House investigators pressed forward with their impeachment inquiry on Friday, issuing subpoenas to two Office of Management and Budget officials, one of whom has vowed they won't cooperate with the Democrat-led probe.
The move came as President Donald Trump repeatedly insisted to reporters that he had done nothing wrong in pressing Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. He also praised his embattled personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as a "great crime fighter."
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said Democrats are "trying to make us look as bad as possible" with the ongoing inquiry, Reports The Washington Post.
Closed-door depositions are scheduled to resume Saturday after a two-day pause with an appearance by a Foreign Service officer stationed in Kyiv, who is expected to testify on efforts of Giuliani and others to oust the previous U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
The three panels conducting the impeachment inquiry want Russell Vought, the acting director of the OMB, and Michael Duffey, the agency's head of national security, to testify early next month.
Vought said in a tweet earlier this week that neither he nor Duffey would testify.
At issue is whether the Trump administration withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine as leverage to get it to investigate the president's domestic political rivals.
Meanwhile, Trump said he wasn't worried about growing criminal investigations around Giuliani, because "Rudy is a great gentleman. He's been a great crime fighter, he looks for corruption wherever he goes."
The president continued to vigorously defend Giuliani, adding that he's "a fine man, he was the greatest mayor in the history of New York, and he's been one of the greatest crime fighters and corruption fighters."
"Rudy Giuliani is a good man," Trump said.
There have been questions recently about whether Trump will keep Giuliani as his lawyer given Giuliani's prominent role in seeking help from Ukraine in investigating the Bidens, which is at the center of the House's impeachment inquiry.
Also Friday, in a eulogy delivered at the funeral of the late congressman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., Hillary Clinton recalled that Cummings, at the end of his life, said: "I am begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on, because if you want to have a democracy intact for your children and your children's children, in generations yet unborn. We have got to guard this moment. This is our watch."
Cummings was then, as Clinton was now, speaking about Trump and the House impeachment inquiry. Cummings was one of the chairmen leading that effort.
Clinton, the former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, said Cummings had "little tolerance for those who put party above country or partisanship above truth."
She received rousing applause when she compared the Maryland Democrat to the Old Testament prophet of the same name, who "stood against corrupt leadership of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel."
Also Friday, the group representing government inspectors general said in a letter that the intelligence community whistleblower's complaint about Trump's phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart should have been turned over to Congress, and the Justice Department was wrong to block it.
The letter from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency asserts that the intelligence community inspector general was right to want to get the complaint in lawmakers' hands because it represented an "urgent concern," and the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion that blocked its transmission was "wrong as a matter of law and policy."
Signed by dozens of inspectors general from an eclectic mix of government agencies, it asks Steven Engel, who heads the Office of Legal Counsel, to withdraw or modify the opinion.
"If intelligence community employees and contractors believe that independent IG determinations may be second guessed, effectively blocking the transmission of their concerns to Congress and raising questions about the protections afforded to them,they will lose confidence in this important reporting channel and their willingness to come forward with information will be chilled," the group wrote.
The letter is likely to fuel allegations that the Justice Department sought to bury the complaint on specious legal grounds to protect the president. Justice Department officials have defended their handling of the matter, saying the complaint was more properly handled as a criminal referral because the complaint was about someone not inside the intelligence community.
Earlier, a congressional aide confirmed the next slate of witnesses to appear before House investigators next week.
The committees will first hear on Monday from Charlie Kupperman, Trump's deputy national security adviser, who worked alongside former national security adviser John Bolton.
Then on Tuesday, Alexander Vindman, European affairs director at the National Security Council will appear. Vindman was in the U.S. delegation who attended Zelensky's inauguration ceremony in May.
And on Wednesday, Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, will testify, probably about what the Pentagon knew about the White House's decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine.
Finally, on Thursday, Tim Morrison, the National Security Council's Europe and Eurasia director, will face questioning. Acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. told investigators that Morrison was on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.
Taylor said he spoke to Morrison several times about his concerns that Trump was using the aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.