A former top State Department aide testified in the impeachment inquiry that President Donald Trump administration’s politicization of foreign policy contributed to his resignation, while the Senate GOP leader briefed colleagues on a possible Christmas impeachment trial.
Wednesday’s events, interrupted by an explosive meeting at the White House, churned as longtime State Department officials continued speaking out under subpoena — some revealing striking new details — about the actions President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, took toward Ukraine that have sparked the U.S. House of Representatives investigation.
On Wednesday, Michael McKinley, a career foreign service officer and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s de facto chief of staff, told investigators behind closed doors that he could no longer look the other way amid the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine, which were among the reasons he ended his 37-year career last week, according to multiple people familiar with the testimony, who, like others who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, were not authorized to discuss it.
“I was disturbed by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents,” McKinley testified, according to a former colleague familiar with his remarks.
Republicans are crying foul over the process of the impeachment inquiry, but as House Democrats press on with the investigation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell briefed Republicans about the possible trial ahead.
McConnell warned of a possible House impeachment vote by Thanksgiving that would force a trial in the Senate, likely by Christmas. He used slides and history lessons during a private Senate GOP lunch in the Capitol to talk about the process, according to a person familiar with the meeting.
The impeachment inquiry revolves around a whistleblower’s complaint that Trump was pushing Ukraine’s leader into opening an investigation of a company connected to the son of Trump’s potential 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden. It is illegal to solicit or receive foreign help in a U.S. election.
Among McKinley’s concerns was the administration’s failure to support Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted in March on orders from Trump.
McKinley, who as a Latin America expert was not specifically involved in Ukraine, was also frustrated that there had been no response to an August inspector general’s report that found significant evidence of leadership and management problems, including allegations from career employees that Assistant Secretary of State Kevin Moley and his former senior adviser Marie Stull retaliated or tried to retaliate against them as holdovers from the Obama administration.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters outside the closed-door hearing that McKinley was complimentary about Pompeo’s role but did raise other issues.
“I think most of this is a concern by a colleague for an ambassador that he held in high regard,” Meadows said, declining to provide more details of the closed session.
Another ambassador involved in those text message exchanges, Gordon Sondland, has been asked to appear Thursday.
Trump calls the impeachment inquiry an “illegitimate process” and has blocked officials from cooperating.
At the same time, Republicans are bracing for a vote and trial. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise invited GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was an impeachment manager decades ago during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, to brief Republican lawmakers on the process ahead.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee overseeing the probe, has praised the State Department officials for stepping forward, under subpoena, to shed light on the matter.
“We have learned much of this thanks to the courageous testimony of the State Department officials who have been put in an impossible situation by the administration,” which is urging them not to comply with requests to testify to Congress, he said. “They are doing their duty.”