WASHINGTON — Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defied a subpoena from House investigators and skipped a scheduled closed-door deposition on Friday, Nov. 8, in an accelerating impeachment inquiry that will move to public hearings next week.
Asked about Mulvaney defying his subpoena, President Donald Trump said: "I don't want to give credibility to a corrupt witch hunt."
Trump also said that the House should not be holding public hearings next week. Speaking to reporters at he departed the White House, Trump called the impeachment inquiry "a hoax."
Mulvaney's deposition was scheduled at the Capitol for 9 a.m. In addition, Mark Sandy, the associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, was scheduled to appear at 9:30 a.m. but did not show up.
In a letter Tuesday, leading House Democrats said they were interested in Mulvaney's involvement in an effort by Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others to withhold a White House meeting from the Ukrainian president and nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid at a time when Trump was pressing Ukraine for investigations that could benefit him politically.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday that Mulvaney would not appear for the requested deposition.
"I'm told no," she told reporters at the White House when asked if Mulvaney plans to appear.
"Why would we try to be complicit in an impeachment inquiry that we're not even sure what it's about?" Conway said. "What is it about? If I gave you a blank piece of paper, literally, what would you write on it? What are we telling the American people, right here right now, as to why we're impeaching the president?"
On Thursday, House investigators issued a subpoena in an attempt to compel Mulvaney to appear but that is not expected to change the dynamic.
Mulvaney's defiance comes as Democrats leading the inquiry prepare to release more transcripts from previous depositions. In a transcript released Thursday, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent described Trump's shadow efforts to force Ukraine's leadership to open investigations, including one into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Meanwhile, in a break with her father and leading congressional Republicans, the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, said it was "not particularly relevant" to know the identify of the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry.
Ivanka Trump, a senior White House adviser, spoke to the Associated Press during a trip to Morocco where she has been promoting a U.S. program aimed at helping empower women in developing countries.
She noted that the anonymous U.S. intelligence official whose complaint sparked the inquiry was not party to the controverisal July 25 call in which President Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
"This is a third party who was not privy to the call and did not have firsthand information," Ivanka Trump said. "That is what was the catalyst for all of this discussion. But to me, it's not particularly relevant aside from what the motivation behind all of this was."
President Trump has repeatedly calling for unmasking the whistleblower, and congressional Republicans have said they will seek public testimony from him. Democrats say his testimony doesn't matter because his complaint has been corroborated by several witnesses.
Earlier this week, Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, shared a post on Twitter that mentioned the alleged whistleblower by name.
Andrew Bakaj, a lawyer for the whistleblower, demanded in a letter to the White House dated Thursday that President Trump stop calling for the publication of the whistleblower's identity. The letter alleged that Trump's "reckless and dangerous" comments already had intimidated the whistleblower.
"Let me be clear: should any harm befall any suspected named whistleblower or their family, the blame will rest squarely with your client," said the letter, addressed to Pat Cipollone, counsel to the president, and copied to congressional leaders.
"I submit that it is in your client's best interest to cease and desist in calling for the public disclosure of my client's identity and to cease in rhetoric that may endanger their life and the lives of their family," Bakaj said in the letter to Cipollone. "Should anyone be physically harmed, my co-counsel, Mark Zaid, and I will not hesitate to take any and all appropriate action against your client."
As they sought to discredit the impeachment inquiry, Republicans continued to focus Friday on tweets from 2017 in which Zaid predicted Trump's impeachment.
"The whistleblower's attorney was calling for @realDonaldTrump's impeachment just 10 DAYS into his presidency," Republican National Committee Charwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted. "This has never been about facts - it's always been about overturning the 2016 election!"
The whistleblower’s attorney was calling for @realDonaldTrump’s impeachment just 10 DAYS into his presidency.— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) November 8, 2019
This has never been about facts — it’s always been about overturning the 2016 election!
Shortly afterward, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham echoed those remarks during an appearance on Fox Business Network.
"The fact that the whistleblower has now his attorneys who since the day the president took office were tweeting about a coup and how they had to get the president out of the office should be of concern to a lot of people," Grisham said.
Zaid referred to impeachment on Twitter in January 2017 after Trump fired Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to enforce executive policies.
Zaid responded to his Republican critics Thursday.
"I live in the United States. Not Nazi Germany. Not Stalinist Russia. Not North Korea," he tweeted in response to Trump's son Eric's suggestion that he go to prison. "Here, we have the right to object to the policies - and indeed the person - who holds the office of president. I rep a lawful #whistleblower," he added. "Which country do all of you want to live in?"
I live in the United States. Not Nazi Germany. Not Stalinist Russia. Not North Korea.— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) November 7, 2019
Here, we have the right to object to the policies - and indeed the person - who holds the office of president.
I rep a lawful #whistleblower.
Which country do all of you want to live in? https://t.co/rYv77jbRpU
This article was written by John Wagner, a reporter for The Washington Post. The Washington Post's Craig Timberg contributed to this report.