House questions Volker as impeachment probe ramps up

Lawmakers from three House committees on Thursday began questioning Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP chairmen seek interview with Obama officials as part of Biden-Ukraine probe Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war Senate confirms Brouillette to replace Perry as Energy secretary MORE, the Trump administration’s former special envoy to Ukraine, as Democrats accelerate their impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' MORE

Volker, who resigned his post last week, was one of the figures named in the whistleblower complaint indicating that Trump had pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate corruption allegations against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team MORE, while delaying hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid that had been approved by Congress.

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The notion that Trump would enlist the help of a foreign leader to gain a political advantage over a domestic rival outraged Democrats, who have heightened their investigative scrutiny of the president and could be drafting impeachment articles before the end of the year. 

In a week when Congress is officially on recess — and the halls of the Capitol would typically be empty — scores of reporters, photographers and cameramen packed the halls outside the closed-door meeting with Volker. In attendance were members of three House committees: Intelligence, which is leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump; Foreign Affairs; and Oversight and Reform. 

By Thursday morning when Volker’s deposition began, the media presence dwarfed that of the lawmakers trickling into the secure meeting space in the basement of the Capitol.

Two Trump allies, Reps. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Republicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Trump's legal team gets set for impeachment trial MORE (R-Ohio), were spotted walking into the meeting separately; both are former chairmen of the conservative Freedom Caucus and are senior members of the Oversight and Reform Committee.

Others Republicans seen headed to the deposition were Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerCNN analyst says GOP lawmaker 'mansplained' to her on-air Meadows says Republican colleagues 'wrong' for suggesting Trump's phone call was inappropriate Republicans preview impeachment defense strategy MORE (Ohio), an Intelligence member, and Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Both sides of the aisle call for local, state, federal cooperation on homelessness Trump tweets American flag amid reports of strike against Iranian general MORE (N.Y.), who sits on Foreign Affairs.

In a statement Thursday morning, Turner disclosed that the first hour of the deposition consisted of staffers for Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Trump knocks authors of 'A Very Stable Genius': 'Two stone cold losers from Amazon WP' Democrats push back on White House impeachment claims, saying Trump believes he is above the law MORE (D-Calif.) questioning Volker. Turner praised Volker as an “incredible diplomat” and slammed Schiff’s impeachment probe.

“It is deeply unfortunate and regrettable that Schiff’s show trial investigation has clearly affected Volker’s ability to advance U.S. interests with Ukraine. It is my strong belief that Volker would not have been involved in nor permitted anything inappropriate, let alone illegal, in his service to our country,” Turner said. “Today he continued his legacy of integrity under questioning from Schiff’s staff. I do not believe that Volker’s testimony advanced Schiff’s impeachment agenda.”

The Democrats on hand included Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Enes Kanter sees political stardom — after NBA and WWE Swalwell pens op-ed comparing Trump impeachment to XYZ Affair MORE (Calif.), an Intelligence member who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race this summer; Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinCongressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal endorses Sanders Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial questions; civil Democratic debate MORE (Md.), a former constitutional law professor who serves on Oversight; and Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyTrump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE (Va.), a Foreign Affairs member.

The first lawmaker seen leaving the meeting, Raskin, declined to comment. Connolly left soon after, saying he needed to attend a town hall in his district but would not answer any questions about Volker.

Far from shying away from the Ukraine allegations, Trump has defended himself by going on offense. Even as Thursday’s deposition was underway in the Capitol, the president urged both Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens. 

“I would think that if they were honest about it they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

And Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiParnas attorney asks William Barr to recuse himself from investigation Poll: 51 percent of Americans say Senate should convict and remove Trump Hypocrisy is the currency of the realm for GOP in the age of Trump MORE, began to tweet out screenshots of text messages between Giuliani and Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who now heads the McCain Institute. 

In one such text message, Volker tried to arrange a meeting in Madrid between Giuliani and Zelensky adviser Andriy Yermak.

Volker’s deposition was expected to run well into Thursday afternoon.

—Updated at 11:58 a.m.