Lawyers for the United States CIA officer whose whistleblower complaint helped ignite an impeachment inquiry into the United States President, Donald Trump have asked Congress whether their client could submit testimony in writing instead of appearing in person, according to people familiar with the matter.
The request reflects concerns about whether the whistleblower could testify to Democrats and Republicans without revealing his identity and fears that doing so would lead to it being publicly leaked, jeopardising his personal safety. The intelligence committees haven’t yet responded to the inquiry about potential written testimony, the people said.
Spokeswomen for the House and Senate intelligence committees didn’t respond to requests to comment.
In other developments, House committees sent a subpoena to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, asking him to produce by Oct. 18 documents related to his interactions with Mr Trump, State Department officials and others.
The committees want information from Mr Perry about any role he played in conveying Mr Trump’s wishes to Ukraine’s president, and matters related to a Ukrainian state-owned energy company.
The whistleblower’s complaint alleges that Mr Trump sought to use the powers of his office to push Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and that White House officials acted to conceal evidence of the president’s actions. It said it drew from testimonials of several unidentified U.S. officials who expressed concern about Mr Trump’s conduct to the whistleblower.
Two congressional aides said they expect Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, to be deposed as scheduled on Friday, despite the White House’s declaration this week that it will not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
Mr Trump removed her from her post in May after months of complaints from political allies, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that she was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate Mr Biden.
Ms Yovanovitch hasn’t responded to requests to comment.
Ten Senate Democrats wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, seeking information on his role in the recall of Ms Yovanovitch. The lawmakers cited an August report from the State Department inspector general on political retaliation against career employees and urged Mr Pompeo to support department staffers.
They asked Mr Pompeo to respond by Oct. 16 to a series of questions about his actions and those of his department regarding Ms Yovanovitch.
Negotiations between the whistleblower’s legal team and the intelligence committees over his potential testimony have played out for weeks, largely out of public view. During that time, Mr Trump and his allies have attacked the whistleblower and those who supplied information for his complaint as treasonous, asserting they have partisan motives.
“Why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him,” the president wrote on Twitter last week.
The Trump administration on Tuesday blocked congressional testimony by another diplomat seen as central to the Ukraine controversy, U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
The Democratic chairmen of three House committees, in a letter dated Wednesday, also asked for documents and testimony next week from Fiona Hill, who until earlier this year was Mr Trump’s top Russia expert on the National Security Council staff.
Negotiations over the whistleblower’s testimony stem from fears among Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee that Republicans would quickly attempt to disclose the complainant’s identity, the people familiar with the matter said.
Written answers to questions would be in lieu of an in-person meeting with staff or lawmakers on the intelligence committees, or one that would involve the whistleblower appearing remotely and using technology like voice modulation software to conceal his identity, the people familiar with the matter said.
Such measures would be considered extraordinary. A former congressional intelligence official who worked on whistleblower issues said he could recall no precedent for such steps, adding that there also had never been a whistleblower complaint as high-profile as the one regarding Mr Trump’s actions concerning Ukraine.
Any meeting with lawmakers likely would need to take place in a secure room—known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF—given the sensitivity of the information at issue, according to national security lawyers and people familiar with the matter.
While those rooms are available on Capitol Hill, appearing there likely would pose additional challenges to protecting the whistleblower’s anonymity given the number of people, especially reporters, in the halls of Congress. One alternative that has been discussed is using a SCIF at an executive branch agency, people familiar with the matter said.