Monday is shaping up to be a lighter day for the impeachment inquiry than Democrats had hoped.
Two top officials in the Office of Budget and Management and two National Security Council lawyers who had been subpoenaed to testify by the House Intelligence Committee are ignoring those subpoenas, a move Democrats will file away as evidence of obstruction of justice but that is sure to please President Trump, who is now doing all he can to stonewall the inquiry.
So reports the Washington Post, which noted Sunday night that the president is “enraged” that so many of his “employees” have complied with congressional requests to testify about the administration’s interactions with Ukraine. In response, Trump has ordered copies of witness statements so he can game plan how to criticize them; complained that his lawyers aren’t doing more to keep his officials from testifying; and lobbied members of Congress to publicly bash witnesses, even those within his own administration.
Of course, Trump has also bashed these witnesses himself. Most recently, he’s gone after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated combat veteran and National Security Council official who last week delivered damning testimony about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine. Trump countered by putting Vindman in a group he called “human scum,” and told reporters on multiple occasions this weekend that he would soon be releasing information that would in some way discredit Vindman’s testimony. When asked on Sunday for proof that Vindman is a Never Trumper, as Trump has claimed repeatedly, Trump said, “We’ll be showing that to you real soon, OK?”
NEW: President Trump threatens to expose information about Lt. Col. Vindman. Watch. pic.twitter.com/pEmUlJkqvB
— Kelly O'Donnell (@KellyO) November 3, 2019
In defending himself, Trump has argued not only that he did nothing wrong, but that his dealings with Ukraine were “perfect.” If this were true, it stands to reason that he would want as many people with knowledge of the situation as possible to corroborate his innocence. Trump does not, instead insisting that America should just take his word for it because he’s saying he did nothing wrong and he’s saying it very strongly.
In doing so, Trump has pointed to the partial transcript of his July 25th call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which he believes is so thoroughly exculpatory that any effort to call witnesses to shed light on the nature of the call or its background could not possibly be anything other than a partisan hit job orchestrated in conjunction with Deep State actors like Vindman, the Purple Heart recipient.
What I said on the phone call with the Ukrainian President is “perfectly” stated. There is no reason to call witnesses to analyze my words and meaning. This is just another Democrat Hoax that I have had to live with from the day I got elected (and before!). Disgraceful!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 4, 2019
But there’s nothing remotely exculpatory about the partial transcript of the call. In fact, it’s pretty damn incriminating. It reveals that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the 2016 election and the Bidens, and suggests the delivery of Congress-approved military aid would be contingent upon the launch of these investigations. Immediately after Zelensky says Ukraine is willing to “cooperate” regarding American defense aid, Trumps says, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” before asking Zelensky to investigate the 2016 election. One could argue this is an explicit quid pro quo. At the very least, it’s suggestive of one, and certainly the type of thing Congress might want to go ahead and investigate, just to make sure. In doing so, the House has not only revealed a bounty of additional evidence that a quid pro quo was in place, but that the White House knew Trump’s call with Zelensky was problematic. According to Vindman, who was on the call, the White House moved the transcript to a secret, hard-to-access server after Vindman alerted White House lawyer John Eisenberg that what Trump suggested was problematic.
Eisenberg, it just so happens, is one of the four officials who is defying a subpoena to testify before Congress on Monday. The others are Eisenberg’s deputy, Michael Ellis; Robert Blair, a deputy to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney who was on the July 25th call; and Brian McCormack, another OMB official. McCormack is also the former chief of staff to Rick Perry, the soon-to-be-former energy secretary who Trump said inspired his July 25th call to Zelensky. On Friday, House Democrats subpoenaed Perry to testify this week. He’s not expected to appear, either. “The Secretary will not partake in a secret star chamber inquisition where agency counsel is forbidden to be present,” the Department of Energy Press Secretary Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement.