House questions Volker as impeachment probe ramps up

Lawmakers from three House committees on Thursday began questioning Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerCNN obtains audio of 2019 Giuliani call linked to Ukraine meddling allegations GOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports MORE, the Trump administration’s former special envoy to Ukraine, as Democrats accelerate their impeachment inquiry into 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

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 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, 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 MeadowsMeadows says Trump World looking to 'move forward in a real way' Trump takes two punches from GOP Watchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan acknowledges talking to Trump on Jan. 6 AP Fact Check rates GOP claim Pelosi blocked National Guard on Jan. 6 'false' Officers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder 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: JEDI axed | Pentagon defends Bagram exit | Military justice reform coming soon Military braces for sea change on justice reform Lawmakers warn of growing threats to US satellites from adversaries MORE (Ohio), an Intelligence member, and Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinSunday shows preview: Biden defends troop withdrawal in Afghanistan; COVID-19 impacting unvaccinated pockets Misled condemnation of the Lebanese Armed Forces will help Hezbollah New York GOP backs Zeldin for governor 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 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.) 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 SwalwellCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's riot lawsuit Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push MORE (Calif.), an Intelligence member who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race this summer; Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinHouse at war over Jan. 6 inquiry, mask mandate GOP Rep. Clyde defends 'normal tourist visit' comparison for Jan. 6 Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony MORE (Md.), a former constitutional law professor who serves on Oversight; and Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHouse bill targets US passport backlog Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe Tlaib, Democrats slam GOP calls for border oversight to fight opioid crisis 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 GiulianiCapitol insurrection hearing exposes Trumpworld delusions DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's riot lawsuit Bob Dole: 'I'm a Trumper' but 'I'm sort of Trumped out' 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.