WASHINGTON — President Trump’s administration kicked off the week by declaring war on congressional Democrats and vowing a “full halt” to all cooperation with their impeachment investigation.
By Friday, Trump’s stonewall was already crumbling.
Three senior U.S. diplomats with inside knowledge about Trump’s Ukraine scandal signaled readiness to share details with House Democrats in defiance of Trump’s blanket ban, amid reports of widespread unrest within the ranks of the State Department.
And Trump’s not just facing upheaval from within his own administration. Two associates of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani were arrested Wednesday, and are expected to face pressure from prosecutors to disclose details about Giuliani’s links with Ukrainian officials. Lawyers for the intelligence official who raised the alarm about Trump and Ukraine announced that “multiple whistleblowers” have now come forward. And to top it all off, Trump lost a major court case Friday in his battle with Congress over keeping his financial records secret.
Nowhere was the hemorrhaging more apparent than at the State Department , where a brewing revolt among top diplomats delivered fresh information to the impeachment inquiry, which is focused on Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Diplomats take the Hill
Trump’s former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch blew a hole in Trump’s stone wall Friday with bombshell testimony about her abrupt and unusual recall from Kyiv this spring.
Yovanovitch defied orders to stay home, delivered by Trump’s State Department on Thursday night, and instead responded to a last-minute subpoena by House Democrats.
Appearing on Capitol Hill, Yovanovitch told Congress she was ordered to return to Washington from Ukraine “on the next plane” last April, following a campaign of “false claims” against her and attacks by Giuliani.
She suggested associates of Giuliani sought her removal in order to earn money through some kind of corrupt scheme.
“I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she said. “But individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”
Yovanovitch might have meant Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Giuliani’s clients and fixers in Ukraine, who were arrested Wednesday. The Soviet-born businessmen were charged by New York prosecutors with making illegal campaign donations to GOP causes in a scheme to win political influence in the U.S. — and get Yovanovitch removed.
Gordon Sondland’s New Backbone
Just as Yovanovitch arrived on Capitol Hill, another central figure in the Ukraine scandal announced he would also disregard the State Department and testify this coming Thursday.
EU ambassador Gordon Sondland’s lawyers took special note of his explicit defiance of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s orders.
“Notwithstanding the State Department’s current direction to not testify, Ambassador Sondland will honor the Committees’ subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying,” Sondland’s lawyers wrote.
Sondland took part in a damning series of text messages with other high-level State Department officials discussing how to get Ukraine to formally announce investigations that could prove politically helpful to Trump.
And there’s another explosive name on the Congressional docket for this Monday: Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top advisor on Russia and Europe.
Hill plans to tell Congress that Giuliani and Sondland pursued a shadow policy on Ukraine, side-stepping the regular procedure for accessing Trump on Ukraine issues, NBC News reported Thursday evening.
Hill, a former Brookings scholar, spent most of the last three years at Trump’s elbow before relinquishing many of her duties in July and stepping down in August. Her attorney, Lee Wolosky, didn’t return requests for comment from VICE News.
Democrats will have plenty of questions for all these diplomats about the details Trump and Giuliani’s outreach to Ukrainian leaders — including whose idea it really was to fire Yovanovitch, and why Trump felt such an urgent need to get rid of her.
“Baseless Conspiracy Theories”
Other State Department officials will now be forced to choose between following their colleagues down to Capitol Hill, and staying silent at the request of Pompeo, who has accused Democrats of trying to “bully” his diplomats.
Dems also want to interview Bill Taylor, who became the top American diplomat in Ukraine after Yovanovitch’s departure and was also on that series of bombshell text messages with Sondland, CNN reported on Friday.
Also on their list: George Kent, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs; and T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, the State Department counselor who was on the line for Trump’s infamous July 25 call with Ukraine’s president.
Together, those diplomats could help Democrats piece together the Trump team’s attempts to press Ukraine to follow up on what Yovanovitch suggested Friday were little more than pipe-dreams sold to Trump’s circle by crooked conspiracy-mongers in Ukraine.
“Our efforts were intended, and evidently succeeded in thwarting corrupt interests in Ukraine, who fought back by selling baseless conspiracy theories to anyone who would listen,” Yovanovitch testified. “Sadly, someone was listening, and our nation is the worse off for that.”
Cover: President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at the Target Center, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)