The President’s Refusal to Allow Top Aides to Testify : T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, Counselor, Department of State

The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report includes Section II, The President’s Obstruction of the House of Representatives’ Impeachment Inquiry. Item #4 is The President’s Refusal to Allow Top Aides to Testify.    One of the twelve current or former Administration officials named in the report for refusing to testify under the President’s direction is T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, the Counselor for the State Department. The counselor position at State is not a legal position despite its title. It is an “Under Secretary-level principal officer” position. The incumbent serves the “Secretary as a special advisor and consultant on major problems of foreign policy and who provides guidance to the appropriate bureaus with respect to such matters. The Counselor conducts special international negotiations and consultations, and also undertakes special assignments from time to time, as directed by the Secretary.”
Excerpt from report:
At President Trump’s direction, twelve current or former Administration officials refused to testify as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry, ten of whom did so in defiance of duly authorized subpoenas. The President’s orders were coordinated and executed by the White House Counsel and others, and they prevented testimony from officials from the White House, National Security Council, Office of Management and Budget, Department of State, and Department of Energy.
[…]
In following President Trump’s orders to defy duly authorized Congressional subpoenas, several Administration officials who, to date, remain under subpoena may have placed themselves at risk of being held in criminal contempt of Congress.209 These witnesses were warned explicitly that their refusal to obey lawful orders to testify “shall constitute evidence that may be used against you in a contempt proceeding” and could also result in adverse inferences being drawn against both them and the President.210
T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, Counselor, Department of State
(see PDF pp 241-243)

On September 13, the Committees sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking transcribed interviews with Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl and other officials.271

The Committees received no direct, substantive response to this letter. On September 27, the Committees sent a letter informing Secretary Pompeo that Mr. Brechbuhl’s deposition was being scheduled on October 8, stating:

On September 13, the Committees wrote to request that you make State Department employees available for transcribed interviews. We asked you to provide, by September 20, dates by which the employees would be made available for transcribed interviews. You failed to comply with the Committees’ request.272

That same day, the Committees sent a letter directly to Mr. Brechbuhl seeking his appearance at a deposition on October 8.273

On October 1, Secretary Pompeo sent a letter to the Committees stating, “Based on the profound procedural and legal deficiencies noted above, the Committee’s requested dates for depositions are not feasible.”274

Later that day, the Committees sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan stating that the State Department “must immediately halt all efforts to interfere with the testimony of State Department witnesses before Congress.”275

On October 2, Mr. Brechbuhl’s personal attorney sent an email to Committee staff stating:

My law firm is in the process of being formally retained to assist Mr. Brechbuhl in connection with this matter. It will take us some time to complete those logistics, review the request and associated request for documents, and to meet with our client to insure he is appropriately prepared for any deposition. It will not be possible to accomplish those tasks before October 8, 2019. Thus, as I am sure that you can understand, Mr. Brechbuhl will not be able to appear on that date as he requires a sufficient opportunity to consult with counsel. Moreover, given the concerns expressed in Secretary Pompeo’s letter of October 1, 2019, to Chairman Engel, any participation in a deposition would need to be coordinated with our stakeholders.276

 

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Secretary Pompeo Swears-In Brian Bulatao as Foggy Bottom’s New “M”

 

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo swears in Brian Bulatao as the new Under Secretary of State for Management with T. Ulrich Brechbühl, State Department Counselor in attendance at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 17, 2019. [State Department photo by Michael Gross/ Public Domain]

Now that the new under secretary for management has been confirmed, it’s a good time to revisit Mr. Bulatao’s testimony before the U.S. Senate (see excerpt below).

The culture of empowerment created greater organizational agility and a workforce that was unleashed to take on problem sets in new ways. I certainly didn’t come up with every idea, instead I empowered our team to consider how we could do it better, fail faster, and take smarter risks. Across the board, we embraced a spirit of innovation in order to boost the speed and precision of a large organization operating in a dangerous and competitive environment.

If confirmed as the Under Secretary for Management, this is the same approach I intend to bring to the U.S. Department of State. The Department’s hard-working, patriotic, and dedicated teams deserve to have an organization that optimally utilizes their talents. And the American people must have confidence that the State Department makes the best use of their resources and provides the best practical support for our diplomatic initiatives that rely on the strength of our alliances, partnerships, and engagement.

If confirmed, I appreciate the broad management responsibility I will have for the Department’s more than 76,000 personnel – Civil Service, Foreign Service, and Locally Employed Staff – and my direct supervision over 12 bureaus and offices. These women and men serve our country in some of the most challenging places around the world, and risk their lives daily, whether serving in war zones, amidst criminal violence and disease outbreaks, and with the threat of terrorist attack. They work long hours, often separated from their families, to advance our nation’s foreign policy and support the work of diplomacy.

There is no question that the safety and security of our personnel and their families must be the highest priority. I know Secretary Pompeo cares deeply about and works hard to protect his people.

I will ensure that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security has the resources, tools, and technology and is fully integrated into Department decision-making, to most effectively perform this critical task.

I will work hard to ensure our people have secure new buildings where required, that are completed on time, on budget, and incorporate cutting-edge IT infrastructure to support the critical missions they execute globally.

If confirmed, I will seek more creative ways to staff the Department to meet today’s mission and be well positioned to meet the challenges of the future. This will include hiring the full range of expertise, from our diplomats and subject-matter experts, to our specialists in the field like medical services and facilities management, to our security personnel. Hiring the best of the best with diverse backgrounds and experiences is critical to our global mission and will be a top priority for me.

I am committed to advocating for a budget that fully funds the Department’s requirements and putting in place the appropriate oversight and metrics to ensure the Department meets its obligation to use taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively. I will support Secretary Pompeo in requesting funding that serves the national interest and will implement the appropriations law as passed by Congress.

Finally, if confirmed, I will help bring Department operations into the 21st century by modernizing its systems and programs. With so many challenges facing the United States around the world, our diplomacy demands every logistical, technological, and informational advantage we can muster. We must be aggressive in protecting our security, generating prosperity, and advancing our values. Having a State Department team that is empowered and equipped with the right tools to achieve the mission is an integral part of making that happen.

The full testimony is available to read in PDF here.

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