Democrats on Wednesday demanded the White House declassify a document from one of Vice President Mike Pence’s aides who listened in on his call last year with the president of Ukraine, arguing that the public would be able to learn more about White House attempts to pressure the country for a political favor if the document is made public.
The party’s House impeachment managers argued Wednesday before the Senate that the document — supplemental material provided to the House by Jennifer Williams, a special adviser on Europe and Russia to Pence — should not be classified and alluded that the vice president’s office was attempting to conceal it because it was embarrassing.
“This supplemental testimony will allow the Senate to see further corroborative evidence as it considers articles of impeachment,” a Democratic official working on the Senate trial said in a statement to reporters. “If declassified, it would provide the public further understanding of the events in question.”
Pence spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sept. 18, and Williams testified that it was a “very positive” follow-up to a meeting the pair had earlier that month. But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in December that Williams provided lawmakers additional classified evidence about the Pence phone call after that deposition. Schiff called on Pence at the time to make public the document, saying there was “no legitimate basis” for the vice president to assert it was classified.
It’s unclear what is in the document, but Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), one of the party’s impeachment managers who has reviewed it, alluded that its contents contained damaging information about the call between Pence and the Ukrainian president.
“Now I’ve read that testimony. Now I’ll just say: A cover-up is not a proper reason to classify a document,” Lofgren said during the Democrats’ oral arguments on Wednesday. “We urge the senators to review it, and we ask again that the White House declassify it. There is no basis to keep it classified, and again, in case the White House needs a reminder, it’s improper to keep something classified just to avoid embarrassment.”
Lofgren continued to note that Pence has said he has no objection to the White House releasing the full transcript of his call with Zelensky. But despite that assertion, his office has refused multiple times to declassify Williams’s supplemental testimony about the call.
At the end of the Democrats’ first day of oral arguments, Chief Justice John Robert said a “single one-paged classified document identified by the House managers for filing with the secretary of the Senate” would be made available to all senators to review in a classified setting.
But Democrats have continued to call for its public release.
Trump’s pressure campaign was the basis for two articles of impeachment passed by the House last month charging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Senate is holding a trial on those articles to determine if he should be removed from office.
As part of the House investigation, lawmakers heard from a parade of current and former White House officials who described Trump’s demand that the Ukrainian leader announce an investigation into a political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.
Williams was one of a handful of national security aides who listened in on Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky in real time, and she told House lawmakers in closed-door testimony that she believed President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign was “unusual and inappropriate.”
“I found the specific references to be — to be more specific to the president in nature, to his personal political agenda, as opposed to a broader … foreign policy objective of the United States,” Williams told House investigators, according to a transcript from her deposition.