As the U.S. House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry begins its second week of public hearings to determine whether President Donald Trump abused the power of his office by withholding military aid to Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat defended his policy.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to defend Trump's Ukraine policy ahead of testimony from nine people this week with knowledge of the president's handling of U.S. relations with Ukraine, including officials from the National Security Council (NSC) and Defense and State departments.
Pompeo said during a November 18 news conference in Washington that Trump had "reversed the massive failures" of the Barack Obama administration by giving lethal weapons to Ukraine, which is battling Russia-backed forces in its two easternmost regions.
"I am proud of what we have done. President Trump's policy has been consistent throughout. The State Department is fully supportive," Pompeo said.
Trump's decision ahead of his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid, including lethal weapons, training, and advisers, to Ukraine is at the heart of an impeachment hearing that has pitted career Foreign Service officials against the administration.
Democrats are investigating whether the Republican president tied the release of the weapons to Ukraine opening investigations into the work of Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Trump in 2020.
Trump denies he sought to pressure Zelenskiy to probe Biden and his son Hunter during the July 25 call. Trump released the aid in September, two days after Congress became aware of a government whistle-blower complaint of the Trump-Zelenskiy call and after the delay had become public and members of his party requested him to do so.
However, some of the witnesses this week, including NSC member Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman (November 19 at 2:30 p.m., 1930 GMT/UTC) are expected to tell congressional investigators that some U.S. officials were telling the Ukrainians that such aid was conditional on such an investigation.
Three officials last week testified that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was running a parallel Ukraine foreign policy that included pushing for the dismissal of then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
Pompeo dismissed the notion that there was something "nefarious" about her ouster, pointing to the fact that she was replaced by career diplomat William Taylor.
However, Pompeo declined to defend Yovanovitch during the news conference. He also refused to answer whether Taylor -- whose testimony last week was critical of the president -- still has Trump's confidence.
Testifying first on November 19 at 9 a.m. (1400 GMT/UTC) is Jennifer Williams, an aide in Vice President Mike Pence's office who listened in on the July 25 call.
The second panel on November 19 at 2:30 p.m. features Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, who was tasked to handle Ukraine policy by the president along with the other "three amigos": U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Volker's presence was requested by the Republican members the House Intelligence Committee.
The following day at 9 a.m. features Tim Morrison, who also listened in on the Trump-Zelenskiy call as a then-NSC aide. In previous testimony behind closed doors, he reportedly told investigators that he saw nothing inappropriate in the president's actions.
Perhaps this week's most anticipated deposition comes on November 20 at 2:30 p.m., when Sondland testifies. He donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and faced scrutiny for changing his previous account of events related to Trump's Ukraine policy with a three-page amendment.
Joining that day's second panel at 2:30 p.m. is Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department.
David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department, testifies on November 21 at 9 a.m.
He'll be joined by Fiona Hill. She was formerly the top Russia specialist at the NSC. In her closed-door testimony, she voiced concerns about Giuliani's parallel actions toward Ukraine and how it was affecting policy in that area.
After expressing her concerns to then-national-security adviser John Bolton, he reportedly said that Giuliani was "a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up."
The same day, David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is scheduled to testify.