While the Trump administration has stonewalled against House document requests related to the Ukraine scandal, late yesterday an ethics watchdog group, with a court’s intervention, managed to get nearly 100 pages of such documents from the State Department. The group, American Oversight, claims that the resulting documents show repeated contacts between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, including multiple such contacts timed before Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was recalled from her Ukraine post by the Trump administration.
Giuliani is, according to multiple accounts, including from the witnesses in the House’s impeachment inquiry, widely viewed as Trump’s point person in orchestrating a shadow foreign policy program aimed at reviving already debunked conspiracy theories regarding Joe and Hunter Biden’s involvement in the Ukraine as well as Ukraine’s supposed intervention in the 2016 U.S. election. The effort also sought to get the president of the Ukraine to commit to state publicly that he would be investigating the Bidens, with the White House allegedly holding $400 million in aid and a meeting with President Trump over Ukraine President Zelensky’s head in order to get him to comply. That effort fell apart, and the aid was ultimately released, after the White House became aware of a whistleblower complaint regarding the effort. The claims about the Bidens and Ukraine’s intervention in the 2016 election are, it bears repeating, without any basis in fact. Yet that is the route pursued by Giuliani with the alleged help of other top Trump administration officials. Giuliani has no official role in the U.S. government, but is instead Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, making Giuliani’s involvement in foreign affairs and diplomacy completely inappropriate.
American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the documents they had requested from the State Department. In October a judge intervened on their behalf to say that the State Department must comply with the document request, which the State Department then agreed to do on October 31. American Oversight points to their success in getting these documents, which were released late last night, as evidence that there is no legal reason for the White House and the State Department to be withholding similar documents requested by the House as part of the impeachment inquiry. American Oversight draws the conclusion, given that discrepancy, that this is further proof that the Trump administration is committing obstruction, and, since obstruction itself is an impeachable offense, the Trump administration may be doing itself more harm than good in continuing to obstruct the House inquiry. According to The Hill:
The State Department late Friday night released nearly 100 pages of documents showing repeated contacts between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney. The records include a March 27 email in which Trump’s former personal assistant helped connect Giuliani with Pompeo after Giuliani’s team said it got “nowhere through regular channels.” …The group said the documents show a “clear paper trail” between Pompeo and Giuliani before the ambassador to Ukraine (Yovanovitch) was abruptly dismissed from her post in May. …The White House has largely stonewalled the House’s request for testimony and documents, a stance American Oversight said was illegal based on its ability to obtain the State Department documents. “That American Oversight could obtain these documents establishes that there is no legal basis for the administration to withhold them from Congress. That conclusively shows that the administration is engaged in obstruction of justice. The president and his allies should ask themselves if impeachment for obstruction is worth it if the strategy isn’t even going to be effective,” it said.
American Oversight is pursuing several similar document requests from the Trump administration and predicts further success in obtaining the requested documents. In a statement released following their receipt of the documents late yesterday, American Oversight indicated, according to The Hill, that “This is just the first round of disclosures. The evidence is only going to get worse for the administration as its stonewall strategy collapses in the face of court orders. This lawsuit is just one of several American Oversight is pursuing to bring transparency to the Ukraine investigation. The public should expect more disclosures, over the administration’s strong objection, for the foreseeable future.”
The Trump administration’s attempts at stonewalling in producing documents requested as part of the House impeachment inquiry would also likely fail in a court battle. What such court battles do accomplish for the Trump administration, however, is to inject significant delays in the process. The House has decided to move forward, rather than waiting out those delays, proceeding with what they have rather than awaiting court decisions and the appeals process likely to be involved in obtaining all of the documents and witness testimony they have requested, but which the White House is withholding.
We shall have to see how events unfold, but presently it appears most likely that the House will indeed impeach President Trump, but that the Republican-majority Senate will fail to vote to remove Trump. Those votes, however, will put the Republicans on the record. The consequences for Republicans who blindly stay aligned with Trump, where such blind allegiance could damage their reputations and their chances for reelection, are currently less predictable. Most Republicans in Congress appear currently to be of the belief that such blind allegiance will help, rather than hurt, their chances for reelection, but that is by no means certain and history may grow to judge that blind allegiance harshly.