WASHINGTON — House impeachment investigators met on Saturday for a rare weekend session to question a high-ranking State Department official about his knowledge of what other witnesses have described as a shadow foreign policy intended to pressure Ukraine for President Trump’s personal political gain.
The official, Philip T. Reeker, is acting assistant secretary in charge of European and Eurasian Affairs. He oversaw officials who interacted directly with Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani on Ukraine matters, at a time when Ukraine was being pressed to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and unproven theories about Democratic collusion with Ukrainians in the 2016 presidential election.
Mr. Reeker, who is answering questions behind closed doors, should be able to provide investigators with additional details about at least one aspect of the unfolding story: the ouster this spring of Marie L. Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer, as the ambassador to Ukraine.
But it is unclear how much he knew about what others have called demands by Mr. Trump that the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, publicly announce an investigation of the Biden family before Mr. Trump would agree to meet Mr. Zelensky or to release $391 million in military aid.
Like others who have testified so far, Mr. Reeker, 54, is a longtime diplomat. Congressional committees subpoenaed him to testify after the State Department instructed Mr. Reeker not to comply voluntarily, according to two people familiar with the matter.
A 27-year veteran of the foreign service, Mr. Reeker has been posted around the world, including in Iraq, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Macedonia. In his most recent role, he divided his time between Washington and Europe.
The unusual weekend interview indicated that a fast-moving inquiry could be accelerating as it enters its second month. House Democrats have so far scheduled four more depositions with potentially consequential witnesses in the coming week, and they may conduct more than one a day in an effort to clear the way for a more public-facing phase of the inquiry by mid- to late November.
Democrats have been under intense pressure from Republicans accusing them of trying to hide the proceedings from voters and of shirking the responsibility of holding a full vote of the House to legitimize the inquiry. But they met on Saturday with new momentum behind them after a federal judge ruled on Friday that the inquiry was legally legitimate and that, despite recent precedent, no such vote was necessary.
Mr. Trump continued on Saturday to rail against the inquiry, dismissing it on Twitter as “just as Corrupt and Fake as all of the other garbage that went on before it.” Without presenting evidence, he also accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader who initiated the impeachment inquiry in September, of neglecting her San Francisco district, which he described as a hellscape of environmental and sanitary violations.
“Pelosi must work on this mess and turn her District around!” he wrote. It was not the first time the president had seized on high homelessness rates in the city to criticize Democrats.
Investigators are certain to ask Mr. Reeker about his efforts to protect Ms. Yovanovitch. An informal campaign against her, largely orchestrated by Mr. Giuliani, was already in full swing by the time Mr. Reeker began overseeing the State Department’s activities for the region this spring.
In an email to an adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mr. Reeker wrote that in casting Ms. Yovanovitch as a “liberal outpost,” critics were pushing a “fake narrative” that “really is without merit or validation.” But she was recalled to Washington in May, months before her tenure was to end. He will very likely be asked about how Mr. Pompeo and his leadership team responded to his concerns and communicated with Ms. Yovanovitch about her recall.
By then, two diplomats who had Mr. Trump’s trust were in charge of executing American policy in Ukraine: Gordon D. Sondland, a Republican fund-raiser who had been named ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine. Rick Perry, the energy secretary at the time, also played a significant role. Mr. Sondland has testified that Mr. Trump directed all three men to take their cues from Mr. Giuliani.
William B. Taylor Jr., who took over as the top American diplomat in Ukraine after Ms. Yovanovitch left, has testified that Mr. Sondland told him that Mr. Trump would not release the military aid or meet with the Ukrainian leader until Mr. Zelensky had announced that the Biden family was under investigation.
Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice president who hopes to challenge Mr. Trump for the White House next year, served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Mr. Trump also wanted Ukraine to investigate whether the country had helped Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com