The House Intelligence Committee chairman said Congress may need to move forward with the “extraordinary remedy” of impeachment against Donald Trump as Democrats on Capitol Hill face increased pressure to launch formal proceedings against the president.
Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, described new allegations against Mr Trump as potentially the “most profound violation of the presidential oath of office” after it was reported last week the president repeatedly urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call earlier this year to launch an investigation into the son of his potential 2020 opponent, Joe Biden.
“There is no privilege that covers corruption,” Mr Schiff said in an interview on Sunday with CNN’s Jake Tapper, while calling for the release of a whistle-blower complaint which reportedly focused on that phone call, as well as a transcript of the conversation between the two presidents.
When asked if the allegations may lead to an “impeachable offence,” Mr Schiff said: “I have been very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment … But if the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader to do something illicit that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is co-equal to the evil that that conduct represents.”
Joseph Maguire, Mr Trump’s acting director of National Intelligence, has refused to hand over the whistle-blower complaint in question to Congress, despite the inspector general for the US intelligence community determining the complaint was credible and of “urgent concern” in a letter sent to Mr Schiff earlier this month.
The House Intelligence Committee has launched a probe into the whistle-blower complaint and its possible implications in the 2020 elections.
Reports have alleged the president called on Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, who worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father served as vice president, at least eight times during his call with Mr Zelensky.
There has been no reported evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the younger Mr Biden, however, and his role on a board for the Ukrainian energy firm during his father’s tenure in the White House was entirely legal, according to analysts.
Mr Trump spoke to Mr Zelensky on 25 July – the day after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified in Washington about the president’s alleged obstruction of justice – at a time when the US was reportedly withholding financial aid to Ukraine meant to defend the country from Russia.
Mr Schiff said on Sunday he could not be sure whether the whistle-blower complaint is in fact related to the president’s call with Mr Zelensky, as he has not yet been provided access to the document.
“I don’t know whether the whistle-blower complaint is on this allegation but if it is – and even if it isn’t – why doesn’t the president just say, ‘release the whistle-blower complaint?” He said. “Clearly, he’s afraid for the public to see either one of those things.”
He added: “We’re determined to make sure that the public does, that the nation is protected, that is the president is brow-beating a foreign leader at the same time he was withholding vital military assistance that Ukraine needed to defend itself against Russia, and trying to get dirt on his political opponent in yet a second campaign, then the country needs to know about it and we need to take defensive steps.”
The whistle-blower scandal has put renewed pressure on Democratic leaders like Mr Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support impeaching the president.
In a letter released over the weekend, Ms Pelosi warned the administration was entering “a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” if it did not release the whistle-blower complaint to Congress.
House Democrats have previously said they are in the midst of an official impeachment investigation into the president, with the first hearing arriving last week as the president’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski spoke to the House Judiciary Committee. Formal impeachment proceedings in the House have not yet begun.
Mr Biden slammed the president over allegations stemming from the July phone call when speaking to reporters on the campaign trail in Iowa on Saturday.
“Here’s what I know: I know Trump deserves to be investigated,” the former vice president said.
“You should be asking him the question, why is he on the phone with a foreign leader, trying to intimidate a foreign leader, if that’s what happened,” he added. “Trump’s doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum, and he’s using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me.”
Mr Trump has defended himself from the accusations and denied reports he urged Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden.
“Now that the Democrats and the Fake News Media have gone ‘bust’ on every other of their Witch Hunt schemes, they are trying to start one just as ridiculous as the others, call it the Ukraine Witch Hunt, while at the same time trying to protect Sleepy Joe Biden,” the president tweeted, adding: “Will fail again!”
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