WASHINGTON — The State Department has agreed to release documents related to President Trump’s handling of aid to Ukraine, potentially providing ammunition to the impeachment probe now being conducted by Democrats in the House of Representatives.
The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed by American Oversight, a watchdog group affiliated with progressive causes. That lawsuit was initially filed in the spring, after Trump dismissed U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie L. Yovanovitch. Since that firing, a whistleblower complaint and other developments have led to allegations Trump used $400 million in aid to Ukraine as leverage on authorities there to investigate Hunter Biden.
Hunter Biden’s father, former Vice President Joe Biden, is challenging Trump for the presidency.
Last week, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., told the State Department it had to turn over Ukraine-related documents, citing “public interest” that he said tilted “heavily in favor of disclosure.”
At the time, American Oversight’s executive director, Austin Evers, deemed the decision a “major setback” for the Trump administration. However, it was not clear just how the State Department would respond. The department instructed Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, not to testify. He did so anyway.
The agreement between the State Department and American Oversight stipulates that the documents be turned over by Nov. 22, by which time the impeachment inquiry could well be in its public stage.
Among the documents to be included in the trove are communications between departmental officials and Trump’s private lawyers and associates, in particular Rudolph Giuliani, Victoria Toensing or Joseph diGenova. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, is believed to have led a “shadow” foreign policy in Kiev that involved exerting pressure on the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to announce a new investigation of Hunter Biden, who had sat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
The order also covers records created by or pertaining to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been criticized for putting Trump’s political prospects, and possibly his own business interests, over the nation’s foreign policy goals. Two close associates of Pompeo, Ulrich Brechbuhl and Brian Bulatao, are also named in the request, along with several others.
The agreement will also require the State Department to turn over calendar entries pertaining to Yovanovitch’s dismissal, as well as any meetings with Giuliani, and meetings pertaining to a potential Biden investigation in Ukraine.
The two sides could not agree on whether the State Department needed to turn over readouts of the July 25 phone call in which Trump is alleged to have engaged in a quid pro quo with Zelensky. State Department lawyers maintain those records “have a high likelihood of being classified and/or privileged.” The White House has released its own synopsis of the call, but not a complete transcript.
“While it is too early to say whether the State Department will ultimately meet the court’s order in letter and spirit, negotiations have begun in good faith,” said Evers in a prepared statement. “The Trump administration would do well to treat congressional subpoenas with the same approach rather than trying to sustain a failing strategy of total obstruction.”
The State Department did not respond to questions about the extent to which it would honor the agreement.
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