Calls for impeachment intensify after claims Trump sought info on Biden in exchange for Ukraine aid
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Lawmakers in Congress on Monday pressed for full disclosure of a whistleblower's complaint about President Donald Trump as Democratic calls for impeachment intensified over his conversation with Ukraine's leader.
Trump insisted he did nothing wrong.
Democrats, and some Republicans, urged the White House to be forthcoming amid reports that the president pressured Ukraine's leader to help investigate political rival Joe Biden at the same time the administration was withholding almost $400 million in aid to the Eastern European nation.
Trump's call to the foreign leader, and his subsequent comments about it Monday, raised further questions about whether the president improperly used his office to pressure another country as a way of helping his own reelection prospects. More House Democrats including a group of seven freshmen lawmakers who served in the military and national security are calling for his impeachment ahead of a closed-door meeting Tuesday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Trump's actions pose a new test for Congress' ability to provide a check on the White House.
Trump acknowledged the phone call and said he didn't want to give money to Ukraine if there were corruption issues.
"It's very important to talk about corruption," Trump told reporters as he opened meetings at the United Nations. "If you don't talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is, is corrupt?"
Later Monday, Trump denied telling the Ukraine president that his country would only get U.S. aid if it investigated Biden's son. "I didn't do it," he said.
Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate Biden and his son Hunter in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
The matter is under new scrutiny following the whistleblower's mid-August complaint, which followed Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The person who filed the complaint did not have firsthand knowledge of the call, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Lawmakers are demanding details of the complaint, but the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share that information, citing presidential privilege. He is set to testify Thursday before the House.
"Let's see the transcript," said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, about Trump's call with the Ukraine president.
The chairmen of the House intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Government Reform committees are threatening to subpoena Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if he does not produce information about whether Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, inappropriately tried to influence the Ukraine government for political gain.
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called on Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to investigate the whistleblower's complaint. In a letter to McConnell, he said that the Republicans' "see no evil, hear no evil" attitude toward the president's actions "is unacceptable and must change."
Schumer called on McConnell to take five specific steps, including issuing a subpoena to compel the whistleblower's complaint to be delivered to Congress. He said the White House should release transcripts of Trump's conversation with the Ukraine president and identify who in the administration sought to delay the money to Ukraine.
"The Republican-led Senate has remained silent and submissive, shying away from this institution's constitutional obligation to conduct oversight," Schumer wrote in the letter.
Still, Democrats themselves remained divided on moving forward with an effort to impeach Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted calls for impeachment and is sticking with her position that Congress must not start formal proceedings unless the American public demands it.
However, Pelosi said Sunday that unless the administration provides more information to Congress by the scheduled Thursday hearing at the intelligence committee, its officials "will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation."
More than half the House Democrats have said they support impeachment, and more are expected this week to publicly favor such an investigation, but others worry it is too politically divisive and would only alienate more centrist voters.
More than 10 lawmakers have moved closer to impeachment in recent days, including an influential group of centrist lawmakers from military and national security backgrounds who are now in Congress.
"If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense," the seven freshmen wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. "These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect."
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida doesn't think Trump's actions are grounds for impeachment, but said he wouldn't have called a foreign leader to discuss a rival.
"I don't think he should have raised the topic of Joe Biden with the Ukraine president," Rubio said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday the matter is best left behind closed doors in the classified setting of the intelligence committee, though he did push into the spotlight his own role in securing the Ukraine aid.
McConnell said he had been "personally pressuring" the Trump administration this summer in calls to Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper to release the U.S. aid money.
The Intelligence Committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said he needed more information. So did other Republicans.
"We need to get the facts," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said seeing the report and transcript "would be helpful."
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Sen. David Perdue of Georgia Trump allies declined to comment.
And Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he remains "very sceptical. I've seen this movie before. We have these breathless complaints about the president that turn out to be not true."
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the president's closest allies, urged Trump on Monday to be "as transparent as possible" and predicted the White House transcript would be released.
"I think he did nothing wrong and he has nothing to hide," Graham said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.
Trump said Monday he may, or may not, release details or a transcript of the call but has stressed that foreign leaders should feel free to speak frankly with an American president without fear that the details of their conversations will later be disclosed.
A person familiar with the matter has told The Associated Press that Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate Hunter Biden. The person wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Hunter Biden was hired by the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings in April 2014, two months after Ukraine's Russia-friendly former president was ousted by protesters and as Biden's father was heavily involved in U.S. efforts to support the new pro-Western government. The move immediately raised concerns that the Ukrainian firm, whose owner was a political ally of the ousted president, was seeking to gain influence with the Obama administration.
Trump and Zelenskiy plan to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week.
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