Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., speaks during a public impeachment hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19, 2019. (AP/Brandon) Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., speaks during a public impeachment hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19, 2019. (AP/Brandon)

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., speaks during a public impeachment hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19, 2019. (AP/Brandon)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy December 19, 2019

White House snubbed House’s document requests, Democrat says

On a day that ended with President Donald Trump becoming the third U.S. president to be impeached, House Democrats hammered Trump for refusing to comply with their investigation, saying his stonewalling proved he has something to hide.

"(This) was an attempt by Donald J. Trump to aim Ukrainian corruption straight at the heart of the presidential election of 2020," said Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "The president knows this, which is why he has not given this Congress a single email, phone record or document."

The White House did release summaries of Trump’s April 21 and July 25 phone calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

But when we examined whether the administration transmitted any other records to Congress, we found that it defied the House’s multiple requests and subpoenas for documents.

In a statement to PolitiFact, a White House official said the call readouts are "what matters."

"The White House raised well-recognized presidential privileges in response to these document requests," the official said. "House Democrats chose not to address those privileges, clinging instead to an artificial impeachment deadline on their sham proceeding."

The White House pledged not to cooperate

In early October, the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees subpoenaed the White House for Ukraine-related documents that Democrats had requested but not received.

In response, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to Congress saying the executive branch would not be participating in the investigation. At the White House’s direction, several top administration officials also defied subpoenas seeking testimony or documents.

The night before European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland was expected to testify, for example, his attorneys received a last-minute call from the State Department informing them that the Trump administration would not allow his testimony. 

Sondland eventually testified against the White House’s orders and in response to a subpoena, but his recollections in both his private and public testimony were limited because the White House refused to turn over documents and call records. 

Nine administration officials defied similar subpoenas from the House.

"The executive branch cannot be expected to, and will not participate in, this exercise of partisan political theater," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

House Democrats elected not to take the issue up in court. Instead, they packaged Trump’s efforts to block cooperation into an article of impeachment alleging obstruction of Congress. 

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The obstruction of Congress article, which the House approved by a 229-198 margin, charges Trump with "directing" the White House and various executive branch agencies "to defy lawful subpoenas and withhold the production of documents."

What documents did Congress get?

According to the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees’ reports, "not a single document" was produced by the White House, the vice president’s office, the Office of Management and Budget, the State Department, the Defense Department or the Energy Department. 

In total, those agencies received "71 specific, individualized requests or demands for records," the committees’ reports said.

The House did obtain some documents, such as text messages that former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker exchanged with Sondland and other U.S. and Ukrainian diplomats, that were in witnesses’ "personal possession," according to the Judiciary Committee’s report.

But multiple witnesses testified to the existence of other key White House documents that Congress never received. These materials included:

• Talking points prepared ahead of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director for European affairs at the National Security Council.

• Notes taken during Trump’s call with Zelensky by Vindman and by Tim Morrison, the former top Russia expert on the NSC.

• A memo prepared by Vindman that former National Security Adviser John Bolton was expected to present to Trump conveying "the consensus views from the entire deputies small group" that "the security assistance be released."

• Call records between Trump and Sondland.

• Notes from NSC legal advisor John Eisenberg detailing his discussions with Vindman about a July 10 meeting with a top Ukrainian official, during which Sondland suggested that investigations could help secure a White House meeting for Zelensky.

• The readout of Trump’s Sept. 25 meeting with Zelensky in New York.

The House Intelligence Committee’s Republican minority report does not dispute that Trump’s White House withheld these and other documents. But it notes that Trump made readouts of his April 21 and July 25 phone calls with Zelensky publicly available, calling them "directly relevant."

Himes spokesman Patrick Malone said the readouts were released in response to public pressure rather than congressional subpoenas. The White House published the July 25 call summary on Sept. 25, days after news of the whistleblower complaint broke and one day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the House impeachment inquiry.

"They weren’t released to Congress in response to our requests," Malone said. "They were released to the public."

Our ruling

Himes said Trump "has not given this Congress a single email, phone record or document."

The White House told Congress that it would not cooperate with the House’s impeachment inquiry, and all evidence suggests that the White House stood by that pledge. 

The White House did, however, release two call readouts. They were not in response to congressional subpoenas as part of the House’s investigation. 

We rate Himes’ statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

C-Span, "Articles of Impeachment Debate," Dec. 18, 2019

House Judiciary Committee, "Impeachment of Donald J. Trump President of the United States," Dec. 16, 2019

House Judiciary Committee, Articles of Impeachment against President Donald J. Trump, Dec. 10, 2019

House Intelligence Committee, Transcript of hearing of Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, Nov. 19, 2019

House Intelligence Committee, Transcript of deposition of David Holmes, Nov. 15, 2019

House Intelligence Committee, Transcript of deposition of Tim Morrison, Oct. 31, 2019

House Intelligence Committee, Transcript of deposition of Alexander Vindman, Oct. 29, 2019

The White House, "Statement from the Press Secretary," Oct. 8, 2019

House Foreign Affairs Committee, "Three Chairs Issue Statement on White House Blocking Ambassador Sondland Testimony and Documents," Oct. 8, 2019

The White House, Letter from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Elijah Cummings, Adam Schiff and Eliot Engel, Oct. 8, 2019

U.S. House of Representatives, Letter from Reps. Elijah Cummings, Adam Schiff and Eliot Engel to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Oct. 4, 2019 

The New York Times, "Testimony and Evidence Collected in the Trump Impeachment Inquiry," Nov. 26, 2019

PolitiFact, "Read House Republicans' response to impeachment report," Dec. 3, 2019

PolitiFact, "Read the House Intelligence Committee's full impeachment report," Dec. 3, 2019

PolitiFact, "Fact-check: Donald Trump's claim he doesn’t know Gordon Sondland very well," Nov. 20, 2019

PolitiFact, "There was a quid pro quo, Gordon Sondland says in testimony for Trump, Ukraine impeachment inquiry," Nov. 20, 2019

PolitiFact, "Timeline: The Trump impeachment inquiry," Oct. 3, 2019

PolitiFact, "Here's the readout of Donald Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky," Sept. 25, 2019

Email interview with Patrick Malone, spokesperson for Rep. Jim Himes, Dec. 18, 2019

Statement from the White House, Dec. 19, 2019

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White House snubbed House’s document requests, Democrat says

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