House Democrats moved dramatically Monday to advance their impeachment inquiry into President Trump by issuing a subpoena to Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer and a key figure in the president’s push for Ukraine to investigate his political enemies.
The subpoena, delivered less than a week into the historic inquiry, suggests Democrats are racing to gather evidence for potential articles of impeachment.
They set a deadline of Oct. 15 for Giuliani to provide documents to three House committees, a demand that could spark the fiercest battle yet between Congress and the White House in proceedings already marked by partisan warfare. He was not asked to testify.
Giuliani may seek to claim attorney-client privilege to resist cooperating with Congress as the president fights allegations that he violated his oath of office and jeopardized national security in his dealings with Ukraine.
“Our inquiry includes an investigation of credible allegations that you acted as an agent of the president in a scheme to advance his personal political interests by abusing the power of the office of the president,” the three chairmen, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who heads the Intelligence Committee; Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee; and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who heads the Oversight Committee, wrote in a letter to Giuliani.
If Giuliani does not comply, the chairmen warned, it would “constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry,” and perhaps become fodder for articles of impeachment against Trump.
Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment, and it’s unclear whether he had hired a lawyer to represent him.
“I’m an attorney,” he told Fox News on Sunday. “There’s something called attorney-client privilege.”
He told ABC News that he would consider complying with congressional investigations, but “I wouldn’t cooperate with Adam Schiff,” who is helping lead the impeachment proceedings.
The inquiry centers on Trump’s efforts, over a period of months, to persuade Ukrainian officials to search for damaging material on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Operating outside traditional channels, Giuliani spearheaded Trump’s push, holding meetings with Ukrainian officials in New York, Madrid and elsewhere.
Trump repeatedly cited Giuliani’s role during a 30-minute phone call on July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to a reconstructed transcript released by the White House last week.
When Zelensky asked to buy U.S. anti-tank weapons to help fend off Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, Trump responded by asking for a “favor.”
He urged Zelensky to “look into” Biden, a potential opponent in the 2020 election whose son previously served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. He also complained about CrowdStrike, a California-based cybersecurity company that worked with Democrats in the 2016 campaign and is the subject of conspiracy theories involving Ukraine.
In both cases, Trump said Giuliani would call Zelensky or his aides to discuss his requests. “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy,” Trump said, according to the White House account.
A whistleblower complaint that first revealed the call described Giuliani as a “central figure” in Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine.
The complaint said White House officials were “deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decision-making processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the president.”
Days before the phone call, Trump had ordered aides to withhold nearly $400 million in congressionally-approved military and other aid for Ukraine. The money and material were released on Sept. 12, after House and Senate members complained, but Ukrainian officials had feared that it was held back to gain political leverage.
The subpoena was announced on a day that saw revelations on several fronts that could cause trouble for the White House.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo listened in on Trump’s call with Zelensky, suggesting that America’s top diplomat was at least familiar with — if not directly involved with — the president’s alleged attempt to use foreign policy for personal benefit.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment. House Democrats issued a subpoena to Pompeo on Friday seeking documents for their inquiry, and they’ve scheduled depositions with five current and former State Department officials.
The first is expected on Wednesday with the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled to Washington in May — two months before her three-year term was up — after facing criticism from Giuliani and his allies.
Separately, the Justice Department confirmed a Washington Post report that Atty. Gen. William Barr had reached out to officials in Britain, Australia and Italy for help with his internal review of the now-concluded Russia investigation. John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, is leading the inquiry.
At Barr’s request, the president “has contacted other countries to ask them to introduce the attorney general and Mr. Durham to appropriate officials,” Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Although special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ultimately did not establish a criminal conspiracy between the 2016 Trump campaign and Moscow, Trump remains fixated on the investigation that clouded his White House tenure for two years, and has looked for ways to undermine its credibility.
For his part, Giuliani has been a colorful, confounding and unreliable figure who has become ubiquitous on cable television, where he often contradicts himself and spreads false accusations against Biden and his son.
A former U.S. prosecutor and mayor of New York, he joined Trump’s legal team during the Russia investigation and publicly sought to paint Mueller’s prosecutors as partisan. He also began publicly and privately pushing Ukraine to provide material intended to discredit Biden.
Although his story has veered widely, Giuliani has insisted that he has only sought to defend his client, and in his telling, to find the truth.
“When this is over, I will be the hero,” he said last week to the Atlantic.