Things went from terrible to horrendous for Donald Trump in the ongoing impeachment inquiry on Wednesday, when Mike Pompeo’s former top aide Michael McKinley told lawmakers that his abrupt resignation this month was the direct result of the Trump’s administration politicization of the State department.
Lawmakers have heard from a series of witnesses in their probe into the administration’s apparent efforts to pressure the fledging government of Volodymyr Zelensky into opening investigations into the president’s political rivals.
McKinley – who Pompeo could not even be bothered to thank for his nearly four decades of government service – told Congress Wednesday that the smear campaign orchestrated by Rudy Giuliani against former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was the straw that broke the camel’s back for him. Yovanovitch discussed Giuliani’s role in ending her mandate in Ukraine with lawmakers last week.
Although McKinley told House investigators that his knowledge of the Ukraine matter itself was limited, “he said the handling of the issue was emblematic of a troublesome trend at the State Department”, The New York Times reports, citing people familiar with his remarks.
McKinley – who appeared voluntarily – “came to Capitol Hill with an intimate understanding of how Pompeo wielded power in the highest echelons of the State Department, given his proximity to the top diplomat on his many trips abroad”, the Washington Post writes, adding that “McKinley was expected to underscore an August report by the State Department’s inspector general concluding that the Trump administration’s political appointees bullied staffers and accused them of political disloyalty to the president”.
A report by the State Department’s inspector general concludes that leadership of a leading department bureau mistreated and harassed staffers, accused them of political disloyalty to the Trump administration, and retaliated against them.
In response to repeated counseling by more senior State officials that he address staff concerns, the report concluded, Kevin Moley, assistant secretary for international affairs, “did not take significant action.”
The report is a sweeping condemnation of Moley and more specifically of his former senior adviser, Mari Stull. A former lobbyist and consultant for international food and agriculture interests, Stull left the department in January following press reports that, among other things, she had compiled a list of staffers deemed insufficiently loyal to the Trump administration.
Last month, Linick turned over a “packet of propaganda” to lawmakers after requesting an “urgent briefing”, which whipped the media into a frenzy.
Multiple sources on Wednesday indicated to various media outlets that McKinley’s remarks centered around his concerns that the State department, under Pompeo, was characterized by the mistreatment of career diplomats, including and especially Yovanovitch.
For McKinley, Pompeo’s refusal to defend Yovanovitch amid Giuliani’s efforts to have her removed (with the help of the now jailed Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman) was “too much”, a person familiar with his testimony told the Post.
Meanwhile, new details have emerged from the deposition of Fiona Hill, the president’s former top adviser on Russia and Ukraine. Hill told lawmakers on Tuesday that Gordon Sondland, the Trump donor-turned EU ambassador who, along with Kurt Volker, bridged the gap between Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy and official policy, was a national security risk, in her assessment.
“Hill did not accuse Mr. Sondland of acting maliciously or intentionally putting the country at risk, but she described Mr. Sondland as metaphorically driving in an unfamiliar place with no guardrails and no GPS”, the Times says, citing two sources with knowledge of her testimony, during which she reportedly “described her fears that Sondland represented a counterintelligence risk because his actions made him vulnerable to foreign governments who could exploit his inexperience”.
Hill’s account of John Bolton’s efforts to stop Giuliani from jeopardizing the integrity of the US political system was damning. Bolton, Hill told House investigators, described the former New York mayor as a “hand grenade” and referred to Sondland and Mick Mulvaney’s efforts to compel Ukraine to investigate the Bidens as a “drug deal”.
Increasingly, Mulvaney is seen as a key figure in this rather sordid tale for his efforts to take Ukraine policy out of the hands of experienced operators like Yovanovitch and place it with Sondland, Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Apparently, the trio took to calling themselves “the three amigos”.
Sondland will go before lawmakers on Thursday.