State sought to block Yovanovitch testimony, say Democrats

The Trump administration sought to block the congressional deposition Friday of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, leading House Democrats to issue a subpoena for her appearance — and ultimately compelling her to testify Friday, according to Democratic committee leaders.

Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled from Ukraine to Washington in May, arrived at the Capitol Friday morning and is testifying behind closed doors before members of the three House committees — Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs — leading the Democrats' impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE.

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Her appearance came just three days after the White House counsel issued a letter warning House Democrats that the administration will not cooperate with requests for documents or witness testimony as part of the ongoing probe. The missive raised questions as to whether Yovanovitch had been cleared by the State Department to appear on Capitol Hill or if she'd defied the White House at risk of potential retribution.

Four hours into her testimony, it became clear it was the latter.

"Last night, the Committees learned that the State Department, at the direction of the White House, directed Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch not to appear for her voluntary interview today," Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage Schiff: Whistleblower testimony might not be necessary A Republican Watergate veteran's perspective on a Trump impeachment MORE (D-Calif.), Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCracks emerge in White House strategy as witness testifies Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster On The Money: Trump announces limited trade deal with China | Appeals court rules against Trump over financial records | Trump expands authority to sanction Turkey MORE (D-Md.) and Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision Sunday shows — Officials rush to Trump's defense on Syria, sanctions MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement Friday afternoon.

"This is the latest example of the Administration’s efforts to conceal the facts from the American people and obstruct our lawful and constitutionally-authorized impeachment inquiry." 

In response, the committee heads issued a subpoena on Friday morning for her testimony, they said.

"This duly authorized subpoena is mandatory, and the illegitimate order from the Trump Administration not to cooperate has no force," the Democrats said. "As is required of her, the Ambassador is now complying with the subpoena and answering questions from both Democratic and Republican Members and staff."

Tuesday's letter from the administration, penned by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, argued that the Democrats' impeachment inquiry is invalid because Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden on impeachment: 'I'm the only reason' it's happening Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter MORE (D-Calif.) has declined to stage a vote of the full House to launch the process officially — a vote that has preceded the last two impeachment proceedings, into Presidents Nixon and Clinton.

The letter came just hours after the State Department blocked Tuesday's scheduled testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a major Trump donor, who had previously defended the president from whistleblower allegations that he had sought to leverage U.S. military aid to Ukraine in exchange for political favors.

Some of Trump's Republican allies on Capitol Hill were frustrated that Sondland's testimony had been delayed. They've hoped the E.U. ambassador will be a counterweight to the damning whistleblower allegations against Trump.

Sondland's lawyer said Friday that the testimony has been pushed to next Thursday.

Yovanovitch has been a more critical witness, if her opening statement is any indication. In those remarks, the former Ukraine ambassador accused leading members of Trump's orbit — including the president's personal lawyer, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiRand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Sunday shows — Officials rush to Trump's defense on Syria, sanctions Cruz: 'Of course' it's not appropriate to ask China to investigate Bidens MORE — of conducting "a concerted campaign" against her.

She was removed, she added, based on "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”  

—Updated 3:04 p.m.