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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 TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds 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 BidenKaty Perry and her 'Firework' close out inauguration TV special Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Tom Hanks: After years of 'troubling rancor,' Inauguration Day 'is about witnessing the permanence of our American ideal' 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 MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Trump leaves White House, promises to be back in 'some form' LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day McCarthy won't back effort to oust Cheney 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 TurnerOvernight Defense: Mike Rogers slated to be top House Armed Services Republican | Defense bill hits another snag | Pentagon dinged for 0M loan to trucking company using COVID funds Mike Rogers set to serve as top House Armed Services Republican Democratic lawmakers lambast Trump over Esper firing as GOP remains mum MORE (Ohio), an Intelligence member, and Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinWyoming county votes to censure Liz Cheney for Trump impeachment vote GOP divided over Liz Cheney's future READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results 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 SchiffBiden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis Angus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Schiff says 'massive intelligence and security failure' led to Capitol breach 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 compares Trump to bin Laden: They 'inspired and radicalized' Pelosi names 9 impeachment managers House Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump MORE (Calif.), an Intelligence member who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race this summer; Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinInauguration parties lose the glitz and glamour in 2021 This week: Tensions running high in Trump's final days Democratic lawmaker says 'assassination party' hunted for Pelosi during riot MORE (Md.), a former constitutional law professor who serves on Oversight; and Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyTrump's assault on the federal government isn't over LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to impeach Trump after Capitol insurrection Trump era bows out with scorched-earth drama in divided GOP 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 GiulianiTrump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Sore loser politics: A Mexican lesson about Trump Pardon talk intensifies as Trump approaches final 24 hours in office 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.