Top State Department official arrives to testify in impeachment probe

A senior State Department official arrived in the Capitol on Wednesday to testify in the Democrats' impeachment investigation, bucking a White House that has vowed to offer no cooperation in the fast-moving inquiry.

David Hale, the under secretary of State for political affairs, is expected to provide insights into the campaign by President TrumpDonald John TrumpMitt Romney invokes late father during the Civil Rights Movement amid protests White House wanted to deploy 10,000 troops to control protests: reports Zuckerberg, Chan-funded scientists pen 'letter of concern' over Trump, misinformation MORE and some of his allies to remove Marie Yovanovitch from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine — a move that infuriated many department veterans, who have expressed concerns that the agency's top brass did too little to protect a career diplomat from White House interference. 

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Hale, a career dilplomat, arrived in the Capitol shortly before the start of Wednesday’s 9 a.m. deposition in the Capitol basement, where the three House committees leading the impeachment investigation — Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs — have been conducting their closed-door interviews.

Democrats leading the inquiry have invited three other administration officials to testify on Wednesday: Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Ernest Moniz Trump issues executive order to protect power grid from attack Why we need to transition, quickly, from fossil fuels to clean energy MORE; State Department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl, a top adviser to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS image takes a hit as world reacts to Floyd protests Pompeo blasts China: 'Callous attempts to exploit George Floyd's tragic death' Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump MORE; and Russell Vought, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

None of the other three are expected to testify.

Brechbuhl boarded a plane heading to Germany with Pompeo earlier Wednesday. Last week, an Energy Department spokeswoman said Perry would not cooperate with the inquiry. And Vought had previously indicated that he did not plan to comply with the House inquiry with a tweet.

And Hale is the first witness to give a deposition this week after a series of witnesses refused to testify, offering various reasons.

Hale’s testimony comes as Democrats are shifting their impeachment investigation — which has been conducted in private for the six weeks since it launched — into the public realm.

As part of that transition, Democrats this week have released the verbatim transcripts of the testimony from some of the previous witnesses. That list includes Yovanovitch; Michael McKinley, a former top advisor to Pompeo; Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports Live coverage: Senators enter second day of questions in impeachment trial MORE, former special envoy to Ukraine; and Gordon Sondland, a Trump ally and U.S. ambassador to the European Union. 

Most of those witnesses have painted a damning picture of a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine — led by Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiSunday shows preview: Protests against George Floyd's death, police brutality rock the nation for a second week Piers Morgan, Rudy Giuliani in furious debate over Trump: 'You sound completely barking mad' Rudy Giuliani calls on Cuomo to remove Bill de Blasio MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer — to pressure Ukrainian leaders to open investigations into Trump’s political opponents. A government whistleblower has taken the narrative a step further, alleging that Trump threatened to withhold U.S. military aid to Ukraine unless the country’s leaders launched those investigations — the accusation at the root of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Sondland, in his initial deposition on Oct. 17, had denied such a quid pro quo had occurred. On Monday, however, he revised his testimony to acknowledge that he, himself, had delivered the message to Ukrainian leaders that the military aid was “likely” contingent on Ukraine’s willingness to open the investigations Trump had sought. 

Democrats have pointed to the revision as new evidence that Trump had abused his office in potentially impeachable ways. The president’s GOP allies, though, have dismissed Sondland’s addendum as the opinion of one witness — and not reflective of Trump’s foreign policy in Ukraine.

They’re pointing to the account of Volker, who told lawmakers that the hold on military aid was “not significant” to U.S.-Ukrainian relations. 

Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryPennsylvania Democrat Eugene DePasquale wins House primary Key races to watch in Tuesday's primaries House Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground states MORE (R-Pa.) suggested Wednesday that Volker is the only truly reliable witness lawmakers have heard from so far. The multiple other witnesses claiming a quid pro quo, he said, were either biased or ill-informed. 

“Some were leaving, some were about to leave, some had just come into the situation, some had preconceived notions regardless,” Perry said, as he and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanGOP rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE (R-Ohio) headed into Hale’s deposition. “He seems to be the one honest broker in this whole thing.”

Updated at 9:57 a.m.