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 TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE’s impeachment to the escalating Ukraine controversy.

Allegations that Trump sought to pressure Ukraine’s government into investigating former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll Ivanka Trump raises million in a week for father's campaign On The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election MORE months after the end of former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s probe have given new momentum to efforts to rally support for impeaching Trump.

Impeachment statements from Reps. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsIf we want change, young people have to do more than protest Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Chamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch 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.”


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 PelosiOn The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election Overnight Health Care: House Dem report blasts Trump coronavirus response | Regeneron halts trial of antibody drug in sickest hospitalized patients | McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 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 HimesHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Overnight Defense: Pentagon IG to audit use of COVID-19 funds on contractors | Dems optimistic on blocking Trump's Germany withdrawal | Obama slams Trump on foreign policy House panel urges intelligence community to step up science and technology efforts 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 KildeeLawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal Democrats set to hold out for big police reform More than 100 Democrats press Trump to extend jobless benefits 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 ClintonTrump may continue to campaign after Election Day if results are not finalized: report Hillicon Valley: Biden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked | Majority of voters in three swing states saw ads on social media questioning election validity: poll | Harris more often the target of online misinformation Analysis: Where the swing states stand in Trump-Biden battle 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. IsraelBiden's debate strategy is to let Trump be Trump A tearful lesson of 2016: Polls don't matter if people don't vote The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' 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.”


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 SchiffCIA impeachment whistleblower forced to live under surveillance due to threats: report In our 'Bizarro World' of 2020 politics, the left takes a wrong turn Greenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox 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) KhannaReestablishing American prosperity by investing in the 'Badger Belt' House Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Biden says he opposes Supreme Court term limits 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.”