Richmond Times Dispatch: Senate Republicans to look into whistleblower complaint about Trump pressuring Ukraine

RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, JENNIFER HABERKORN, SARAH D. WIRE, and MOLLY O’TOOLE

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday the Senate Intelligence Committee would look into a whistleblower’s complaint that reportedly alleges President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine’s leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a possible Trump opponent in the 2020 presidential race.

But only a handful of Republicans demanded that the Trump administration turn over the whistleblower’s complaint to the panel.

Reports that Trump spoke to a foreign leader about his political rival — and has refused to hand over a whistleblower’s complaint about it — have put congressional Republicans in the politically perilous position of choosing whether to defend the president.

They have also energized Democrats’ impeachment investigation. Late Monday, half a dozen Democrats from competitive House districts who previously opposed impeachment said the allegations against Trump, if true, “represent an impeachable offense.”

McConnell said Monday that the Senate would move forward on a bipartisan basis, complaining that the Democratic-led House had “politicized” the issue.

Later this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee will attempt to privately interview the inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which received the complaint. The inspector general had determined that the complaint was serious and urgent enough that — by law — it should be shared with congressional intelligence committees. Of particular interest is a transcript of a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., said the acting director of national intelligence has refused to turn over the information.

Only a handful of Republicans criticized that decision and publicly called for the Trump administration to hand over the contents of the whistleblower complaint, or expressed concern about the seriousness of the allegations. Many other GOP lawmakers refused to weigh in, saying they didn’t know the full story.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called it “a very serious matter” and said determining what Trump and his attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said to Ukrainian officials “is critical.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she wanted to see the whistleblower’s complaint. “The law is clear that if the inspector general of the intelligence community received a whistleblower complaint that the IG deems is urgent, that that is to be reported to the leaders of the intelligence committee,” Collins said.

A small number of Senate Republicans expressed concern about the content of the allegations. Asked whether the president should be talking about political opponents with foreign leaders, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said, “Probably not.”

 

Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and a rare Republican who has openly criticized Trump, said lawmakers should see the whistleblower complaint. The former CIA agent announced last month that he would not seek reelection.

“The most important concern for me is that members of the intelligence community, and connected to the intelligence community, that they have a protected way to share information with the oversight committees,” Hurd said.

In a letter Monday to McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., warned that Republicans risked appearing “silent and submissive” if they failed to look into the matter, noting that the complaint “has been labeled ‘urgent’ and ‘credible’ not by Democrats, but by a senior-level Trump appointee.”

Trump has claimed that the whistleblower is partisan, tweeting Monday that the person — who has not been publicly identified — “doesn’t know the correct facts. Is he on our country’s side. Where does he come from.” But on Sunday, the president acknowledged that he brought up Biden during his conversation with Zelensky, insisting there was nothing inappropriate about it.

Some Republicans said Monday they were skeptical of the whistleblower’s complaint, echoing Trump’s criticism. “Is it a whistleblower or leaker?” asked Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I don’t know which. I just don’t think we know enough information.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he opposes releasing a transcript of the call because the president should be able to have private conversations with foreign leaders. “It’s a very dangerous precedent, and I think it’s going to really harm any president, whether it’s this president or future presidents, ability to talk to world leaders candidly,” Johnson said.

House Democratic leaders say that if Trump attempted to prod a foreign government to investigate his political rival and then tried to block Congress from learning about his actions, it will push their impeachment inquiries into a new phase. The House Intelligence Committee will attempt to question Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, on Thursday.

Three additional Democrats on Monday announced their support for an impeachment investigation. One of them, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., said the new allegations continued “a pattern of behavior that is corrupt at best, treasonous at worst, and puts our rule of law at risk.”

Another six freshmen Democrats, including lawmakers in some of the most competitive House districts in the country, warned that Trump’s actions, if proven, were impeachable. All six of the Democrats have national security backgrounds and their position is likely to weigh heavily on Democratic leaders who have been reluctant to move toward impeachment.

“If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense,” the lawmakers, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., and Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Three House committee chairman on Monday demanded that Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo turn over documents relating to the president and Giuliani’s alleged attempt to solicit the help of the Ukranians in the 2020 election. They warned that they would begin preparing subpoenas.

Among other things, Democrats want to know whether the Trump administration delayed about $250 million in military aid to Ukraine at the same time it was pressuring the country to reopen investigations into Biden and his son, Hunter.

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