'We Are Not To Let Momentum Drop': Despite Recess, Impeachment Inquiry Persists
Updated at 7:20 p.m. ET
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, now the lead lawmaker in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, says his panel will be working through the scheduled upcoming two-week congressional recess.
"I can tell you it's going to be a very busy couple of weeks ahead," Schiff told reporters. The chairman said the committee is scheduling hearings and witness interviews, as well as working on document requests and possible subpoenas.
The Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight committees issued a joint subpoena on Friday for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to compel documents that the State Department has so far declined to turn over to Congress. The committees want State Department records of the president's communications with Ukraine that are now the central focus of an impeachment investigation.
"Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House's impeachment inquiry," the chairmen of the three committees warned Pompeo in a letter. Pompeo is facing an Oct. 4 deadline.
The committee says it will also take depositions over the course of the next two weeks from five State Department officials who have some knowledge of the events that transpired. They are Trump's former ambassador to Ukraine Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch, special envoy Kurt Volker, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, and Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.
Volker resigned his position as special envoy Friday.
The depositions will be conducted jointly by the three committees.
Asked how Congress will respond if the White House stonewalls congressional requests — as it has on virtually all other lines of inquiry — Schiff responded: "They'll just strengthen the case of obstruction."
Sen. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a senior member of the intelligence committee, said he will spend part of the recess on a codel — a trip abroad for lawmakers — but he declined to identify the locale or whether the trip is to include Ukraine. "For security reasons we don't like to talk about destinations," Himes said, but he echoed Schiff that the panel would be working throughout the recess and that panel members may return to Washington.
"The speaker has made it very clear that we are not to let momentum drop in this two weeks," he said.
Himes said the committee would like to hear from Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is involved in the issues raised by the July 25 call that sparked a whistleblower complaint that has led to the impeachment inquiry. Giuliani has met with Ukrainian officials in regard to the president's request to investigate the Biden family, but he has forcefully denied any wrongdoing in a number of dramatic media interviews in recent days.
In a spiral of accusations, Giuliani alleges a conspiracy involving the Obama administration, the Clinton Foundation, the Biden family, the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian business interests. Giuliani told Fox News on Thursday that he had to investigate it because the Justice Department would not. "I got this because the FBI wouldn't take it," he told Fox.
"I think we need to understand who [Giuliani] talked to and what he said," Himes said. "My hope would be that we could do that without creating the kind of public spectacle that seems to be his reason for being."
Himes said the committee wants to know why a private citizen was conducting foreign policy and talking to foreign leaders on behalf of the president. "I do think we're going to need to understand what he said, and to whom he said it," he said.
Schiff has been assuring rank-and-file lawmakers that he will keep them up to speed on the committee's progress. "This is very fast-moving. Every single day information is coming out and we want to be able to explain to our constituents what's going on," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who said Schiff met with a faction of progressive lawmakers and told them he will make sure "the caucus is updated regularly."
Generally, party leaders will convene conference calls during recess weeks if a need arises. "I have a feeling those conference calls will be packed," Jayapal said of the next two weeks.
Democrats so far have largely shrugged off whether the impeachment inquiry will derail the party's ability to talk about anything else. "I'm not concerned about us slowing down our business in the House," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., noting the House has sent many bills over to the Senate.
"If the Senate was actually being productive and being worth their weight then I'd be concerned, but they haven't done a damn thing all year," she said. "There's no leverage there in terms of their productivity; they haven't been doing anything."
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who sits on the Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees, says this recess will allow lawmakers to let constituents know the gravity of the impeachment probe.
"Don't we want to go home and talk with our constituents about this momentous decision that has been made?" he said. "We have a legislative agenda we've been pushing. I think going home and talking about those other things, too, is the surest way to reassure people that we are capable of doing more than one thing at one time."
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.