Pompeo aide who quit suddenly last week testifies at impeachment inquiry

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A former top adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who abruptly resigned last week appeared on Wednesday before congressional investigators pursuing an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, arrives to testify at a closed-door deposition as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump led by the House Intelligence, House Foreign Affairs and House Oversight and Reform Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Michael McKinley, the latest senior administration official to give closed-door testimony, entered a secure area in the U.S. Capitol to face questions from investigators who could recommend Trump’s impeachment to the House of Representatives by the end of the year.

Lawmakers are examining whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to launch an investigation of Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival and a leading candidate for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.

McKinley, a career diplomat who had served as ambassador to Brazil and Afghanistan, was not directly involved with Ukraine. But he could provide insight into State Department communications on the matter, given his role as an adviser to Pompeo from May 2018 until last week.

Previous witnesses have described how policy staff were sidelined on Ukraine by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others.

“We’ve uncovered significant evidence of Trump’s abuse of power. And we’ll continue to expose the truth,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment inquiry, said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Trump, in a series of early morning tweets, reiterated attacks on Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He blasted the “impeachment witch hunt” for not giving Republicans more of a role in the process, which he again an unconstitutional attempt to oust him from the White House.

A House impeachment vote would lead to a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate. So far few Senate Republicans have voiced criticism of Trump.

The House’s probe is focused on a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate unsubstantiated allegations against Biden and his son Hunter Biden who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on a domestic rival after withholding $391 million in U.S. security aid intended to help combat Russian-backed separatists. Zelenskiy agreed to investigate. Trump eventually allowed the aid.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and defended his request to Zelenskiy. Biden and his son also deny wrongdoing.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found 43% of adults in the United States believe that Trump should be impeached, down two points from a similar poll last week. Another 42% said he should not be impeached and 14% said they were not sure.

Pompeo, a close ally of Trump, has directed State Department employees not to cooperate with the inquiry, with limited success.

Career diplomat George Kent testified on Tuesday and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch accused the Trump administration of recalling her in May based on false terms, in testimony last Friday.

Congressional investigators also heard on Monday from Trump’s former Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, who was senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Gordon Sondland, a Trump political donor appointed as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, is expected to appear later this week in response to a subpoena after he initially declined to testify.

Kurt Volker, Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine and key actor in the political drama unfolding in Washington, made a surprise appearance on Wednesday. Reuters could not immediately confirm why Volker, who testified on Oct. 3, was on Capitol Hill.

Other members of the Trump administration have remained defiant. Giuliani and Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday both refused to comply with subpoenas requesting documents related to the efforts to pressure Ukraine. The Pentagon also said it could not to share documents with lawmakers, citing “legal and practical concerns.” The White House budget office also faced a Tuesday deadline to respond.

Reporting by Richard Cowan and Andy Sullivan; additional reporting by Makini Brice, Susan Heavey, David Brunnstrom and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell

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