U.S. judge validates Trump’s impeachment probe

The Democratic-led impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump resumed with testimony from a senior State Department official on Saturday, a day after a judge buoyed the probe by dismissing a central Republican objection.

Philip Reeker, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, was due to meet with the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight Committees behind closed doors at the U.S. Capitol.

‘Resolution not needed’

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell rejected the claim that the impeachment process is illegitimate.

He also ordered the Republican Trump administration to give the House Judiciary Committee secret material from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s reporting on Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Judge Howell said the House did not have to approve a resolution formally initiating the effort for the impeachment inquiry to be valid, something Republicans have been insisting is the case. Mr. Reeker, 54, is a career diplomat whose current portfolio includes Ukraine, the country central to the investigation of Trump. Mr. Reeker has held his position on an acting basis since March 18. The impeachment inquiry has underscored what current and former U.S. officials describe as a campaign by Mr. Trump against career diplomats. Several have already met with congressional investigators.

Another career diplomat involved in those communications, George Kent, testified last week that he was told to “lie low” on Ukraine and instead defer to three of Mr. Trump’s political appointees. Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly dismissed as Ambassador to Ukraine in May by Mr. Trump, has also testified, accusing the administration of recalling her based on false claims and of eviscerating the State Department.

Call to Ukraine

At the heart of the impeachment inquiry is a July 25 phone call in which Mr. Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender to face Mr. Trump in the 2020 election, and his son Hunter, who had been a director of a Ukrainian energy company.

The Trump administration was withholding $391 million in security assistance for Ukraine when the call took place, and investigators are looking into whether Mr. Trump improperly tied the release of the aid to getting Ukraine’s help in probing the Bidens. Mr. Trump denies wrongdoing. And, backed by his fellow Republicans in Congress, insists he is being treated unfairly.

The administration has refused to hand over documents requested by the congressional committees, and sought to prevent current and former officials from giving interviews.

The committees have scheduled several depositions next week, following Mr. Reeker’s appearance on Saturday, all behind closed doors.

Democratic members of the three committees said they feel they have gathered a great deal of evidence and do not expect this phase of the investigation to last many more weeks, before public hearings. “We’ve heard a lot of compelling testimony. We feel like we know a lot of what’s happened,” Representative Tom Malinowski told reporters at the House this week.


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