Donald Trump with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the UN General Assembly meeting, September 2019 (AFP/Getty)
House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff has rebuffed a Republican attempt to divert the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, over the campaign by Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani for Ukrainian investigations to tarnish Presidential candidate Joe Biden and to cover up Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Schiff wrote on Saturday that the “whistleblower” — the CIA officer liaising with the White House over Ukraine — who filed the formal complaint leading to the inquiry will not be required to testify.
The California Democrat said the testimony of officer, whose identity is protected under Federal regulations for whistleblowers, would be “redundant and unnecessary”. More than a dozen current and former US officials have corroborated the liaison’s account of a 10-month campaign by Trump and Giuliani for the investigations, including a July 25 Trump call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Schiff wrote Rep. Devin Nunes, a Trump ally who is the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee:
The impeachment inquiry, moreover, has gathered an ever-growing body of evidence — from witnesses and documents, including the President’s own words in his July 25 call record — that not only confirms, but far exceeds, the initial information in the whistleblower’s complaint.
The whistleblower’s testimony is therefore redundant and unnecessary. In light of the President’s threats, the individual’s appearance before us would only place their personal safety at grave risk.
The CIA official’s attorney Andrew Bukaj told Republicans that written testimony can be provided: “My client’s complaint has been largely corroborated. Nonetheless, I have offered to have my client respond in writing, under oath, and under penalty of perjury to Republican questions.”
Bukaj expressed concern that “this is part of a larger effort to unmask my client’s identity” and noted, “Not only does it jeopardize [whistleblowers’ safety, but it jeopardizes an entire system that took decades to build…[with] the important role whistleblowers play in our constitutional republic’s ability to oversee itself”.
A Failed Diversion…So Far
The CIA officer, whom Trump has repeatedly assailed as a “spy” working for the Democrats, was on a list of proposed witnesses submitted by Republican representatives to Schiff. Biden’s son Hunter, who was a board member on the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, is also named.
The Trump-Giuliani campaign, begun in November 2018, focused on getting a Ukrainian statement of investigation of the Bidens. The campaign has never produced evidence of wrongdoing, instead spreading unsupported allegations and conspiracy theories.
After the formal complaint was revealed in September and during weeks of closed-door testimony, Trump and his allies — facing the mounting evidence of Presidential abuses of power in an “irregular” foreign policy — have tried to divert the focus to the whistleblower and Hunter Biden.
But the attempt has been checked in the past week by the release of transcripts of witness testimony, which have confirmed Trump’s “quid pro quo” as he froze $391 million of military aid to Ukraine and conditioned a Zelenskiy visit to the White House on the announcement of the investigations.
The officials — including the top US diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, and senior officials in the State Department and National Security Council — also set out Trump’s threats against American personnel such as the former US Ambassador to Kiev, Marie Yovanovitch.
Yovanovitch was removed by Trump in May after months of disinformation by Giuliani against the Ambassador, seen as a barrier to the campaign for investigations.
Taylor and State Department official George Kent will be the first witnesses in the public hearings, appearing on Wednesday, and Yovanovitch will testify on Friday.
Pursuing Trump’s conspiracy theory that Ukraine rather than Russia hacked Democratic e-mails in 2016, the Republicans have also requested the testimony of Nellie Ohr, a former contractor for the private intelligence service Fusion GPS, and Alexandra Chalupa, a former Democratic National Committee staffer.
Three officials who have given closed-door testimony are on the list: former US envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, senior State Department official David Hale, and Tim Morrison, the top Russia and Europe advisor on the National Security Council.