Pentagon & Congress

Missing Defense Department documents get renewed focus in Trump impeachment trial

Congressional prosecutors in the ongoing Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Tuesday again failed to force the Defense Department to turn over dozens of emails and other confidential documents they insist would show more evidence of wrongdoing by administration officials.

In a partisan 53-47 vote, senators rejected a move which would have required military officials to release the disputed documents as part of the impeachment proceedings.

The vote was part of an all-night session debate during which Senate Republicans rebuffed multiple attempts by Democrats to force new witnesses and evidence to be introduced at the start of the trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said those issues could be reconsidered later on.

The defense documents have been a source of frustration for impeachment supporters. Critics of the president have accused him of abusing his office last summer by withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

In October, the Pentagon cited “legal and practical concerns” in a decision to withhold numerous staff readouts of meetings related to Ukraine, emails from top department officials related to delays in foreign aid to that country, and correspondence between military and State Department officials over the issue.

House lawmakers last month blasted Defense Secretary Mark Esper for the decision, saying he has backed off previous promises to work with Congress on all defense issues. Esper has said he will provide the items to Congress if White House counsel waives its objections. So far, they have declined to do that.

On Tuesday, House impeachment manager Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., called the withheld items “key documents that go to the heart of the ways in which the president abused his power.” Crow, a former soldier who served in Afghanistan, said releasing the information would also illustrate how Trump’s actions endangered U.S. troops.

“It was the (Defense Department) that repeatedly advised the White House and (the Office of Management and Budget) of about the importance of the security assistance not only to Ukraine but also to U.S. national security,” he said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday evening.

“It was DOD in August of 2019 that warned OMB that the freeze was unlawful and the funds could be lost as a result. And it was DOD that scrambled after the hold without explanation on Sept. 11 to spend the funds before they expired at the end of the month.”

But lawyers for Trump argued that House lawmakers in their impeachment investigation issued “just one invalid subpoena” to defense officials for the documents and did not present a reasonable case for why those sensitive materials should be made public.

They said Democrats are now trying to add more requests to the impeachment trial in an effort to cover up shortcomings in their legal case.

Senators passed the general rules for the trial proceedings early Wednesday morning, again along party lines. Both sides will have three days each to make their opening arguments to the chamber and the public before senators decide what further deliberations will occur.

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