testified that he pushed for a public statement from Pompeo in September – after the Trump-Zelensky call transcript was released, because there was suddenly a spotlight on Yovanovitch and Trump’s disparaging comments had been made public.

McKinley said he resigned on Sept. 30 over Pompeo’s general failure to defend State Department professionals. “I was pretty direct. I said, you know, this situation isn’t acceptable,” he told lawmakers.

Pence calls inquiry ‘a disgrace’

Vice President Mike Pence told reporters in New Hampshire on Thursday the Democratic impeachment inquiry is “a disgrace” and an effort to overturn the 2016 election.

Pence said all of Trump’s efforts with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky have been in the national interest. Democrats are investigating Trump urging Zelensky in a July 25 call to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, while withholding military aid from Ukraine.

“The American people have the transcript of the president’s call and they can see there was no quid pro quo,” Pence said. “From early in our administration President Trump, unlike the last administration, made military support available for Ukraine.”

Williams answering questions under subpoena

An official working on the impeachment inquiry told USA TODAY Williams was subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee “In light of an attempt by the White House to direct Jennifer Williams not to appear for her scheduled deposition, and efforts to limit any testimony that does occur.”

“As required of her, Ms. Williams is complying with the subpoena and answering questions from both Democratic and Republican Members and staff,” the official continued. 

Jennifer Williams arrives for testimony

Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence, arrived for her closed-door interview Thursday with the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight Committees.

In a Wednesday interview with Fox Business, Pence said he was told the transcript of the July 25 call was delivered to him, but he did not recall reading it.

“I’m told that it was delivered to me. But, you know, I received literally hundreds of transcripts over the time. I don’t recall ever reading it specific, but it doesn’t mean that I did. But had I read it, it wouldn’t matter because the president did nothing wrong,“ Pence told Fox Business’ Trish Regan.

Bolton PAC sends morning email ahead of testimony

Bolton offered a tease on Thursday morning, blasting out an “opening statement” via his PAC. In the political pitch, he blasted “radicalized Democrats” and suggested he sees the impeachment inquiry as a dangerous distraction.

“While America is preoccupied with events on Capitol Hill, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are doing everything in their power to take us down,” Bolton says in the email.

“This is a moment of opportunity for those that hate us. We’re doing more to destabilize ourselves than they could ever accomplish in their wildest dreams.”