Whistleblower fuels impeachment talk

Whistleblower fuels impeachment talk
© Getty Images

Two swing-district lawmakers in the Twin Cities suburbs on Monday became the first Democrats to link President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 MORE’s impeachment to the escalating Ukraine controversy.

Allegations that Trump sought to pressure Ukraine’s government into investigating former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Democratic strategist: 'Medicare for All' exposes generational gap within party Yang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations MORE months after the end of former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s probe have given new momentum to efforts to rally support for impeaching Trump.

Impeachment statements from Reps. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsKudlow 'very optimistic' on USMCA prospects USMCA deal close, but not 'imminent,' Democrats say Democrats lead Trump by wide margins in Minnesota MORE and Angie Craig were notable not only for their tone but because the Minnesota lawmakers had resisted joining more than half the Democratic caucus in calling for an impeachment inquiry.

“It appears that our President encouraged the leader of Ukraine to investigate his political opponent, thereby inviting foreign interference in our democracy,” Phillips said. “If the reports are corroborated, we must pursue articles of impeachment and report them to the full House of Representatives for immediate consideration.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Craig followed a short while later.

“Yesterday, the President and his personal counsel confessed to asking the Ukrainian government to interfere with a political rival. Additionally, President Trump threatened to withhold military aid to our ally if they did not comply,” she said.

“We must safeguard our electoral process and our very democracy from outside threats,” she added. “For this reason, the current investigations into corruption must continue. And when there is an abuse of power of this magnitude, it is our responsibility to stand up for what is right. This is why I am calling to open impeachment proceedings — immediately, fairly, and impartially.”

The statements suggest Democratic leaders like Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills MORE (Calif.) will be under increasing pressure to back impeachment unless they’re able to calm the calls for immediate action.

Liberal Democrats have long been frustrated with the pace of the party’s ongoing investigations into allegations of presidential wrongdoing, arguing there is ample evidence of misconduct to launch a formal impeachment without delay.

The new reports — indicating Trump had appealed to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son over corruption allegations — has only fueled that message, and at a time when tensions between impeachment supporters and opponents are escalating on Capitol Hill.

“Extorting a foreign leader for the purposes of getting that leader to do your political work to try to find dirt on your opponent is extortion. Of course it’s an impeachable offense,” Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesPelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers This week: Impeachment inquiry moves to Judiciary Committee Juan Williams: Trump has nothing left but smears MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Monday.

“I can’t tell you the House will move into impeachment mode right away,” he added, “but this really ups the ante.”

Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeOvernight Energy: Dems unveil first bill toward goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 | Oversight panel asks EPA for plans on 'forever chemicals' | EPA finalizes rule easing chemical plant safety regulations Oversight Democrats ask EPA to turn over plans for regulating toxic 'forever chemicals' Mark Ruffalo's environmental drama 'Dark Waters' gets DC premiere MORE (D-Mich.), a member of leadership and another impeachment supporter, offered a similar assessment, saying the latest Ukraine revelations point to an “immediate need” for “Congress to assert itself.”

“The Constitution has a prescribed process for dealing with a president that ignores the law, and it’s an impeachment,” he said Monday in a separate CNN interview. 

Kildee said Democrats need to press ahead with their investigations and lawsuits seeking disputed information from an uncooperative administration — the strategy favored by Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.

“But that does not mean we ignore what is in black letters in the Constitution,” Kildee added, “and that is that we have the authority to exercise our responsibility through that [impeachment] process.

“And I don’t see any alternative to it.”

While the calls from impeachment supporters have grown louder over the Ukraine saga, their ranks have made only incremental gains.

But Monday's statements from Phillips, who flipped a GOP seat last year in a district that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonYang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations Top GOP legislator in California leaves party GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE won by 9 percentage points in 2016, and Craig, whose district went for Trump by 1 point, signals a broadening of support that now includes lawmakers from battleground districts.

