House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said impeachment “may be the only remedy” if President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate one of his 2020 opponents, Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“If the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that conduct represents,” said Schiff, D-Calif., on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.
Days after news broke about an anonymous intelligence official who filed a whistleblower complaint involving a July 25 conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump urged Zelensky about eight times to investigate Biden’s son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company when Biden served as vice president.
Additionally, critics of the president suspect him of withholding congressionally authorized funds, $250 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, in an effort to push a foreign country to investigate a domestic political opponent and his family.
Despite demands from Congress, the White House has refused to release the whistleblower complaint and the call transcript.
“Clearly, the president is afraid for the public to see either one of those things,” said Schiff, who has demanded the contents of the complaint, which was flagged as an “urgent concern” and “credible” by intelligence Inspector General Michael Atkinson.
Biden on Saturday called for the release of the phone transcript and a congressional investigation, accusing Trump of “violating every basic norm of a president.”
“Trump’s doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum,” said Biden. “And he’s using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me.”
Before boarding a flight Sunday, Trump described to reporters the conversation he had with the president of Ukraine on July 25 as “warm and friendly,” adding that it was “largely congratulatory.”
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump said after suggesting that he mentioned the former vice president and Hunter in a phone call with the leader of Ukraine.
Later, in Houston, Trump reportedly said about the conversation, “There was no pressure. No nothing. That was not pressure. I know when I give pressure and that was not pressure.”
In defense of the White House’s refusal to release the contents of the call, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday, “Conversations with foreign leaders are supposed to be confidential” and argued that releasing the details of Trump’s conversation with Ukraine would set a “terrible” precedent.
But Schiff disagreed, saying that the details would not fall under executive privilege “if those conversations involve potential corruption or criminality or leverage being used for political advantage against our nation’s interest.
“This would be, I think, the most profound violation of the presidential oath of office, certainly during this presidency, which says a lot, but perhaps during just about any presidency. There is no privilege that covers corruption. There is no privilege to engage in underhanded discussions,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has resisted calls from members of her party to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, in a letter to colleagues Sunday warned that his administration “will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” if the whistle-blower is blocked from Congress.
“This violation is about our national security,” wrote Pelosi. “The Inspector General determined that the matter is ‘urgent’ and therefore we face an emergency that must be addressed immediately.”
Schiff, who alongside Pelosi said he has been “very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment,” said impeachment “would be an extraordinary remedy — remedy of last resort, not first resort” if the complaint and transcript confirm Trump did “try and get dirt” for political advantage during a presidential campaign.
“The president is pushing us down this road and if in particular — after having sought foreign assistance and welcomed foreign assistance in the last presidential campaign as a candidate, he is now doing the same thing again but now using the power of the presidency — then he may force us to go down this road,” Schiff said.
He added: “I’ve spoken with a number of colleagues over the last week and this seems different in kind and we may very well have crossed the Rubicon here.”
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