Defense secretary refuses to cooperate in impeachment probe after saying he would


Defense Secretary Mark Esper is retreating from a previous pledge to cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry into the Trump Ukraine scandal.

The Defense Department will not cooperate with the House impeachment probe surrounding questions about Donald Trump using military aid as a possible quid pro quo to encourage Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a Tuesday letter.

The letter lays out "legal and practical concerns" preventing it from cooperating with an Oct. 7 subpoena demanding documents related to Trump withholding military aid from Ukraine. The department claims the House impeachment inquiry has not been properly "authorized." However, the Constitution gives the House of Representatives sole discretion as to how to conduct an impeachment inquiry. The department also argues that some of the material requested may be subject to executive privilege.

Despite the warning in the subpoena that failure to comply "shall constitute evidence of obstruction," the department nevertheless is refusing to comply with the Oct. 15 deadline.

The refusal contradicts Defense Secretary Mark Esper's comments on Sunday, when he said the Pentagon would cooperate. In an interview with "Face the Nation," Esper said the Pentagon would "do everything we can to cooperate with the Congress." When asked specifically about the subpoena about Ukrainian military aid, Esper doubled down: "That's a yes. We will do everything we can to comply."

Esper's change in direction follows news reports indicating he may have been involved in a plot to withhold military aid from Ukraine in order to help Trump gain leverage in his request for an investigation into his potential political rival Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election. Before a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Washington Post reported that Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, relayed an order to the State Department and the Pentagon to hold back $400 million in military aid from Ukraine.

The aid was put on hold, and Trump asked Zelensky for "a favor" on that phone call, including a request to dig up dirt on Biden. It is illegal to solicit or accept election-related assistance from foreign nationals.

Congress is looking into Trump's request, which Democrats and national security experts call an abuse of power. As part of the investigation, documents from the Defense Department could shed light on how and why military aid was withheld.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.