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Seeking Ukraine Aid Records, House Subpoenas White House Budget Office and Pentagon


WASHINGTON — The House on Monday expanded its sprawling impeachment inquiry, issuing subpoenas to the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget for documents that could solve lingering mysteries about whether President Trump’s decision to withhold security aid for Ukraine was tied to his efforts to pressure the government there to investigate his political rivals.

The action kicked off what was expected to be another busy week of investigation in Washington, where questions related to Ukraine appear increasingly likely to result in a vote on Mr. Trump’s impeachment.

Two senior American diplomats caught up in the scandal are scheduled to speak to investigators before the week is through, while a third who was scheduled to be deposed on Monday failed to show up. And lawmakers appeared to be in the final stages of arranging a highly secure interview with the anonymous C.I.A. whistle-blower whose complaint prompted the inquiry.

As three congressional committees pressed forward to determine the validity of the whistle-blower’s complaint, which accused Mr. Trump of hijacking American foreign policy for his political benefit, the president sounded defiant and continued to lash out at his accusers.

“People understand it’s a fraud, it’s a scam, it’s a witch hunt, and all we do is keep fighting for the American people because that’s all I do,” Mr. Trump said Monday evening at the White House. He called his actions “very terrific.”

But there were also signs of continued Republican uneasiness with his statements and actions. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who had previously raised concerns about the withheld aid money, chastised Mr. Trump on Monday for soliciting foreign assistance for his own political purposes, though he added that he did not view the conduct as impeachable.

“The president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period,” Mr. Portman told The Columbus Dispatch. “It’s not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government in an investigation of a political opponent.”

With the new subpoenas issued on Monday, the House was trying to unearth communications and other records that might shed light on two enduring questions at the center of the impeachment inquiry: why the White House decided last summer to abruptly suspend the $391 million aid package to Ukraine, and whether it was connected to contemporaneous efforts by Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to pressure the country to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats.

The subpoenas, issued by the Democrat-controlled House Intelligence Committee, follow similar demands for documents from the State Department and the White House made in recent days. They gave the agencies until Oct. 15 to hand over notes, memos and communications related to the aid, deliberations over its delivery within the government, and possible conversations with Ukrainian officials about it.

Mr. Trump personally ordered his staff to freeze the aid just days before a now infamous July call in which he asked President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to do him “a favor” and help investigate Mr. Biden and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election. He lifted a block on its delivery in September only under intense bipartisan pressure from Congress, where lawmakers view the money as vital to combating Russia’s armed aggression in the region.

The White House has denied that the aid was being withheld to exert leverage over the Ukrainians, but at least one senior diplomat worried privately that that was precisely what was happening, and the administration has been unwilling to answer questions about the timeline and rationale for the decision. Regardless of the reasoning, the decision to withhold aid that was allocated by Congress on a bipartisan basis prompted confusion and concern within the State and Defense Departments, which were responsible for delivering the money, as well as among lawmakers in both parties who had a hand in allocating it.

Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry in the House suspect the actions may be related. They point to comments in early September by Vice President Mike Pence, who said publicly that a review of the funds was based on White House concerns about “issues of corruption.”

“The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the committees to examine this sequence of these events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression,” read the letters accompanying the subpoenas, signed by Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee; Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee; and Representative Eliot L. Engel, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Defense Department had been anticipating a subpoena. Last week, the Pentagon’s general counsel directed all department heads to collect and turn in all documents and material related to military aid to Ukraine.

“As we’ve stated previously, we are prepared to work with Congress and other relevant parties on questions related to the issue of Ukrainian aid as appropriate,” Lt. Col. Carla M. Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on Monday.

The budget office did not reply to a request for comment. The House Appropriations and Budget Committees are reviewing some documents produced by the budget office in response to a separate request the two committees sent in late September about the delay in the foreign aid, aides said on Monday.

As the subpoenas stack up, the impeachment inquiry is gaining steam less than three weeks after House leaders opened it.

The White House has threatened to try to stonewall investigators’ requests, and Mr. Trump has mounted a near round-the-clock defense of himself. But witnesses have steadily begun to produce documentary evidence — some of which has bolstered the initial complaint — and a spate of private witness depositions are expected in the coming weeks.

The Intelligence Committee also appears to be close to conducting an interview with the whistle-blower himself. The precise format of the meeting, though, remains a matter of deliberation as Democrats seek to protect the identity of the official — possibly even from congressional Republicans.

Whistle-blowers’ disclosures are protected under the law, and their identities are typically carefully guarded. But Mr. Trump has forcefully attacked the whistle-blower, called his actions treason and demanded to learn his identity to “meet my accuser.” Democrats fear Mr. Trump’s allies on their committee could try to feed details about the official’s identity to the White House or to the public, putting the whistle-blower in danger.

In addition to logistics, the committee has been waiting for lawyers representing the whistle-blower to receive the requisite security clearances to participate in a congressional interview. Mark S. Zaid, one of the whistle-blower’s lawyers, said on Monday that two of the three have now done so and a third is close to completing the process, meaning an interview could be scheduled as soon as late this week.

It was unclear whether the lawyers would seek to arrange an interview with Congress and a second intelligence official whom they now represent, and who they said could corroborate parts of the whistle-blower’s claims.

The investigating committees had scheduled a deposition for Monday with George P. Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state and Ukraine expert, but Mr. Kent did not show up as planned. A committee aide said that conversations about scheduling a new date with Mr. Kent were continuing, and implied that at least three other witnesses scheduled to appear this week were also in doubt.

Mr. Kent is the head of the State Department’s bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, but he served until 2018 as a top American diplomat in Ukraine.

The three others are T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, the State Department’s counselor who the whistle-blower said listened in on the July phone call, and Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Mr. Giuliani, who aided his attempts to gin up investigations in Ukraine.

John M. Dowd, a lawyer for Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, wrote to the Intelligence Committee last week that its requests for documents were “overly broad and unduly burdensome” and that its proposed timeline for document production and witness interviews was unreasonable. He accused Democrats of trying to “harass, intimidate and embarrass my clients” but did not rule out that they would cooperate.

The committee aide said that if Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman failed to comply, they would receive subpoenas compelling them to do so “in short order.”

Still, two key figures from the State Department were confirmed to participate in their scheduled depositions. Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union who was deeply involved in Mr. Trump’s policy toward Ukraine, is expected to speak to investigators on Tuesday. And on Friday, they will question Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled from her post in May after she was deemed not to be sufficiently supportive of Mr. Trump’s agenda there.

Emily Cochrane, Julian E. Barnes and Helene Cooper contributed reporting.


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