Trump impeachment inquiry: 10 developments you may have missed

Testimony, subpoenas, a refusal to cooperate: Here's a look at this week's developments in the Trump impeachment probe.

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    Trump holds a campaign rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota [Leah Millis/Reuters]
    Trump holds a campaign rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota [Leah Millis/Reuters]

    Washington, DC - Friday marked Day 18 of the US House of Representatives impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, and despite Congress being in recess, the investigation escalated quickly this week with some major developments. 

    House Democrats launched the inquiry in late September following reports of a whistle-blower complaint that alleged Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government in investigating a political opponent. 

    The complaint, which has since been made public, centred on a summer phone call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. According to the White House log of the call, Trump asked for help investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic frontrunner, and his son. In the weeks before the call, Trump ordered the freeze of hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine, prompting speculation the US president was using the money as leverage. 

    Trump maintains he has done nothing wrong and has labelled the inquiry "witch-hunt garbage". There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.

    Since its launch, the impeachment inquiry has moved rapidly as House investigators work to determine whether they will recommend articles of impeachment against the president. 

    From testimony to fresh subpoenas and a refusal to cooperate, here are 10 things from the impeachment inquiry you may have missed this week.

    1. Former US ambassador to Ukraine testifies

    Former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was on Capitol Hill on Friday, speaking to congressional committees in a closed-door session as part of the impeachment probe.

    In her opening statement, quoted by US media, Yovanovitch told politicians that there was a "concerted campaign" to have her removed from her post. She said Trump had pressured officials to remove her for nearly a year. 

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    "Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the president, I was nevertheless incredulous that the US government chose to remove an ambassador, based, as best I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives," she reportedly wrote in her opening statement.

    In the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine's leader that prompted a whistle-blower complaint, the US president called Yovanovitch "bad news". Trump has not publicly stated his objections to Yovanovitch.

    2. Energy Secretary Rick Perry subpoenaed

    US Energy Secretary Rick Perry was subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee to produce documents by the end of next week related to his alleged role in the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine.

    Perry was sent by Trump instead of Vice President Mike Pence to attend Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration in Kiev in May.

    Perry met State Department diplomats Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland while in Ukraine and then again at the White House with Trump in the days after Zelensky's inauguration.

    Perry was also involved in a push replace the CEO and board of supervisors of Naftogaz, Ukraine's massive state-owned natural gas company, with people allied with Trump, according to media reports the House is investigating.

    Trump has said Perry was the one who had encouraged him to take the call with the Ukrainian leader. A spokeswoman for Perry said the energy secretary had wanted Trump to speak to Zelensky about matters related to energy.

    3. Giuliani associates arrested

    Two business associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani were arrested on Wednesday night and charged by US prosecutors in New York with making an illegal contribution to a pro-Trump political fund.

    Lev Parnas from Ukraine and Igor Fruman from Belarus - both US citizens - were arrested at Dulles International Airport as they attempted to board a flight with one-way tickets, according to the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

    Rudy Giuliani has coffee with  Lev Parnas
    US President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC [Aram Roston/Reuters] 

    Parnas and Fruman were charged with making illegal donations to US politicians, including a $325,000 "straw man" contribution from a fake company to America First Action, a group supporting Trump's re-election campaign.

    House Democrats have alleged Giuliani conducted a shadow campaign at Trump's direction earlier this year to pressure Zelensky to open investigations into Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump and Zelensky have denied there was any pressure exerted.

    Parnas and Fruman allegedly helped Giuliani and Perry make contacts in Ukraine and advocated for the dismissal of the US ambassador on behalf of a Ukrainian official.

    Read the full story here

    4. Nixon-era 'Watergate' investigators call for impeachment

    Seventeen former members of the 1970s Watergate special prosecutors team wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post this week that Trump has committed impeachable offences. 

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    Trump "has demonstrated serious and persistent abuses of power that our view satisfy the constitutional standard of 'high crimes and misdemeanours'", the former Watergate investigators wrote.

    The article was signed by Richard Ben-Veniste, a prominent US lawyer who was chief of the task force that investigated Nixon, and 16 others who worked on the case and went on to careers as lawyers, judges and law enforcement officials.