The number of Democratic lawmakers supporting an impeachment inquiry now exceeds 130 lawmakers — still well shy of the 218 votes needed to pass impeachment articles on the House floor.

Some moderate Democrats — who have been loath to discuss impeachment out of concern over the political backlash in their districts — sidestepped the issue this week, emphasizing the need to see more details about Trump’s call with Zelensky before landing on a response. Democrats are particularly interested in the allegations that Trump sought to leverage U.S. military assistance in return for Ukraine’s investigation of the Bidens.

“Without seeing the whistleblower report, no one can make a judgement on whether the allegations are impeachable,” former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment Republicans need to face reality with hypocrisy on impeachment Elise Stefanik tests impeachment waters for moderates in Congress MORE (D-N.Y.) said Monday by email. 

Trump, while conceding he broached the Biden corruption question in his phone conversation with the Ukrainian leader in July, has vehemently denied any quid pro quo related to U.S. military aid.

“I did not make a statement that, ‘You have to do this or I’m not going to give you aid,’ ” Trump told reporters Monday in New York at the United Nations General Assembly meeting. “I wouldn’t do that.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Yet Democrats are hardly ready to take the president at his word, pressing the White House for the release of the call’s transcript, while demanding that Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, release the related whistleblower report during his scheduled appearance before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

“If Trump refuses to disclose, it certainly makes the allegations even graver,” said Israel, who led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011-2015.

Pelosi has long rejected efforts to impeach Trump, citing the lack of support from either the public or congressional Republicans. But the Trump administration’s refusal to release the whistleblower report prompted the Speaker to send a stark warning to the White House on Sunday.

“If the Administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the President, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to members of her caucus.

She is not alone in escalating the rhetoric in recent days. Pelosi loyalists who have resisted impeachment are indicating the Ukraine episode may be their tipping point.

“I have been very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump denies report that he still uses personal cell phone for calls Schiff asks Pence to declassify more material from official's testimony Schiff: Impeachment testimony shows Trump 'doesn't give a shit' about what's good for the country MORE (D-Calif.) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “But if the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that that conduct represents.”

Like Schiff, the chairs of the oversight panels in the House have been particularly careful not to endorse impeachment. But the Ukraine reports have sparked new Democratic concerns that Trump has ignored the lessons from Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference — which warned of a continued foreign influence over critical domestic affairs — and instead sought foreign help in taking down a top political rival.

“We very well may have crossed the Rubicon here,” Schiff later added.

According to The New York Times, Schiff and Pelosi discussed their Ukraine messaging plan before making the remarks. Rank-and-file members quickly took notice.

“There has been a shift. And I think Congressman Schiff, in particular, talking about impeachment is a big deal,” Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Impeachment fight shifts to House Judiciary Democrats hit gas on impeachment George Soros, Charles Koch foundations help launch pro-peace think tank MORE (D-Calif.) told MSNBC on Sunday.

Democrats are also armed with the supporting assessment of intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, a Trump appointee, who deemed the whistleblower’s complaint as both credible and an urgent concern.

But there’s no indication that Pelosi is ready to launch head-first into the impeachment process she has long resisted, and it’s unclear whether Democrats will be able to ride the new momentum if the White House runs out the clock by stonewalling their efforts to obtain information about Trump’s contacts with Ukraine.

While Maguire is set to testify on Thursday, some are wary the White House will move to exert privilege over his testimony, as it has done for other current and former administration officials.

Democrats could take Maguire to court to challenge claims of privilege, but doing so could take months. And the back and forth dispute between Maguire and the inspector general is not subject to judicial review.

Still, Schiff and other Democrats have indicated plans to go to court in order to fight Maguire over the complaint.

“I would imagine if it comes down that we have to go to court to get this and that we will have a very good case to seek a temporary restraining order or a mandate or some urgent form of relief,” Schiff said last week after Atkinson testified about the handling of the complaint. “The inspector general has said this cannot wait.”