A copy of a witness’s opening statement during the closed-door impeachment inquiry was given to the Washington Post before copies were provided to members of Congress and staffers engaged in the inquiry, a recently released transcript shows.
Witnesses’ opening statements have frequently been leaked to the media, allowing for their claims to reach the public uncontested before any other information from the closed-door testimonies.
A staffer for the Republican side pressed former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch during her October 11 closed-door deposition on how the Post may have gotten a copy of her opening statement, but her lawyers refused to let her answer.
During the deposition, Steve Castor, the staffer representing Republicans for the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked Yovanovitch for copies of her opening statement.
“I’m not sure if you brought copies of that, but it might be helpful for the members,” he said to Yovanovitch.
Her attorney, Larry Robbins, responded to Castor: “We’re happy to provide whatever you need.”
Castor responded: “You’re making some copies, OK. We heard during the break that the Washington Post has it and there’s all sorts of discussion about it, and so here in the secure environment, we — .”
Lawyer for Yovanovitch Rachel Li Wai Suen jumped in and said that an electronic copy of her opening statement was provided to the non-partisan House staff in charge of securing committee materials.
Castor continued, “Anyway, it’s apparently been provided to the Washington Post, so some of our members during the break asked me to ascertain if you know how that may have happened.”
Robbins, Yovanovitch’s attorney, refused to let her talk about how the Post might have gotten a copy and refused to answer questions about it himself. “Anything she would know about that, she would know through counsel, so she’s not going to answer that,” he said.
Castor then asked him if he provided it to the Post. Robbins responded, “I’m not going to answer that either.”
Castor asked him, “Why?” Robbins responded, “Because I’m not going to answer that.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) then asked if Robbins gave it to the Post and whether he believed it was something that would be supported by the committee.
Robbins refused to answer:
I’m sorry, I’m not going to engage in any answers regarding work product or attorney-client privilege, and I’m not the witness. So if you have another pending question for the ambassador, you should ask it.
Meadows then asked Yovanovitch if she was aware of anyone connected to her that might have given her opening statement to the Post.
Robbins refused to let her answer again. “Anything she would know regarding that, she would know through counsel, if at all, and she’s not going to answer that question.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) then asked whether his communications with the Washington Post would be protected by “attorney-client privilege.”
Robbins demurred again. “Anything that the witness knows, and I’m not saying she knows anything, but anything she knows, she would know through counsel, and she’s instructed not to answer that question.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) then asked Yovanovitch if she had spoken to the State Department about releasing her opening statement to the press. Yovanovitch said she had not talked to State.
However, when Jordan asked her if Robbins had talked to the State Department about releasing her opening statement to the press, her lawyer refused to let her answer.
Castor reminded Robbins that as part of the deposition rules there is a prohibition against disclosing the contents of the testimony.
Robbins retorted, “Yeah. I’m totally mindful of that.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is running the impeachment inquiry, said there is “no prohibition” on what Yovanovitch could say to members of the inquiry “or to the public.”
He said, however, “the members are still prohibited from discussing the contents of the deposition.”
When Zeldin asked Yovanovitch whether it was “appropriate” her opening statement be provided to the Post, she responded, “I think that there’s a lot of interest in this deposition.”
A Schiff staffer then intervened, saying said that a hard copy of her opening statement was being circulated to members of the inquiry, and it was “provided prior to the interview to the nonpartisan security staff of the House Intelligence committee,” but “they had not made sufficient copies at the time.”
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