WASHINGTON — Democrats pressed forward with an impeachment even though they “never even saw the transcript” of the now-infamous call with Ukraine’s leader, President Trump fumed Tuesday.
But that transcript marks just the tip of the impeachment iceberg, now that Democrats have gotten clearance to proceed with an official inquiry on the possibility of booting Trump out of office from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Democrats will now set about combing through every inch of the scandal to build their case to the American public that this time Trump really has gone too far. That will mean hearings, witnesses, documents, subpoenas, legal briefs and heated arguments before judges about vexing Constitutional questions of the separation of powers.
Even Senate Republicans aren’t satisfied with Trump's offer to share the transcript. On Tuesday evening, in a rare show of bipartisanship, they joined with Democrats in unanimously asking for the release of the whistleblower's complaint, in order to better understand the scandal now engulfing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Democrats are trying to get to the bottom of an official complaint that Trump’s administration has pulled out all the stops to suppress. They hope to figure out whether Trump leveraged national security funds to force a foreign power to launch an investigation on potential 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden.
The initial whistleblower's complaint was filed to the intelligence community inspector general last month, but never went to Congress thanks to some fancy, and controversial, legal footwork from Trump’s Department of Justice.
Now, Democrats want to hear from the whistleblower himself. And they may be able to do just that within days.
House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff announced Tuesday that his panel is in touch with the whistleblower’s lawyer, and that the unnamed official could come forward to testify as soon as this week.
Democrats will press the official about Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s president on July 25, in which he reportedly pushed Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, some eight times, to investigate Biden.
That call happened days after Trump personally ordered that $400 million in Congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine be held up, in what Democrats argue was an attempt to leverage national security funds into a politically advantageous corruption probe.
Trump, in effect, may have tried to solicit election aid from a foreign power, the very allegation that launched Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.
Trump admitted slowing down the Ukraine funds earlier Tuesday, but claimed it was about trying to get other countries to foot more of the bill for the country’s security.
Democrats will also want to take a crack at Trump’s acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire.
Maguire is set to address the House under oath on Thursday, in what promises to be must-watch television. Democrats will push Maguire not just about the substance of Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, but also about whether his White House then tried to cover the whole thing up.
Maguire resisted turning over the whistleblower complaint on advice from Trump’s Department of Justice, which argued he could disregard the standard rules about sharing such information. The department’s Office of Legal Counsel reportedly determined the complaint didn’t rise to the level of an “urgent concern,” and therefore didn’t have to get handed over to Congress, but hasn’t publicly explained its rationale.
Due to appear the same day as Maguire Thursday, though in a closed session, is the inspector general who received the complaint. That would be Michael Atkinson, a Trump-appointed official widely regarded as a straight shooter.
Atkinson sent two urgent letters to congressional intelligence committees over the suppressed complaint, explaining why it “relates to one of the most important and significant of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”
Trump on Tuesday tried to paint himself as Mr. Transparency, pledging to release the Zelensky transcript in full and boasting it will remove any taint of wrongdoing on his part.
But House Dems want a lot more paperwork than just the transcript, now that an official impeachment inquiry is underway.
They’ve also demanded six categories of documents from the State Department, including copies of any State Department correspondence mentioning Hunter Biden or Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and the names of any official who assisted with the July 25 call.
If those documents aren’t turned over soon, they’ll follow up with subpoenas.
Trump, Biden and Ukraine
For his part, Trump has tried to make this scandal Biden’s problem — even while independent experts on Ukrainian affairs dismiss such accusations as unsupported.
Trump and Giuliani have repeatedly asserted, without any proof, that Biden’s push in 2016 to have the country’s top prosecutor replaced sprang from a corrupt motive.
At the time, Biden’s son held a paid position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company with a questionable past and links to the corrupt administration of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But experts on Ukrainian affairs say the prosecutor targeted by Biden, Viktor Shokhin, was slowing down anti-corruption investigations in Ukraine, not ramping them up. Biden’s stance against Shokhin was supported by European leaders and the International Monetary Fund, and can hardly be seen as outside the mainstream.
If Trump is found to have pressured Ukraine to give him dirt on the Biden family, however, while using national security funds as a bargaining chip, the fallout could imperil his administration as he heads into 2020 election season.
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses reporters as he arrives with first lady Melania Trump for the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)