Democrats claimed to find new momentum Friday in their impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpTop US diplomat suggested he could ‘quit’ over Ukraine dealings READ: Trump officials’ texts discussing Ukraine House Democrats release Trump officials’ text exchanges discussing Ukraine MORE after the top watchdog of the nation’s intelligence community briefed lawmakers on his investigation into allegations that Trump sought foreign help to boost his 2020 campaign.
During nearly seven hours of testimony to members of the House Intelligence Committee, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general (IG) of the intelligence community, outlined the details of his probe into the complaint from an anonymous government whistleblower at the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
The whistleblower alleged that Trump had threatened to withhold U.S. military assistance to Ukraine unless President Volodymyr Zelensky launched an anti-corruption investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTop US diplomat suggested he could ‘quit’ over Ukraine dealings House Democrats release Trump officials’ text exchanges discussing Ukraine Sasse breaks with Trump’s call for probe: ‘Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth’ MORE, one of Trump’s chief political adversaries heading into next year’s election.
Democrats on the Intelligence panel provided few details of Atkinson’s testimony, but said it confirmed crucial — and damning — components of the July 25 Trump-Zelensky phone call, a summary of which was released last week by the White House.
“While we cannot get into the substance, we explored with the IG through documents and testimony the reasons why he found the whistleblower complaint to be both urgent and credible,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTop US diplomat suggested he could ‘quit’ over Ukraine dealings House Democrats release Trump officials’ text exchanges discussing Ukraine Sasse breaks with Trump’s call for probe: ‘Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth’ MORE (D-Calif.) said afterward in a statement. “Now that we have all seen the call record, we can see that the IG’s determination was correct in both respects.”
Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesFive notable moments from the whistleblower complaint hearing Live coverage: House panel to hear about whistleblower complaint Whistleblower fuels impeachment talk MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the Intelligence panel, said Democrats are getting plenty of help from the president himself as they pursue their impeachment probe. He pointed to Trump’s entreaty Thursday for both Ukraine and China to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter.
“Every day that goes by the president further implicates himself. Yesterday, publicly, he asked the Chinese for help,” Himes said. “The more we learn, the more we learn that everything that was in that whistleblower’s complaint has corroboration.”
Republicans, meanwhile, called for more details from Schiff following a New York Times report this week saying the whistleblower reached out to a member of Schiff’s staff before filing the complaint. The staffer suggested the whistleblower find a lawyer and meet with an inspector general to file a complaint.
“The only way that we will be able to get that information is from the [Intelligence Committee] majority themselves. They are fact witnesses in the same investigation that they are now running,” said Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: Senate passes bill to boost cyber help for agencies, businesses | Watchdog warns Energy Department failing to protect grid | FTC sues Match for allegedly conning users Senate approves bill to boost cyber assistance for federal agencies, private sector Schiff: Trump’s Ukraine call ‘a classic mafia-like shakedown’ MORE (R-Texas), a member of the panel.
“Nowhere else in the United States of America can you be called a fact witness and the prosecutor or investigation in anything, much less the investigation to remove the president from office,” Ratcliffe said.
Schiff maintained that it is not unusual for whistleblowers to contact congressional committees and that standard procedures were followed.
He said that without those procedures, “no whistleblower could contact Congress, and no committee could conduct an investigation.”
Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchSenators call for more automakers to join emissions deal with California House Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment Overnight Health Care: Oversight chair plans to call drug executives to testify on costs | Biden airs anti-‘Medicare for All’ video | House panel claims Juul deliberately targeted kids MORE (D-Vt.), another member of the Intelligence Committee, also pushed back against the GOP’s process criticisms — but from a different angle. The identity and credibility of the whistleblower is essentially insignificant, he argued, if the allegations the source proffered have already been confirmed by the White House’s own public summary of the Zelensky call.
“The questions that a lot of my Republican colleagues had went to the credibility of the whistleblower and a lot of the process things. But that’s all been bypassed by the fact that the White House released the readout of the … conversation,” Welch said.
“The credibility of the whistleblower and the IG report have been solidly confirmed in the readout of the discussion between our president and the president of Ukraine,” he added.
The briefing with the inspector general marked the end of a whirlwind week for the House impeachment inquiry.
It also came a day after Trump openly encouraged Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens.
“They should investigate the Bidens,” Trump said of the Ukrainian government while speaking to reporters Thursday. “Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”
Most Republicans have remained silent or defended Trump’s public comments. But a few criticized the president, including Sens. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSasse breaks with Trump’s call for probe: ‘Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth’ Impeachment threatens to drown out everything Trump congratulates China on anniversary as GOP lawmakers decry communist rule MORE (Neb.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTop House Democrat: Trump did ‘on camera’ what Romney warned about 9 conspiracy theories impeachment will expose and debunk Impeachment threatens to drown out everything MORE (Utah) and retiring Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGOP group calls out five House Republicans to speak up on Ukraine What’s causing the congressional ‘Texodus’? Democrat running for Hurd’s seat in Texas raises M in third quarter MORE (Texas).
House committees have been moving aggressively in recent days to demand documents and witnesses for the impeachment inquiry.
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee, in consultation with the Foreign Affairs and Oversight panels, issued a subpoena to Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiREAD: Trump officials’ texts discussing Ukraine House Democrats release Trump officials’ text exchanges discussing Ukraine Warren calls for transcript of Trump’s call with Chinese leader to be released MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer, to provide documents by Oct. 15 relating to Giuliani’s involvement in pressuring Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden.
The committees also requested depositions in the next two weeks with three of Giuliani’s business associates.
And on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHouse Democrats release Trump officials’ text exchanges discussing Ukraine Overnight Defense: Pentagon didn’t listen in on Ukraine call | Questions linger over delayed aid | State formally approves M Ukraine arms sale Trump recalled Ukraine ambassador after complaints from Giuliani, other allies: report MORE warned that officials from his agency would not appear for requested depositions due to insufficient time to prepare. That came in response to a subpoena last week for documents and requests for the witness interviews.
Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerTrump declares ‘case closed’ after text messages reveal officials pressed Ukraine on inquiries The Hill’s Morning Report — Trump broadens call for Biden probes Top US diplomat threatened to quit over Ukraine dealings MORE, who served as the special envoy to Ukraine until his resignation last week, still appeared for a 10-hour deposition on Thursday, in which he provided a series of text messages between himself, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Andrey Yermak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, Giuliani and William Taylor, a top official at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, is scheduled to appear for a deposition with lawmakers on Oct. 11. It’s unclear when the other officials requested for depositions, including Sondland, might appear.
On Wednesday, the three committees released a draft subpoena that was formally issued Friday for the White House to hand over documents related to Trump’s calls with the Ukrainian president, efforts to conceal those calls and the discussions about withholding aid to Ukraine.
On Friday, the committees sent a letter to Vice President Pence requesting documents related to his involvement in Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Democrats seized on the text messages provided by Volker as evidence that Trump administration officials pushed Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and made it a condition for a White House visit.
“Heard from White House – assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington,” Volker wrote in one message.
Later on, Taylor is shown expressing alarm over withheld U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
In an exchange on Sept. 9, Taylor said: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland replied that he believed Taylor was “incorrect about President Trump’s intentions.”
“The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The president is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign,” Sondland said.
Trump, meanwhile, escalated his attacks on Schiff on Friday evening by tweeting a video that opens with an image of Pinocchio.
“LYIN’ SHIFTY SCHIFF!” Trump wrote.