As Impeachment Probe Starts New Phase, Trump Promises Another Transcript

WASHINGTON (Reuters) —
trump ukraine
President Donald Trump (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday dangled a new line of defense a day before Congress’s impeachment inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine goes public, promising to release details about another call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Trump over the weekend said he would likely release the transcript of that conversation on Tuesday, describing it to reporters as “very important,” before saying on Monday that he would release it “some time this week.”

Early on Tuesday, he continued to suggest it would be released “before week’s end” but gave no other details.

As the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry were set to begin on Wednesday, the Republican president laid out his defense in a series of tweets early on Tuesday, after slamming the probe and the Democrats conducting it in other posts Monday night.

The investigation, formally launched six weeks ago by Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, has shadowed Trump’s presidency with the threat that he could be removed from office even as he seeks re-election next year.

He is the fourth U.S. president to face impeachment. None were removed from office, although Richard Nixon resigned as he faced almost certain impeachment in 1974 over the Watergate scandal.

Democrats are investigating whether there are grounds to impeach Trump over his July 25 request, in a phone call to Zelenskiy, that the latter investigate a domestic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

That call prompted a whistleblower complaint that led Democrats to launch the probe in September into whether Trump abused his power by withholding nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine to pressure the vulnerable U.S. ally.

The transcript Trump said he would release is from a call with Zelenskiy on April 12, after the Ukrainian was elected president but before he took office. The White House did not release a readout of that conversation when it took place.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans on the House panels conducting the impeachment inquiry, in a memo to party leaders reviewed by Reuters, said weeks of closed-door testimony have not established that Trump committed an impeachable offense.

Witnesses in the probe so far, in hundreds of pages of testimony transcripts released in recent days, have highlighted serious concerns raised by senior State Department and other officials over Trump and his administration’s handling of Ukraine.

For the past two weeks, House investigators have been releasing transcripts of interviews conducted behind closed doors with witnesses, including diplomats and security aides, about dealings with Ukraine by administration officials and the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

On Monday, the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees released transcripts of interviews with one official from the Department of Defense and two from the State Department.

In her testimony, senior Pentagon official Laura Cooper detailed confusion and concern in the U.S. national security community after the White House blocked nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine without explanation.

“All of the senior leaders of the U.S. national security departments and agencies were all unified in their – in their view that this assistance was essential,” Cooper said, according to the transcript.

Trump has intensified his attacks on the investigation as public hearings approach. He issued a series of impeachment-related tweets late on Monday, including accusing Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, of fabricating transcripts.

There has been no suggestion by any witness or Republicans on the three panels that the transcripts were inaccurate.

House Democrats consider the open hearings that will start on Wednesday as crucial to building public support for a vote on articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump.

If that occurs, the 100-seat Republican-controlled Senate would hold a trial, but Republicans have so far shown little interest in removing Trump from office.

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