House Democrats launch probe into whether Trump, Giuliani pressured Ukraine to target Biden

House Democrats are launching a broad investigation into whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE, his personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Giuliani associate says he sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate Bidens MORE and others sought to exert pressure on the Ukrainian government to help Trump get reelected in 2020 by targeting a possible political opponent, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Trump DACA fight hits Supreme Court Juan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete MORE.

Three House committees sent joint letters to White House and State Department demanding documents related to whether Trump and Giuliani sought to pressure Ukraine to target Biden, a 2020 Democratic White House hopeful.

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“A growing public record indicates that, for nearly two years, the President and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, appear to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity,” the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs panels wrote in a joint statement. 

“As the 2020 election draws closer, President Trump and his personal attorney appear to have increased pressure on the Ukrainian government and its justice system in service of President Trump’s reelection campaign, and the White House and the State Department may be abetting this scheme,” they continued.

Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates MORE (D-Calif.), Oversight Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat Elijah Cummings's widow 'thinking carefully' about running for his old seat Trump's criminal justice reform record fraught with contradiction MORE (D-Md.) and Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse Democrats pull subpoena for ex-Trump national security official House Democrats ask Mulvaney to testify in impeachment inquiry Republicans look to expand impeachment strategy amid release of transcripts MORE (D-N.Y.) demanded documents related to these matters no later than September 16.

Biden's campaign on Monday responded with a statement that blasted Trump, accusing him of soliciting foreign interference as both a candidate and the president.

“Putting himself before his country, Donald Trump solicited foreign interference in the 2016 election.  His campaign’s leadership also met with a foreign national offering 'high level and sensitive information' as 'part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,'" Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said. "Now he is abusing the office of the presidency and jeopardizing national security aid to a key ally in order to pressure them to prop-up a comprehensively discredited conspiracy theory that The Washington Post editorial board has labeled 'bogus on its face.'"

Bates added, "This is beneath us as Americans, and it reinforces a truth that Trump and his allies have made patently clear for months: he is terrified of facing Joe Biden."  

The announcement of the probe comes after The Washington Post’s editorial board reported late last week that Trump is using $250 million in U.S. military aid as leverage to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into opening a corruption probe into Biden, who is currently seen as a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Giuliani, according to reports, wants to see whether the former vice president’s diplomatic efforts in Ukraine had an improper influence in his son getting a role with a gas company in the country. Giuliani also reportedly pressed Andriy Yermak, a top Zelensky representative, to investigate whether Ukraine sought to hurt Trump’s campaign in 2016.

Giuliani told The New York Times in August that he was acting as a private citizen when he held phone calls and had an in-person meeting with Yermak. He has claimed that he was taking up the matter to help the country fight against corruption, but doing so highlights how Giuliani has inserted himself into international affairs and used his status as the president’s personal lawyer to help his boss politically.

“I can’t really evaluate that — whether my involvement in it makes it worse or better,” Giuliani told the Times in an interview last month, acknowledging that he “strongly urged” Yermak to “just investigate the darn things.”

“I can’t see how advocating for an investigation of two alleged crimes puts too much pressure on them, other than to do the right thing,” he added.

Yermak, Democrats note in their letter, has publicly stated that he was not sure "whether Mr. Giuliani was representing Mr. Trump in their talks.”  

Giuliani, who said the State Department was aware of his meetings with the Ukrainian representative, would not tell the Times whether the president signed off or knew about this latest effort.

CNN reported late last month that while the Pentagon reviewed the suspension of Ukraine’s military aid and recommended that it be lifted, the White House has continued to claim that such funds are under review.