    Former President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face impeachment by the Congress in a scandal over the cover-up of a break-in orchestrated by White House operatives of Democratic offices in the now famous Watergate building.

    5. Biden slams Trump in campaign remarks

    Former Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at a campaign stop on Wednesday, issued a blistering and lengthy indictment of Trump calling him a "coward", a "liar" and "incompetent" who should be removed from office. 

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    "With his words and his actions, President Trump has indicted himself by obstructing justice," Biden told voters in New Hampshire. "And refusing to comply with a congressional inquiry, he's already convicted himself."

    By trying to "extort the existential fears" of Ukraine, Trump "violated his oath of office and committed impeachable acts", Biden said.

    "What Trump did was hold hostage political support and hundreds of millions of desperately needed dollars to a country at war to advance his own political demands,"

    Biden rejected Trump's allegations that he and his son Hunter Biden engaged in corrupt business dealings in Ukraine during Biden's term as vice president.

    "There is no truth in his charges in his attacks against me, my son. Zero."

    Read the full story here

    6. White House says it will not cooperate with 'illegitimate' inquiry

    On Tuesday, White House lawyer Pat Cipollone sent an eight-page letter to House Democratic leaders saying the president and his administration would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. 

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    Cipollone argued that because a majority of the House had not voted to initiate an impeachment inquiry, that it was illegitimate. While prior impeachment proceedings of other presidents have followed a House vote, it is not required by the US Constitution.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on September 24 the committees would pursue a formal impeachment inquiry focused on Trump's Ukraine contacts.

    "Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretence of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the executive branch cannot be expected to participate in it," Cipollone wrote.

    Trump has already refused to cooperate with six House committees that have been investigating his conduct in office and prior business dealings.

    Pelosi responded that Cipollone's letter "is manifestly wrong, and is simply another unlawful attempt to hide the facts of the Trump administration's brazen efforts to pressure foreign powers to intervene in the 2020 elections".

    Pelosi warned "continued efforts to hide the truth" would be "regarded as further evidence of obstruction", an impeachable offence. 

    Read the full story here

    7. House committees subpoena Sondland

    House Democrats issued a subpoena to Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union who text messages show had been a point person for Trump on Ukraine. 

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    Trump "really wants the deliverable" Sondland had texted other diplomats in August, as the president was withholding nearly $400m in military aid from Ukraine. 

    The legal demand for testimony and documents came after the president blocked Sondland from appearing before the committee.

    "Ambassador Sondland's testimony and documents are vital, and that is precisely why the administration is now blocking his testimony and withholding his documents," three Democrat committee chairs said in a joint statement.

    Sondland's lawyers said on Friday that their client would comply with the subpoena and testify next Thursday. He would not be authorised to release documents, however, his lawyers said.

    8. Former congressman Gowdy joins Trump as outside counsel

    Former Republican congressman Trey Gowdy will serve as outside counsel to Trump as the House impeachment inquiry expands, according to an unnamed administration official who spoke to the Associated Press. 

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    Gowdy is a former four-term congressman who did not seek re-election last year. He was the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, one of six House panels presently investigating Trump.

    A former federal prosecutor with a partisan attack-dog style, Gowdy led the congressional investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

    9. House seeks Mueller grand jury evidence

    The top lawyer for the House of Representatives argued in federal court on Wednesday the US Justice Department should be compelled to turn over secret evidence gathered by a grand jury in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference, the Associated Press reported. 

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    The House Judiciary Committee is seeking FBI interviews of witnesses and other documents that Attorney General William Barr refused to give the committee when Mueller's report was released.

    Now that an impeachment inquiry is under way, the court has authority whether to give Congress access to Mueller's documents, House lawyers argued.

    A Justice Department lawyer opposed the House's request, arguing impeachment does not count as a "judicial proceeding" qualified to receive the evidence.

    Read the full story here

    10. Democrats subpoena Pentagon, White House budget office 

    On Monday, House Democrats subpoenaed the Pentagon and White House budget (OMB) office for documents related to the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine. 

    “The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the Committees to examine this sequence of these events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression,” the chairmen of three House committees wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Activing OMB Director Russell Vought. 

    Since the subpoenas have been issued, the White House has said it will not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. 

    Read the full story here

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News