House Democrats subpoena White House to file papers in Trump impeachment inquiry

© Reuters. President Donald Trump attends the Young Black Leadership Summit

By Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday summoned the White House documents they want to see as part of their impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

The chairmen of three House committees said they want documents related to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that is at the center of their investigation.

All three said they were forced to issue the subpoena after the White House failed to produce the documents they requested in a Sept. 9 letter.

“We deeply regret that President Trump has put us, and the nation, in this position, but his actions have left us no choice but to issue this subpoena,” said Representatives Elijah Cummings of the Oversight Committee, Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee. and Eliot Engel of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

They gave the White House until October 18 to produce the information, including who else besides Trump was on the phone call with Zelenskiy.

“This subpoena changes nothing, just more document requests, lost time and taxpayer dollars that will ultimately show that the president did nothing wrong,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

White House attorneys believe Trump, a Republican, may ignore lawmakers’ demands until the Democratic-controlled House conducts a full house vote to formally approve the impeachment inquiry, according to a person familiar with the affair.

Previously, the committees asked Vice President Mike Pence to turn over documents related to a meeting he had with Zelenskiy and the call between Zelenskiy and Trump.

Pence was given until October 15 to produce any records related to the July call and a meeting he had with Zelenskiy on September 1.

According to a partial transcript of the call, Trump asked Zelenskiy for the “favor” of investigating former US Vice President Joe Biden, one of the main contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and his son, Hunter Biden, who had been a member of the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

At the time, the Trump administration was withholding hundreds of millions in aid for Ukraine and Democrats said they suspect Trump was using U.S. foreign policy and taxpayer money for his personal political gain. Trump is running for re-election.

“Recently, public reports have raised questions about any role it may have played in conveying or reinforcing the president’s stern message to the Ukrainian president,” Cummings, Schiff and Engel wrote in a letter to Pence.

A Pence spokeswoman said the broad nature of the request showed it was not “serious.”

When Pence met with Zelenskiy, the two discussed the $ 250 million in security assistance that the United States Congress had approved but that the Trump administration had not disbursed.

COMPLAINANT

The content of the Trump-Zelenskiy call was revealed by a member of the intelligence community who filed a whistleblower complaint and remains anonymous. Trump has said he wants to know the identity of the whistleblower.

Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said he believed the identity of the whistleblower should be kept secret even from panel members.

“I think the less we know about that person, the more protected he will be,” Krishnamoorthi told Reuters.

A second intelligence official, who has more direct information about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine than the first whistleblower, is also considering filing a whistleblower complaint, the New York Times reported, citing two people briefed on the matter.

The second official is among those interviewed by the intelligence community’s inspector general to corroborate the original whistleblower’s allegations, one of the people said, according to the Times.

Inspector General Michael Atkinson testified before a closed-door session of the House Intelligence Committee on Friday.

The investigation could lead to the passage of articles of impeachment, or formal charges, against Trump in the House. Then a trial would take place in the United States Senate on whether to remove him from office. Republicans who control the Senate have shown little appetite for toppling Trump.

A stash of diplomatic texts received by Democrats as part of their impeachment inquiry showed that US officials pressured the Ukrainian government to launch investigations that could benefit Trump’s personal political agenda in exchange for a meeting of the leaders of the two countries.

Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, delivered the messages to House committees in a closed-door meeting Thursday, and the presidents released them later that day.

ROMNEY PUSHES BACK

Trump has called Biden and his son “corrupt,” but has shown no evidence to back him up. On Thursday, the president took a further step in his attacks on Biden when he asked China to investigate the former vice president and his son, who had business interests there.

US Senator and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Friday that it was “horribly wrong” for Trump to push other nations to investigate Biden.

“When the only US citizen President Trump singles out for the China investigation is his political opponent in the middle of the Democratic nomination process, credulity is tested by suggesting that he is not politically motivated,” Romney said on Twitter.

Trump said on Friday that he would not link a long-awaited trade deal with China to his desire for Beijing to investigate Joe Biden.

“One thing has nothing to do with the other,” he said.

Biden leads the majority of opinion polls among the 19 Democrats seeking the party’s nomination. His campaign has criticized Trump’s efforts as desperate.

In a sign of how Kiev will handle the investigations being monitored in Washington, Ukrainian prosecutors said they would review 15 old investigations related to Burisma’s founder, but added that they were not aware of any evidence of wrongdoing by Biden’s son.

The White House plans to argue that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, must have the full House vote to formally approve an impeachment inquiry, said a source familiar with the effort.

Without a vote, White House attorneys believe that Trump, who has called the impeachment inquiry a “hoax,” may ignore lawmakers’ requests, the source said, meaning that federal courts would presumably have to make a decision and potentially delay the march to impeachment.

A letter from the White House arguing that Pelosi must hold a House vote will likely be sent to Capitol Hill next week, an administration official said.