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White House lawyer and three other witnesses are 'no-show' at impeachment probe

US President Donald Trump hosts a Keep America Great rally at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, on September 16, 2019. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Washington, United States Nov 04, 2019, 10.02 PM (IST)

A White House lawyer suspected of involvement in the Ukraine scandal refused to testify Monday in the congressional impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, as three other witnesses were also expected no-shows.

John Eisenberg, Trump's deputy counsel for National Security Affairs, defied a summons to appear before the three House panels conducting the investigation, a sign of renewed stonewalling by the White House as Democrats press to take the inquiry into a new public phase.

Trump said early Monday he felt there was "no reason" for witnesses to answer questions by investigators, in particular about his call with his Ukrainian counterpart that is at the heart of the probe.

"What I said on the phone call with the Ukrainian President is 'perfectly' stated," Trump said on Twitter.

"There is no reason to call witnesses to analyze my words and meaning. This is just another Democrat Hoax that I have had to live with from the day I got elected." 

Eisenberg, who by mid-morning had yet to appear for a scheduled 9:00 am closed-door deposition, is reported to have been on the July 25 call.

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At least four national security officials raised concerns with Eisenberg about Trump's dealings with Ukraine before his call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and immediately after it, the Washington Post reported last month.

Investigators are seeking greater access to officials with knowledge of Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating one of his chief political opponents, Democrat Joe Biden, who is running for president in 2020. 

Robert Blair, an assistant to the president and senior advisor to the acting chief of staff, was also due to appear before investigators at 9:00 am but did not arrive.

Trump senior associate counsel Michael Ellis and White House budget office associate director for energy Brian McCormack were due for afternoon depositions but gave no indication they would appear.

The Trump-Ukraine scandal came to light when a complaint by an anonymous whistleblower who works in the US intelligence community was made public in September.

Trump and his Republican loyalists have repeatedly pressed for the whistleblower's identity to be revealed, despite laws protecting government officials who raise the alarm about alleged wrongdoing, and for him or her to testify.

Several current and former diplomats and officials have corroborated the essence of the whistleblower complaint, that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats.