A White House lawyer suspected of involvement in the Ukraine scandal has refused to testify in the congressional impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, as three other witnesses were also expected no-shows.
John Eisenberg, Mr Trump’s deputy counsel for National Security Affairs, defied a summons to appear before the three House panels conducting the investigation, a sign of renewed stonewalling by the White House as Democrats press to take the inquiry into a new public phase.
Earlier, President Trump said he felt there was “no reason” for witnesses to answer questions by investigators, in particular about his call with his Ukrainian counterpart that is at the heart of the probe.
“What I said on the phone call with the Ukrainian President is ‘perfectly’ stated,” Mr Trump said on Twitter.
“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.”
Mr Eisenberg, who by mid-morning had yet to appear for a scheduled 9am closed-door deposition, is reported to have been on the 25 July call.
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
At least four national security officials raised concerns with Mr Eisenberg about President Trump’s dealing with Ukraine before his call with President Volodymyr Zelensky and immediately after it, the Washington Post reported last month.
Investigators are seeking greater access to officials with knowledge of Mr Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating one of his chief political opponents, Democrat Joe Biden, who is running for president in 2020.
Robert Blair, an assistant to the president and senior advisor to the acting chief of staff, was also due to appear before investigators at 9am but did not arrive.
The Trump-Ukraine scandal came to light when a complaint by an anonymous whistleblower who works in the US intelligence community was made public in September.
President Trump and his Republican loyalists have repeatedly pressed for the whistleblower’s identity to be revealed, despite laws protecting government officials who raise the alarm about alleged wrongdoing, and for him or her to testify.
Several current and former diplomats and officials have corroborated the essence of the whistleblower complaint – that Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats.
Impeachment transcript shows envoy felt threatened by Trump
Meanwhile, the former US ambassador to Kiev has told investigators she felt threatened by Donald Trump’s words in his call to Ukraine’s leader, in the first transcripts released today in the impeachment investigation against the president.
As Democrats unveil a new, public phase of the probe, they released the full transcript of the deposition of former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who testified last month that she was ousted over “false claims” spread by questionable actors allied to President Trump.
According to the deposition, Ms Yovanovitch was alarmed by the deepening involvement of Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Ukrainian affairs, and in particular his efforts to get Kiev to investigate Mr Biden.
She said she was “shocked” when she read the publicised memorandum of Mr Trump’s 25 July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Donald Trump said the ambassador was “going to go through some things.”
“I was very concerned. I still am,” Ms Yovanovitch said about Trump’s remarks.
“Did you feel threatened?” an investigator asks.
“Yes,” she replies in the transcript.
The release is the first in what House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said would be multiple releases from depositions already conducted.
Mr Schiff also released the testimony of Michael McKinley, a former senior advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. McKinley said he resigned this year after concluding that the department was not defending its top diplomats from White House pressure.
Ms Yovanovitch’s and McKinley’s testimony “demonstrates the contamination of US foreign policy by an irregular back channel that sought to advance the President’s personal and political interests, and the serious concerns that this activity elicited across our government,” Mr Schiff and chairs of two other panels leading the investigation said in a statement.
Mr Schiff said the testimony of two witnesses who exchanged text messages expressing concern about the prospective quid pro quo of political investigations for military aid – then-special representative on Ukraine Kurt Volker and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland – will be released tomorrow.