White House expects two new hires to bolster Trump impeachment defense: official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is expected to recruit two advisers to take a more aggressive posture in defending President Donald Trump in the congressional impeachment inquiry over his dealings with Ukraine, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi listens to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions as he speaks to the National Association of Attorneys General 2018 Winter Meeting in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

With the first public hearings here set for next week in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives, the White House has been conducting an internal review to determine the events surrounding Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymr Zelenskiy, the official said.

A second senior administration official said the review of the events, which led to a whistleblower complaint followed by House committees hearing testimony in October, was not an investigation but rather a “fact-finding mission.”

“We’re getting ready to go on offense,” the official said. “We’ve been on defense.”

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, has provided some of the most damaging testimony to date. He said that Trump made the release of nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine contingent on Kiev publicly declaring it would carry out politically motivated investigations demanded by Trump against former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Democrats accuse Republican Trump of abusing his power. Trump denies wrongdoing.

The two outside advisers are former Florida state attorney general Pam Bondi, a Trump ally, and former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh, who had resigned earlier this year after joining the administration from its early days.

“Pam Bondi and Tony Sayegh are expected to join the White House communications team to work on proactive impeachment messaging and other special projects as they arise,” the first administration official said.

Trump had voiced opposition to bringing in aides, believing he did nothing wrong and that to bring in new advisers would make him look weak, a source familiar with the situation said.

But White House adviser Jared Kushner pushed for bolstering the communications effort for two or three months, the source said.

One Trump ally said the White House defense thus far has lacked a consistent storyline and that officials “need to do a timeline, a complete dossier on exactly what happened, when and by whom, and make sure it’s accurate and stick to it.”

A source close to the White House said part of the review is looking at the role of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who told Congress he was concerned that Trump’s call with Ukraine’s leader threatened national security. Trump accused Vindman of being biased, calling him a “Never Trumper.”

Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Grant McCool