House questions Volker as impeachment probe ramps up

Lawmakers from three House committees on Thursday began questioning Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerDemocrats say they have game changer on impeachment Volker pressed Zelensky to convince Trump he would launch investigations before call: Report Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations MORE, the Trump administration’s former special envoy to Ukraine, as Democrats accelerate their impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Support for impeachment inches up in poll Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' 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 BidenSupport for impeachment inches up in poll Overnight Defense: Trump's Syria envoy wasn't consulted on withdrawal | McConnell offers resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria | Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations Democrats say they have game changer on impeachment 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 MeadowsMulvaney faces uncertain future after public gaffes Testimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense Obama: Cummings showed us 'the importance of checks and balances' MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump 'lynching' comparison draws backlash from lawmakers Trump urges GOP to fight for him Trump embarks on Twitter spree amid impeachment inquiry, Syria outrage 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 TurnerHouse questions Volker as impeachment probe ramps up Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   GOP battens down the hatches after release of Trump whistleblower complaint MORE (Ohio), an Intelligence member, and Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinTrump embarks on Twitter spree amid impeachment inquiry, Syria outrage Graham huddles with House Republicans on impeachment strategy State Dept. official told to lay low after voicing concerns about Giuliani: Dem lawmaker 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 SchiffThe strange case of 'Dr. Trump' and 'Mr. Tweet' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump faces backlash for comparing impeachment to 'lynching' House Republican: Schiff 'should not be leading this whole inquiry' 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 SwalwellBill Press: Mulvaney proves need for daily briefings Mulvaney admission deals blow to White House impeachment defense Testimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense MORE (Calif.), an Intelligence member who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race this summer; Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinEx-Trump aide on Russia testifies for 10 hours as part of impeachment inquiry Oversight panel to subpoena Trump officials next week over deportation deferrals Democrats plow ahead as Trump seeks to hobble impeachment effort MORE (Md.), a former constitutional law professor who serves on Oversight; and Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyOvernight Energy: Watchdog warns of threats to federal workers on public lands | Perry to step down on December 1 | Trump declines to appear in Weather Channel climate special Perry won't comply with subpoena in impeachment inquiry Trump confirms Rick Perry to step down as Energy secretary 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 GiulianiOvernight Defense: Trump's Syria envoy wasn't consulted on withdrawal | McConnell offers resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria | Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations Democrats say they have game changer on impeachment READ: Diplomat describes pressure put on Ukraine to open 'investigations' 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.