GOP Counsel Dodges Questions On Whether Trump Blocked Witnesses From Testifying

Stephen Castor suggested some witnesses didn't appear before the House because it's "really expensive to hire these outside lawyers."

The Republican counsel who testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Monday as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry danced around questions from Democrats about President Donald Trump blocking multiple witnesses from testifying before House investigators.

Stephen Castor, the lawyer representing Republicans on the House’s Judiciary and Intelligence committees, wouldn’t say whether the White House directed impeachment witnesses not to testify. In fact, Trump has ordered several key witnesses not to testify who either were on his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky or have firsthand knowledge of his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

But when Democratic counsel Barry Berke asked Castor to confirm that Trump blocked testimony from Robert Blair, an assistant to the president who was on the July 25 call, Castor tried to change the subject.

“Robert Blair ― I’m glad you brought him up ― ” Castor said before Berke interrupted and pressed him to answer the question.

The Republican counsel hesitated again, looking off into the distance.

“Yes or no?” Berke asked.

“I think he was allowed to come if agency counsel ― ” Castor replied.

Berke again asked him to confirm that Trump blocked him from testifying, but Castor wouldn’t oblige.

“I mean, it’s really expensive to hire these outside lawyers,” Castor said.

Minority Counsel Stephen Castor testifies during the House Judiciary Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry int
Minority Counsel Stephen Castor testifies during the House Judiciary Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 9, 2019.

Berke then asked him to confirm that Trump also ordered John Eisenberg, a deputy counsel to the president, not to testify. Castor, failing again to provide a yes or no answer, said Eisenberg presented “complexities.”

Asked two more times whether Eisenberg was ordered not to appear before House impeachment investigators, Castor offered a long pause.

“Um, he may have been able to come with agency counsel, but his testimony does present complexities,” he said.

Castor testified alongside Daniel Goldman, Democratic counsel for the House Intelligence Committee. Berke also testified as a witness before questioning and cross-examining the two other witnesses.

During his testimony, Castor also claimed Biden wasn’t a “leading Democratic contender” in the 2020 presidential race when Trump pushed Zelensky in July to investigate him. Biden has consistently led the polls since formally announcing his candidacy in April.

“I don’t know what President Trump believed or didn’t believe, but it’s too early,” Castor said. 

Asked if he was aware that Trump tweeted about Biden more than 25 times between January and July 25, Castor said he hadn’t seen “those tweets.”

“He does a lot of tweeting,” he said. “I think it’s pretty difficult to draw too many conclusions from his tweets or his statements at rallies.”

Castor later claimed that Trump hadn’t been asking Zelensky to investigate Biden at all, even though a rough transcript provided by the White House shows otherwise.

Democrats and Republicans disagree about whether the request is an impeachable offense, but neither party has disputed that the ask was made.

Castor suggested Democrats were “reading a little too much into” Trump’s call with Zelensky.

“I don’t think the president was requesting an investigation into Joe Biden,” he said. “He just mentions in an offhand comment.”