Update: According to an unnamed official speaking to Politico’s Kyle Cheney, all but two of these depositions have been postponed.
Another week, more depositions.
As the House’s impeachment inquiry continues — despite attempts by the Trump administration to restrict witness testimony in the probe — another week of closed-door depositions could shed some light on the extent to which President Donald Trump used his office for political gain.
Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani leaned on the Ukrainian government to provide dirt that could be useful for Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. As the House builds its case, its interviewed diplomats and bureaucrats who had a first-hand view of that effort. Last week, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged that the hunt for dirt was one of the reasons the administration withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine — though he quickly tried to reverse his stunning comment.
This week’s schedule for closed-door testimony isn’t set in stone: Several dates are the result of rescheduling earlier depositions. In one case, the White House budget director has said a witness from his office, Michael Duffey, will not cooperate with the deposition request at all this week.
In fact, after TPM published this schedule Monday morning, an unnamed official told Politico’s Kyle Cheney that all but two of these interviews — Bill Taylor and Laura Cooper — had been placed on hold. Cooper’s interview has also been changed from Thursday to Wednesday.
With that said, here’s who was scheduled to be deposed this week, according to a roster shared Friday by NBC News’ Geoff Bennett.
Bill Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine
This former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who came out of retirement a few months ago to serve as acting ambassador, is a crucial witness. Records show that he rang alarm bells over the prospect that the Trump administration was withholding money from Ukraine over Trump’s insistence that Ukraine pursue political investigations.
“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor asked in a September text message thread with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Special Ukraine Envoy Kurt Volker. “Call me,” Sondland replied. A few days later, Taylor pressed again: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland replied that Trump had been “crystal clear” about there being “no quid pro quo’s [sic] of any kind.” Recently, Sondland reportedly testified that Trump had personally instructed him to say as much.
Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
Little is known about Cooper’s role in events potentially relevant to the impeachment probe. However, the Pentagon lists her as a career senior executive service member with responsibility for policy concerning Ukraine and other countries. She may be asked to shed light on the congressional appropriation of military funds for Ukraine, which the Pentagon had approved before the lengthy White House-initiated delay that investigators are now examining.
Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs
Reeker reportedly heard from another diplomat, George Kent, about several Trump allies’ attempt to smear and remove then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was prematurely recalled from office in May. Rudy Giuliani and others spread disinformation about Yovanovitch, including the false claim that she gave Ukraine’s top prosecutor a “do not prosecute” list. After Kent took his concerns about the disinformation campaign to Reeker, Reeker sent them up the chain to the State Department’s lawyer T. Ulrich Brechbuhl and others.
Michael Duffey, OMB Associate Director for National Security Programs
Duffey was reportedly in charge of overseeing foreign aid and defense money in the White House’s budget office in recent months, raising questions about how involved he was in the pressure campaign. Duffey was reportedly charged with continuing to keep the Ukraine aid on hold, according to the Wall Street Journal, after career budget officials began asking questions. Duffey’s boss, acting White House budget director Russ Vought, tweeted Monday that Duffey would not appear for a deposition this week. Vought called the impeachment probe a “#shamprocess.”
Alexander Vindman, National Security Council director for European Affairs
Vindman was one of the Trump administration officials that a consulting firm working for Volodymyr Zelensky’s campaign for president of Ukraine contacted in the run-up to the Ukrainian election. Vindman was also part of the administration’s small delegation to Zelensky’s inauguration. According to the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint kicked off the impeachment probe, Trump ordered Vice President Pence not to join the delegation.
Suriya Jayanti, foreign service officer in Kyiv
Jayanti was the first government official to hear about a strange business proposal that Giuliani associate Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman made to an executive on the Ukrainian energy company Naftogaz. According to a memo sent to Jayanti from Dale Perry, an American businessman, two associates of Rudy Giuliani’s as well as another GOP donor approached Naftogaz executive Andrew Favorov with a pitch: Favorov would take over as Naftogaz CEO and join with them in a partnership to import American natural gas to Ukraine. Parnas and Fruman have been charged with participating in a campaign finance conspiracy.
Timothy Morrison, NSC Russia adviser
Morrison was reportedly one of the NSC officials who searched for answers on various administration forces affecting Ukraine policy. He was also briefly mentioned in the text messages between Sondland, Volker and Taylor that were subsequently turned over to Congress. In the texts, Volker told the group that Giuliani now supported a phone call between Trump and Zelensky. Sondland chimed in that Morrison was also “pushing” for a call.”
This post has been updated.
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