House impeachment investigators late Thursday subpoenaed Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, demanding that he testify about his knowledge of President Donald Trump’s decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine.
Mulvaney had already signaled he would probably refuse lawmakers’ demands to testify, and the White House has issued a blanket order against cooperating with the impeachment inquiry.
But Mulvaney’s Oct. 17 news conference in which he said Trump withheld aid in part to get Ukraine to initiate investigations against his political rivals — a comment he later walked back — has fueled Democrats’ impeachment push.
Mulvaney’s role has presented something of a mystery to the lawmakers leading the impeachment investigation. He’s widely believed to have ordered a hold on nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine at Trump’s behest, a decision that came just as Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani were leaning on Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
But other than Mulvaney’s jaw-dropping news conference, when he all but acknowledged a quid pro quo and told detractors to “get over it,” there’s been no official explanation for the hold on military aid, which was first revealed by POLITICO on Aug. 28.
A parade of witnesses from the State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Council have told lawmakers that they were baffled by the unexplained block on Ukraine aid, which U.S. allies in Kyiv were depending on to fend off a Russian incursion in the country’s Donbas region. All agencies involved in the planning, as well as Congress and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supported delivering the aid package and had certified that efforts to prevent any corrupt misuse of funds had been mitigated.
Though Trump ordered the aid held on July 18, it’s unclear whether Ukrainians became aware of it until the POLITICO report revealed it publicly. Trump didn’t mention it in a July 25 phone call with the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, even as he pressed Zelensky to investigate Biden, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine — not Russia — hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016. But days after the POLITICO article ran, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a close Trump ally, told a senior aide to Zelensky that Ukraine probably wouldn’t receive its aid package unless Zelensky publicly announced the launch of Trump’s preferred investigations.
In closed-door testimony last month, George Kent, a top State Department official overseeing Ukraine policy, told lawmakers that the unexplained hold on aid set off a chaotic series of meetings and a campaign to persuade Trump to relent. There were frantic phone calls between senior State Department and White House officials, calls from Senate Republicans — including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — and a general acknowledgment that no one understood who ordered the hold on aid and why, Kent said, according to a transcript of his testimony released on Thursday.
Kent also indicated that it was Sondland’s connection to Mulvaney that led to Sondland’s involvement in Ukraine policy, even though as ambassador to the EU, he nominally had no involvement.
Democrats are not holding out hope that even under subpoena Mulvaney will appear for his scheduled Friday deposition, but an official working on the inquiry said his absence could factor into a determination that Trump is obstructing the impeachment inquiry.
“Mr. Mulvaney has the opportunity to uphold his oath to the nation and Constitution by testifying tomorrow under oath about matters of keen national importance,” the official said late Thursday. “We hope Mr. Mulvaney does not hide behind the President’s ongoing efforts to conceal the truth and obstruct our investigation.”