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Impeachment Briefing: What Happened Today

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What is Mike Pompeo's role in all this?
The New York Times

November 8, 2019

Welcome back to the Impeachment Briefing. A number of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s top diplomats have testified to impeachment investigators. Where does that leave him?

What happened today

  • John Bolton, President Trump’s former national security adviser, did not show up for scheduled testimony. Mr. Bolton’s lawyer told the House Intelligence Committee that he would file a lawsuit in federal court if he were subpoenaed, a challenge that could take months to resolve. Democrats have instead decided to use his refusal as evidence that Mr. Trump is obstructing Congress.
  • Democrats leading the inquiry released another transcript, this one of testimony from George Kent, a State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy. Mr. Kent told investigators that he and other experienced diplomats were all but cut out of making the foreign policy they were supposed to be involved with.
  • One witness did appear on Capitol Hill today: Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence. Ms. Williams, who listened in on the July 25 conversation between President Trump and the Ukrainian president, was expected to answer questions about that phone call, as well as Mr. Pence’s involvement in efforts to pressure Ukraine.

What George Kent told investigators

Mr. Kent’s testimony made explosive claims about four top Trump administration officials involved in the impeachment inquiry. Here’s some of what he said.

1. Mr. Kent said that Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, had ginned up a “campaign of lies” against Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, who Mr. Trump’s allies claimed was disloyal to the president. “Assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period,” Mr. Kent said.

2. Mr. Kent said that Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, may have lied about Ukraine-related discussions he had in the White House. Mr. Kent said that Fiona Hill, the top Russia expert on the National Security Council, had concerns that Mr. Sondland “made assertions about conversations that did not match with what had actually been said.”

3. Mr. Kent described how Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, wielded power over Ukraine policy — it was Mr. Mulvaney, he said, who controlled the nearly $400 million in military aid designated for the country. “The head of the Office of Management and Budget who was the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, at the direction of the president, had put a hold on all security assistance to the Ukraine,” Mr. Kent testified.

4. Mr. Kent said that his own boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, failed to back up Ms. Yovanovitch when she came under assault by conservatives. “It’s always most helpful if the top leader issues a statement,” Mr. Kent said. He also said Mr. Pompeo’s assertion that investigators were trying to “bully” diplomats into testifying was untrue. “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,” Mr. Kent said.

How implicated is Mike Pompeo?

Mr. Pompeo, who was once the C.I.A. director, has been seen as one of Mr. Trump’s most durable allies in the administration, refusing to criticize his boss through years of investigations. I talked to my colleague Ed Wong, who wrote this week about Mr. Pompeo, to get a sense of where he stands in the impeachment inquiry.

Ed, how would you describe Mr. Pompeo’s role in what lawmakers are investigating?

What emerges from witness testimony and from what various other people, including Mr. Giuliani, have said is that Mr. Pompeo was an enabler — at the very least — of the shadow Ukraine policy.

Why are some officials who have testified upset with Mr. Pompeo?

There’s no State Department leadership defending their right to testify. In fact, Mr. Pompeo has tried to block them from testifying. When you talk to career officials at the State Department and talk to people who have left State, they say that Mr. Pompeo has failed to carry out the most important thing a leader there should do, which is to stand up for the ambassadors, the diplomats and everyone else in the foreign service corps.

Who do you think Mr. Pompeo feels most loyal to at this moment?

Right after the scandal blew up, he went on television and defended Mr. Giuliani. He’s been promoting these conspiracy theories that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have pushed, about 2016 election interference. At the same time, he wants to try and maintain a reputation as someone who’s been looking out for the national security interests of the United States and not only be a Trump loyalist. What these episodes have shown is that you can’t do both.

One of Mr. Pompeo’s former top aides, Michael McKinley, testified to his concern over how the State Department had been politicized under Mr. Pompeo.

The fact that someone so senior and someone so close to the secretary would resign — he was a de facto chief of staff to Mr. Pompeo and had served 37 years in the foreign service — over what he saw as the failings of Mr. Pompeo’s leadership says a lot about how far Mr. Pompeo had fallen in the eyes of some top career officials. And it says a lot about the failure of Mr. Pompeo to step up and protect his people.

What else we’re reading

  • After Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman gave damaging testimony about Mr. Trump’s Ukraine call, an attack on the colonel’s character made its way from the dark corners of Mr. Trump’s Twitter following to the front lines of the impeachment battle.
  • Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, was ready to announce on CNN the investigations that Mr. Trump had demanded. Then word of frozen military aid leaked out — a stroke of luck that meant he never had to follow through.
  • ABC News reported that House Democrats are looking at several articles of impeachment that go beyond Ukraine, including the obstruction of Congress and the Mueller investigation.
  • Politico wrote about the witnesses Republicans would like to call in the public phase of the inquiry, including the whistle-blower whose complaint led to the investigation and whose anonymity is protected. And Yahoo News obtained threatening voicemails, emails and social media notes left for lawyers of the whistle-blower.
  • Donald Trump Jr. made an appearance on “The View” today. The show was, predictably, chaotic.
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