The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who is overseeing the congressional investigation into the whistleblower complaint concerning President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president, reacted harshly on Wednesday to the White House release of a transcript of that call, saying it read like “a classic mafia-like shakedown.”
(MORE: Transcript of Trump call with Ukraine includes talk of Giuliani, Barr probing Biden )
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The White House memo, based on notes taken by aides listening in on the July 25 call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shows Trump repeatedly urging him to get Ukraine involved in investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
(MORE: ‘It turned out to be a nothing call’: Trump on transcript release)
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, and President Donald Trump, right.
Trump has denied that he made sending U.S. military aid to Ukraine contingent on his agreeing to help after Trump suggested he contact his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr. After Wednesday’s transcript release, he called it “a nothing call.”
(MORE: Read the transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukraine president )
Samuel Corum/Getty Images
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff arrives at the Capitol before the committee meeting with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on September 19, 2019, in Washington, D.C.
“The notes of the call reflect a conversation far more damning that I or many others had imagined,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said.
“It is shocking at another level that the White House would release these notes and felt that somehow this would help the president’s case,” Schiff said.
“What those notes reflect is a classic mafia like shakedown of a foreign leader. They reflect a Ukrainian president who was desperate for U.S. support, for military support to help that country in a hot war with Putin’s Russia, that is still occupied by Russian forces in which people face a very dangerous and continuing and destabilizing action,” he said.
“At the same time a president of the United States who immediately after the Ukraine president expresses the needs for further weapons, tells the Ukrainian president that he has a favor to ask,” he said.
(MORE: Trump’s DOJ clears president of violating campaign finance law in Ukraine-Biden call )
“This is how a mafia boss talks. What have you done for us? We’ve done so much for you, but there’s not much reciprocity. I have a favor I want to ask you, and what is that favor? That favor is to investigate his political rival. To investigate the Bidens,” Schiff said. “It’s clear that the Ukraine president understands exactly what is expected of him and is making every effort to mollify the president.”
“What adds another layer of depravity to this conversation is that the president of the United States then invokes the attorney general of the United States as well as his personal lawyer as emissaries, in the case of the attorney general, as the official head of the U.S. Department, the Department of Justice that will be part and parcel in this, ” he continued.
Schiff has said he hopes to talk with the whistleblower who filed the complaint on Thursday after Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testifies. Maguire has blocked the intelligence community inspector general from transmitting the complaint to Congress.
“Either the President does not know the weight of his words or he does not care about ethics or his constitutional responsibilities,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Tuesday the House would move forward with impeachment, said in a statement. “The transcript and the Justice Department’s acting in a rogue fashion in being complicit in the President’s lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry. Clearly, the Congress must act,” she said.
Republicans had mixed reactions. “What we’ve seen from the transcript itself is deeply troubling,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said in an interview at The Atlantic Festival.
But many other Republicans, like Trump, played down the transcript’s significance.
“From my point of view, to impeach any president over a phone call like this would be insane,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Pelosi’s announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry is not big news. “House Democrats have been indulging their impeachment obsession for nearly three years now,” he said this morning on the Senate floor. “A never-ending impeachment parade in search of a rationale.”
Other Democrats leading investigations into the president — including Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., issued a joint statement calling the transcript evidence of a “shocking abuse of the Office of the Presidency for personal political gain” and demanding that the White House arrange to have the whistleblower complaint turned over to Congress by Thursday — saying it they weren’t they’;;l be subpoenaed.
“The record of the call released by the White House confirms our worst fears: that the President abused his office by directly and repeatedly asking a foreign country to investigate his political rival and open investigations meant to help the President politically,” they say. “Let’s be clear: no quid pro quo is required to betray our country. Trump asked a foreign government to interfere in our elections—that is betrayal enough. The corruption exists whether or not Trump threatened—explicitly or implicitly—that a lack of cooperation could result in withholding military aid,” their statement said.
“Congress needs the full and unredacted whistleblower complaint. We need to speak with the whistleblower. We need records of the communications. We need to speak with those knowledgeable about efforts by the President, the Attorney General, and the President’s personal attorney to secure political help from Ukraine, the decision to freeze security assistance, and the attempt to cover it up,” they said in the statement.