Court Calls for Hearing on Emergency Motion for Ukraine Documents

A federal judge has called a hearing next Wednesday to discuss American Oversight’s emergency motion in its lawsuit against the State Department for records of the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine.

Earlier this month, American Oversight filed a lawsuit and asked for a preliminary injunction to compel the State Department to begin rapidly processing and releasing documents. The requested records include senior officials’ communications with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani or about efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to open a politically motivated investigation, as well as records related to the recall of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch testified as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry last week, saying that Giuliani and President Donald Trump had pushed for her recall.

In a telephone conference on Thursday afternoon, Judge Christopher Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asked State Department attorneys about the progress the agency has made in identifying the requested documents, which may also be responsive to subpoenas issued by Congress. Multiple agencies — including the State Department — have suggested they will not comply with congressional requests and subpoenas related to the Ukraine investigation, and last week White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to House leaders making the unprecedented argument that the impeachment inquiry was invalid and declaring that the administration would refuse to produce documents requested by Congress.

But despite the obstruction, State Department officials and career diplomats have been appearing before Congress, including Yovanovitch, Trump’s former Russia adviser Fiona Hill, and Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland. In preparation for next Wednesday’s hearing, the judge asked the State Department to address any potential overlap between American Oversight’s lawsuit and records subpoenaed by Congress, what privilege claims might be asserted, and whether those records could be expected to be made public as part of the impeachment process.

The judge also asked the State Department attorneys to be ready to discuss the number of documents that might be responsive to American Oversight’s request and to provide an estimate of how long it would take to process them for public release.

“The administration’s stone wall is crumbling,” said Austin Evers, American Oversight’s executive director. “Patriotic public servants are defying the White House’s orders not to testify and now the State Department’s refusal to hand over documents is getting tested in court. The American people deserve the truth and it looks like we may get it.”

A transcript of the telephone conference is available here. The hearing on American Oversight’s motion will take place Wed., Oct. 23, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia courthouse at 333 Constitution Ave. NW in Washington, D.C.

American Oversight has submitted more than 50 Freedom of Information Act requests to multiple federal agencies seeking documents related to the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to launch a political investigation. Other requested documents include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s communications with or about Giuliani; emails sent by OMB Director and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney discussing Giuliani, Ukraine or the Bidens; and records of Vice President Mike Pence’s meetings with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

More details on American Oversight’s investigation and lawsuits can be found here.

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