US House panels subpoena White House, State officials

WASHINGTON

The three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump subpoenaed Friday three White House and State Department officials.

Two of the officials work in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget — Associate Director for National Security Programs Michael Duffey and Acting Director Russell Vought — while the third, Ulrich Brechbuhl, is a State Department counselor.

The chairs of the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees scheduled Duffey and Vought to appear behind closed doors Nov. 5 and 6 respectively. Brechbuhl has also been asked to appear Nov. 6.

Trump, however, has vowed to stonewall the ongoing investigation, and has instructed officials to refrain from participating in the process.

All of the officials had previously been asked to appear voluntarily. None did, however, compelling the chairs to issue the subpoenas.

“Your failure or refusal to appear at the deposition, including at the direction or behest of the President or the White House, shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry and may be used as an adverse inference against the President,” Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee Chairman, Eliot Engel, the Foreign Affairs Chairman, and Carolyn Maloney, the Acting Oversight Chairwoman, said in a letter to the subpoenaed individuals.

Should they proceed, the depositions are planned to be conducted jointly, and the chairs said transcripts will be shared among the committees, an apparent pushback to criticism from some Republicans who allege the process has not been sufficiently transparent.

Trump on Friday continued his criticism of the impeachment process, calling it a “hoax,” which he said is the “worst” he has ever seen.

He further defended the July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has been at the heart of the impeachment probe, referring to it as “perfect.”

During that call Trump repeatedly pressed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, over uncorroborated claims of corruption.

Doing so has raised concerns that the president solicited the aid of a foreign leader to undermine a political opponent heading into next year’s presidential elections. The elder Biden is a leading Democratic candidate for the race.

Also at issue is the president’s decision to hold up $400 million in congressionally-appropriated military funding to help Ukraine defend against Russia as the request played out.

Trump has denied any quid pro quo took place, but the House is examining the matter as part of its inquiry.

U.S. Ambassador William Taylor, who was Washington’s top diplomat in Ukraine, testified Tuesday that Trump made the aid, as well as a White House meeting with Zelensky, contingent on Kiev investigating the Bidens, as well as debunked theories that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered in the 2016 election.
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