Who Is (Not) Testifying Today

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

All four White House officials scheduled to give closed-door testimony today in the House impeachment inquiry will not appear, multiple news outlets report. They include National Security Council lawyers John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis as well Brian McCormack of the office of management and budget, and Robert Blair, a top aide to chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Eisenberg and McCormack are under subpoena. Blair was on the July 25 call with the president of Ukraine at the center of the inquiry.

CNN reports the administration is claiming executive privilege in Eisenberg’s case, while officials claim Ellis, McCormack and Blair won’t be able to have a White House lawyer present.

OMB officials Michael Duffey and Russell Vought will not appear as scheduled later this week, a source tells CNN.

The Washington Post explains:

Russell Vought, a Mulvaney protege who leads the White House Office of Management and Budget, intends a concerted defiance of congressional subpoenas in coming days, and two of his subordinates will follow suit — simultaneously proving their loyalty to the president and creating a potentially critical firewall regarding the alleged use of foreign aid to elicit political favors from a U.S. ally.

The OMB is at the nexus of the impeachment inquiry because Democrats are pressing for details about why the White House budget office effectively froze the Ukraine funds that Congress had already appropriated.

Donald Trump is his own war room, press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News. He is enraged that his “employees” have been testifying before Congress. He threatens to expose the whistleblower whose original complaint is irrelevant now that his account has been corroborated by multiple administration officials. Trump threatened Sunday to expose Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (who already testified) as a “Never Trumper.” Reporters would see his evidence against an active duty Army officer on his White House staff “very soon.” 

Trump-watchers know by now not to hold their breaths waiting.

Current and former officials tell the Post Trump “has asked for copies of witness statements so he can decide how to criticize them, complained that his lawyers are not doing enough to stop people from talking, and even encouraged members of Congress to question the credibility of people working in his own administration.”

Schooled in the dark art of winning at all costs by “master of situational immorality” Roy Cohn, Trump appears rattled. “Never admit mistakes. Always attack your accuser. Win no matter what. Gloat when you do,” the New York Daily News described Cohn’s strategy. Trump is clinging to Cohn’s advice while stonewalling the impeachment inquiry with a “prevent defense.”

Trump has gone from claiming there was no quid pro quo for releasing military aid to Ukraine to suggesting if there was, there was nothing impeachable about it. Cohn would not approve.

His defenders appeared on the Sunday talk shows claiming Trump committed no extortion because, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told “Fox News Sunday,” “[Ukraine] got their aid, and that’s what’s important.” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told “Meet the Press,” “We know there’s no Ukraine investigation … the military aid got there.” Ukraine never delivered, so how could there be a crime?

But conspiracy is itself a crime. How many people has the U.S. jailed for terrorist plots they planned but never carried out?

The acting president found himself booed at two sporting events within a week. Trump’s ego is very fragile. He’s so accustomed to basking in glory at his MAGA rallies that he’ll internalize these booing incidents. A few more could shake his confidence both in his re-electability and his ability to hold off impeachment in the House that now seems inevitable. He’s already worried his firewall in the Senate may not hold.

“Strategy” may be generous here. Trump is clearly on the defensive and unaccustomed to playing defense.