Schiff says committees are making 'rapid progress' in impeachment probe

The lawmaker leading the impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE said Saturday that Democrats are "making rapid progress" in their investigation into the president's dealings with Ukraine.

“We’re trying to work expeditiously, but we’re also trying to be methodical in our work," Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse votes to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Manchin heatedly dismisses rumors of leaving Democratic Party Bannon eyed as key link between White House, Jan. 6 riot MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told reporters in the Capitol. "I think we’re making rapid progress — and that’s our goal.”

Schiff's comments came after the Intelligence Committee had finished interviewing its latest witness in the quickly evolving impeachment investigation into Trump, which launched just over a month ago.

Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs, testified behind closed doors for roughly eight hours about what he knew of the administration's campaign to press Ukrainian leaders to launch anti-corruption investigations into Trump's political rivals.

Schiff declined to comment on the substance of Reeker's testimony. But other lawmakers from both parties leaving the deposition seemed to agree that Reeker was a relatively minor player in the controversial Ukrainian episode — one verified details previously presented by other witnesses, without unloading any bombshells.

"An honest assessment ... is that there were no 'A-Ha' moments for either side," said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsMeadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - White House tackles how to vaccinate children ages 5+ Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt MORE (R-N.C.), the former Freedom Caucus chairman and close Trump ally.

In the eyes of Trump's GOP allies, that means there was no new evidence of presidential wrongdoing on a level to merit impeachment. Meadows said Reeker essentially echoed testimony from an earlier witness — former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails CNN obtains audio of 2019 Giuliani call linked to Ukraine meddling allegations GOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe MORE — whose deposition Republicans have pointed to as an "exoneration" of Trump's actions in Ukraine.

"In broad terms, I’d say the testimony of Ambassador Volker and his role in the Ukraine was supported by what we heard from Ambassador Reeker today," Meadows said. "And Ambassador Volker’s testimony, I believe, was very clear in that he didn’t believe that the president of the United States did anything that would amount to an impeachable offense.”

Democrats, however, left the marathon deposition suggesting they'd reached a different conclusion about the direction the accumulating evidence is taking congressional investigators — lawmakers will ultimately have to decide whether to take a long step forward and vote on impeachment articles.

"He is corroborating previous witnesses and their testimony. So it's helpful in that respect," Rep. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchLeft warns Pelosi they'll take down Biden infrastructure bill Pelosi signals she won't move .5T bill without Senate-House deal Overnight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden MORE (D-Mass.) said of Reeker. "I think it's fair to say it's a much richer reservoir of information than we originally expected."

"No discrepancies," said Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiOn The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Ethics watchdog finds 'substantial' evidence Rep. Malinowski failed to disclose stocks US Chamber targets more House Democrats with ads opposing .5T bill MORE (D-N.J.).

Democrats have been charging ahead with their impeachment inquiry since Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters Buttigieg aims to use Tucker Carlson flap to spotlight paternity leave Judge to hear Trump's case against Jan. 6 committee in November MORE (D-Calif.) launched the probe formally just over a month ago. That escalation came in response to a whistleblower's allegations that Trump had sought to leverage U.S. aid to press Ukraine's president for political favors.

In May, amid that pressure campaign, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoObama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe The CIA's next mission: Strategic competition with China and Russia Biden, Trump tied in potential 2024 match-up: poll MORE had recalled Marie Yovanovitch, then the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, back to Washington. Yovanovitch has since testified as part of the impeachment probe, alleging that she was removed as political payback because she'd voiced concerns with the effort to enlist foreign leaders for help in domestic elections.  

Reeker, a State Department veteran, reportedly testified Saturday that he'd pressed senior State Department officials to support Yovanovitch publicly, but was rejected by the agency brass.

Pompeo's approach to the Ukrainian affair has angered many State Department veterans, who believe he's done too little to protect career diplomats from the political influence of the White House.

Meadows said Saturday that he's sympathetic to those sentiments. But the president, he added, has the ultimate power to decide which diplomats will serve him abroad.

"Generally speaking, a lot of the State Department employees have a high regard for Ambassador Yovanovitch. ... That’s a consistent theme that we’ve heard throughout," Meadows said. "That being said, all ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president. And that’s just part of what happens when you’re part of a diplomatic corps.

"You certainly serve in a selfless way," he continued, "but also in one that is subject to coming to a new post any day."

The rare Saturday gathering took place because Congress had paused its work Thursday and Friday to honor the late Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (D-Md.), the chairman of the Oversight Committee who passed away on Oct. 17 after a lengthy illness.

Democrats plan to charge ahead with the depositions next week, although several of the witnesses on the calendar have contested the subpoenas, leaving their appearance in question.

Democratic leaders have also promised, at some point, to open up the process and hold public hearings. But the timeline to do so remains unclear.

"It hasn't been determined," said Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell NYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

Updated 9:01 p.m.