House questions Volker as impeachment probe ramps up

Lawmakers from three House committees on Thursday began questioning Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports Live coverage: Senators enter second day of questions in impeachment trial MORE, the Trump administration’s former special envoy to Ukraine, as Democrats accelerate their impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards 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 BidenBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll GOP set to release controversial Biden report Can Donald Trump maintain new momentum until this November? 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 MeadowsAirline CEOs plead with Washington as layoffs loom Trump reacts to Ginsburg's death: 'An amazing woman who led an amazing life' Trump carries on with rally, unaware of Ginsburg's death MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanSunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election House passes resolution condemning anti-Asian discrimination relating to coronavirus Republicans call for Judiciary hearing into unrest in cities run by Democrats 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 TurnerHispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates Overnight Defense: Trump announces 'snapback' of sanctions on Iran | Uniformed personnel at Dem convention under investigation | Netanyahu calls reported F-35 deal 'fake news' Democrats go big on diversity with new House recruits MORE (Ohio), an Intelligence member, and Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinDCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program Overnight Defense: House panel probes Pompeo's convention speech | UN council rejects US demand to restore Iran sanctions | Court rules against Pentagon policy slowing expedited citizenship The Hill's 12:30 Report: Republicans conduct in-person convention roll call 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 SchiffTop Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence Overnight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: House to vote on military justice bill spurred by Vanessa Guillén death | Biden courts veterans after Trump's military controversies 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 SwalwellSwalwell calls for creation of presidential crimes commission to investigate Trump when he leaves office 'This already exists': Democrats seize on potential Trump executive order on preexisting conditions Swalwell: Barr has taken Michael Cohen's job as Trump's fixer MORE (Calif.), an Intelligence member who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race this summer; Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Trump payroll-tax deferral for federal workers sparks backlash Congress must enact a plan to keep government workers safe MORE (Md.), a former constitutional law professor who serves on Oversight; and Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyJudge issues nationwide injunction against Postal Service changes House panel advances bill to ban Postal Service leaders from holding political positions Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' 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 GiulianiDemocrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Grand jury adds additional counts against Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and and Igor Fruman Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates 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.