A federal judge is weighing whether to order the State Department to release internal communications between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and two of three men designated by President Trump to steer Ukraine policy — potentially sensitive records at the heart of an ongoing House impeachment inquiry.
U.S. District Judge Christopher R. “Casey” Cooper of Washington on Tuesday heard arguments in a public-records lawsuit seeking communications by Kurt Volker, former State Department envoy to Ukraine, and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, with other State Department officials including Pompeo.
Volker, Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry called themselves the “three amigos,” and other U.S. diplomats said the trio was tasked by the administration with pushing Trump’s policies on Ukraine, bypassing and at times running counter to traditional diplomatic channels.
A watchdog group, American Oversight, in May asked the State Department for records related to alleged efforts by Trump and his administration to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, and his son Hunter, events that are the subject of a House impeachment report released Tuesday.
The Trump administration has declined to release records to the House, as part of the White House’s blanket refusal to cooperate in the impeachment probe. However, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) empowers judges to order the release of documents requested by members of the public, and federal lawsuits to enforce such requests can move much more quickly through the courts than battles over congressional subpoenas.