Democratic chairmen: Trump's 'treason' comments constitute 'reprehensible' intimidation

The Democratic chairmen of three House committees hammered President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE on Thursday over his comment suggesting a whistleblower who filed a complaint about his dealings with Ukraine was like a spy, arguing the remark is tantamount to "witness intimidation."

“The President’s comments today constitute reprehensible witness intimidation and an attempt to obstruct Congress’ impeachment inquiry,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelNYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney Democrats call on Blinken to set new sexual misconduct policies at State Department MORE (D-N.Y.), Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOfficers offer harrowing accounts at first Jan. 6 committee hearing Live coverage: House panel holds first hearing on Jan. 6 probe Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work MORE (D-Calif.) and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee MORE (D-Md.) said in a statement.

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“We condemn the President’s attacks, and we invite our Republican counterparts to do the same because Congress must do all it can to protect this whistleblower, and all whistleblowers. Threats of violence from the leader of our country have a chilling effect on the entire whistleblower process, with grave consequences for our democracy and national security.” 

The Democrats' statement comes after the president said at a private event Thursday that the whistleblower at the center of a complaint about Trump's efforts to push Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE was “almost a spy.”

“Basically, that person never saw the report, never saw the call, he never saw the call — heard something and decided that he or she or whoever the hell they saw — they’re almost a spy,” Trump said, according to audio obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” he continued. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

The back-and-forth over Trump’s comments mark the latest salvo amid growing scrutiny over Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the president's efforts to have Ukraine probe a political rival, a move Democrats argue bolsters their case for impeachment.

declassified version of the complaint released Thursday says that “multiple White House officials with direct knowledge” of the call expressed concern to the whistleblower that Trump was using his office for his personal political gain.

A reconstituted transcript of the conversation released by the White House also shows Trump asking Zelensky to investigate Biden’s role in pushing Ukraine to dismiss a prosecutor who was looking into a natural gas company on whose board his son, Hunter Biden, sat.

“There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great," Trump said on the July 25 call. "Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it... It sounds horrible to me.”

No evidence has emerged that Biden, the Democratic presidential front-runner, was acting with his son’s interests in mind.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE (D-Calif.) announced Tuesday that the House would begin an official impeachment inquiry against Trump amid concerns from some Democrats that Trump sought to leverage military aid to get Zelensky to launch the probe.