President Donald Trump faces new peril heading into this week - not just from Democrats seeking to impeach him but from his own administration, as there are now at least two whistle-blowers coming forward to talk about his actions.
There’s doubt over whether the Trump administration will let several witnesses speak to House panels this week as planned, and signs some Republican lawmakers are growing restive about what else might surface regarding Trump’s requests of foreign leaders.
Lawyers representing an intelligence official who filed a formal complaint over the president’s July phone call with the president of Ukraine, in which Trump pushed the Ukrainian government to dig up damaging information about a political rival, said on Sunday they’re now representing multiple whistle-blowers. It wasn’t clear how many more there are.
A second whistle-blower has first-hand knowledge that supports the complaint filed by the first official and has spoken to the inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community, said Mark Zaid, one of the lawyers representing the whistle-blowers. The second individual hasn’t filed a separate complaint, Zaid said.
Revelations about multiple whistle-blowers raise the stakes for Trump as House Democrats prepare to privately depose more current and former officials about the circumstances surrounding the call in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The Trump administration is still trying to form a strategy for how it’s going to handle the House investigation. The president has insisted he’s done nothing wrong, but he’s also made clear that he doesn’t trust the House Democrats running the impeachment inquiry and has been daring them to hold a vote on opening impeachment proceedings.
The House panels subpoenaed the White House for documents on efforts by Trump and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, to pressure Ukraine into opening a probe of the Bidens. Trump must decide whether to stonewall the various House panels - as he’s suggested - or provide the documents by the Oct. 18 deadline.
It’s also unclear what kind of damaging information the new whistle-blower has - or if any others may emerge. But Trump aides dismissed the revelation of a new possible complaint.
“It doesn’t matter how many people decide to call themselves whistle-blowers about the same telephone call -- a call the president already made public -- it doesn’t change the fact that he has done nothing wrong,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
Democrats pursuing impeachment have accused the president of leveraging his power to target a political opponent.
“The evidence of wrongdoing by Donald Trump is hiding in plain sight,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “The president’s own words in the public domain has indicated that he doesn’t think there’s any problem in soliciting foreign interference.”
House Democrats are still trying to arrange a time to have the original whistle-blower testify and will almost certainly want to hear from others.
In the next few days, they’re poised to meet with diplomats, including Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was reportedly removed at the urging of Giuliani, who has no official role in the government - because she failed to facilitate an investigation of Biden.
Other invited witnesses include Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and State Department officials including George Kent, who oversees U.S. policy toward Ukraine; Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union; and Ulrich Brechbuhl, a confidant of Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.
Trump was widely criticized last week after he called on China to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter. The comment, made to reporters outside the White House, was a bridge too far for at least two Republican senators: Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who wrote that “Chinese commies” shouldn’t carry the water for the U.S., and Susan Collins of Maine, who said Trump made “a big mistake.”
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah slammed Trump for a “brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine.” For his pains, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate earned a weekend of anger from Trump, who tweeted that Romney was a “pompous ‘ass’” who should himself be impeached. It illustrated the risk of GOP lawmakers crossing a president who, according to opinion polls, remains extremely popular with Republican voters.
“Republican leaders and members of the Congress, both Senate and the House, are holding back, because they’re terrified of what will happen to any one of them if they speak up,” Colin Powell, President George W. Bush’s secretary of state, said Sunday on CNN.
Trump’s usual White House surrogates, such as Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway and Mick Mulvaney, were absent from the airwaves on Sunday. The president’s congressional allies mostly didn’t defend his statements during appearances on talk shows. Instead, they attacked the process Democrats are following in their impeachment proceedings, suggested that some of what Trump has said isn’t serious, and even demanded that whistle-blowers be subpoenaed to testify in public.
Trump said on Twitter last week he wants to unmask the whistle-blower. He also suggested the people involved had been “spying” and threatened “big consequences.”
Following suit, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the whistle-blowers -- whose identities are protected by law -- should be interviewed in public and under oath. Graham suggested he would subpoena them if necessary.
“I’m going to insist upon that the whistle-blower - one or two, whatever - they come forward, under oath, so the public can judge their credibility,” Graham said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
One of Trump’s staunchest Republican allies, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, repeatedly declined to defend Trump’s suggestion that China investigate the Bidens. The president wasn’t being serious, Jordan said. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri agreed, saying that Trump “loves to bait the press.”
Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin took on the entire intelligence community in a contentious exchange with moderator Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Asked if he trusted the FBI and the CIA, Johnson responded, “No I don’t.”
Trump claims that Biden improperly helped his son Hunter profit from business deals in Ukraine and China. The allegations related to Ukraine have been discredited, and those related to China aren’t supported by publicly known details. Biden’s 2020 campaign has dismissed the allegations as being without merit.
Biden, whose status as the 2020 Democratic front-runner has slipped as Trump and other Republicans look to flip the narrative on Ukraine, pushed back late Saturday. In a Washington Post opinion piece, Biden said Trump is pushing “debunked conspiracy theories and smears against me and my family.”
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