Amid impeachment inquiry, U.S. trade officials in Ukraine for talks

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish headed the U.S. side last year, when the talks took place in Washington. But Gerrish, a political appointee, has given the reins this year back to Mullaney, a career USTR official who headed the U.S. delegation in 2017.

On Thursday, the top Democrats on the Senate Finance and Foreign Relations committees asked U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for information on whether the White House interfered with his efforts to restore some trade benefits for Ukraine that Trump suspended in December 2017.

That followed a Washington Post story last month, which said Lighthizer was discouraged from submitting the recommendation by then-national security adviser John Bolton on the grounds that Trump was unlikely to approve it.

In their letter to Lighthizer, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) asked for information on why Lighthizer twice decided not to submit his recommendation to restore some of Ukraine’s benefits and whether he actually submitted it a third time before Trump took action last week.

They also asked whether Trump had ever asked Lighthizer to convey the president’s interest in Ukraine launching an investigation into the activities of any of his political opponents.

It’s not yet clear whether House investigators will seek to speak with Lighthizer or any other USTR personnel as part of their impeachment probe.

USTR has not yet issued any response to Wyden and Menendez’s letter, or to an earlier letter from Wyden about whether Trump had asked China for a similar investigation as part of the U.S.-China trade negotiations.