On Wednesday evening, the State Department released 42 pages of records in response to American Oversight’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking a range of documents related to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine.
The production includes several heavily redacted emails from senior State Department officials. Among the documents are a letter sent to former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s counsel instructing her not to testify or to produce documents to Congress in the impeachment inquiry, and a response from Yovanovitch’s lawyer. You can read more below about Wednesday’s document production and about American Oversight’s multiple FOIA lawsuits related to the Trump administration’s efforts to push Ukraine to investigate the president’s perceived political enemies.
Wednesday’s release is also notable for what is missing — specifically, any written record of communications between top State Department officials and Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. The documents cover a time period when the administration was actively withholding aid to Ukraine and, later, dealing with the rapidly unfolding impeachment inquiry — and when Giuliani himself, the ringleader of the president’s shadow foreign policy, said that he had spoken with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The previous document production in this lawsuit against the State Department revealed call logs from March 2019 between Giuliani and Pompeo; this production includes no such records, adding to suspicion that Pompeo clamped down on access to phone calls in the fall.
Despite the potential holes in Wednesday’s release, more documents are coming. And each new batch of records — records that should have been provided to the House in its investigation — sheds light on the Trump administration’s unprecedented blockade of congressional oversight.
“For a foreign policy initiative the White House claims was totally above-board and legitimate, it is highly suspicious that the senior echelons of the State Department have no records of any communications with Rudy Giuliani, the lead trafficker of the bogus conspiracy theory, during the critical months of August and September 2019 when the rest of the Trump administration was carrying out the president’s directive to freeze aid to Ukraine. Giuliani himself said he was in contact with Secretary Pompeo in September yet there is no record of it in these documents in contrast with prior calls between the two men.
“The documents released tonight represent only a tiny portion of information responsive to American Oversight’s six pending lawsuits related to the Ukraine matter. Each additional release is a reminder that much remains secret about the Ukraine scheme because the president has refused to turn over documents to Congress. American Oversight will continue to fight to ensure the administration obeys the law and is held accountable for its actions.”
Among the documents in Wednesday’s release is an Oct. 10, 2019, letter from Undersecretary of State Brian Bulatao to former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s counsel. Bulatao told him that Yovanovitch should “not to appear before the Committees under the present circumstances,” citing White House Counsel Pat Cipollone’s Oct. 8 letter to House leaders stating that the White House would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
On Oct. 11 — the day of her deposition before House investigators — Yovanovitch’s counsel replied to Bulatao, saying that Yovanovitch would be “unable to obey your most recent directive. … Accordingly, barring some intervening court order to the contrary, Ambassador Yovanovitch intends to comply with the subpoena and attend today’s scheduled deposition.”
Additional documents are scheduled to be released to American Oversight on Friday in response to a separate lawsuit seeking calendars and text message communications of Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine.
American Oversight received the first court-ordered production in response to this litigation on Nov. 22, 2019. A link to that production is available here. Those documents largely covered a date range that ended on Aug. 2, 2019. American Oversight challenged that cut-off date, and a court ordered the State Department to extend its search through Oct. 18, 2019. (A link to the court’s order outlining the guidelines for the expanded search is available here.)
Wednesday’s deadline required the State Department to search for and produce any responsive, non-exempt records from the following categories of documents:
More Ukraine records are coming. American Oversight’s investigation also seeks a number of other Ukraine-related documents that have not yet been subject to court-ordered release, and the watchdog group will continue to pursue the public production of those documents.
On Dec. 9, a federal judge ordered the State Department to begin releasing another set of records sought by American Oversight’s FOIA litigation, calendars and text messages of Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine. The court set a deadline of this Fri., Jan. 10, for the State Department to search for and release responsive records it identifies.
Part of Investigation: