GOP lawmakers guide a White House grappling with closed-door impeachment
Posted November 1, 2019 6:03 p.m. EDT
CNN — As House Democrats build their case for impeaching President Donald Trump through a succession of closed-door depositions, a pair of Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill are quietly offering guidance to the White House lawyers responsible for crafting the President's defense strategy.
Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who have attended the depositions, have been informally helping attorneys in the White House Counsel's office sort through publicly reported aspects of the testimony to the extent they can, according to four administration officials.
The conversations are primarily aimed at helping White House lawyers get a better grasp of the allegations being leveled at Trump and potential weak points as the White House begins to craft a legal strategy to defend Trump during his impeachment trial, two administration officials said.
White House lawyers have not been permitted to attend the closed-door depositions -- a top GOP complaint about the impeachment inquiry -- and people familiar with the matter said the conversations are aimed at helping the White House gauge the seriousness of leaked allegations from the testimony that have painted a damning picture of the President's conduct.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Meadows said he has only shared "broad characterizations" and is "not sharing specifics" of the testimony with the White House, pointing to House rules preventing him from disclosing details of the testimony, which are held in secure rooms called Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, or SCIFs. When some witnesses -- such as US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland -- have backed up aspects of the President's defense of his conduct, he has pointed that out.
"When the Democrats come out and say, 'Oh this was broad, sweeping, very damning deposition,' and running with headlines that I think are counter to what actually happened in a secure location," Meadows said. "I will oftentimes say, 'listen, based on what I've heard and based on where I've been on all of this I would suggest that was a mischaracterization.' "
Meadows and Jordan are among the only Republican lawmakers who have attended almost every minute of each deposition, affording them unique insights into the breadth of the testimony.
"Jim Jordan and I have tried to abide by the rules as much as we possibly can," Meadows said.
Jordan told CNN he has "never divulged information to the White House that should not be divulged."
"I will not answer questions that in any way can get to the substance of these depositions," Jordan said.
In public, Meadows and Jordan have been cautious not to divulge any substantive information from the depositions, but they have on occasion touted in broad strokes testimony that would bolster the President's case.
On Thursday, Meadows emerged from National Security Council senior director Tim Morrison's deposition and called his testimony "very damaging to the Democrats' narrative."
Meadows has frequently been spotted in the West Wing, where officials say he has also met with Trump and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
One official said the White House is also communicating with other lawmakers beyond Jordan and Meadows to help shape strategy and keep a pulse on the fast moving developments.
The White House Counsel's office has been busy conducting an internal review of the handling of Trump's July call with Ukraine's president and the timeline of events surrounding the call and the temporary hold on nearly $400 million of security aid to Ukraine.
The President has been adamant that he does not want a "war room" set up to defend him, like President Bill Clinton set up at the White House when he faced impeachment.
The White House has also slow-walked the hire of a communications strategist to beef up its messaging operation at a time when Trump allies are attempting to inject a sense of urgency in the West Wing. White House officials have said former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh is expected to be hired in that role, a likely move that has been welcomed by those allies clamoring for a bolstered effort.