Washington, DC – Democrats in the United States Congress said on Wednesday they will subpoena the White House for records related to a phone call between President Donald Trump and the leader of Ukraine.
Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, issued a two-day notice of legal action, saying he plans to subpoena for all communications about the phone call from more than 25 individual officials on Friday.
House Democrats “are investigating the extent to which President Trump jeopardised national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression, as well as an effort to cover up these matters,” Cummings said in a publicly released memo to House members.
The Democrat-led House is pursuing an impeachment inquiry specifically focusing on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the administration’s actions in the lead-up to the call.
According to a White House summary of the call, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic hopeful, and his son, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. In the weeks leading up to the call, Trump ordered the suspension of $400m in military aid for Ukraine, prompting speculation he was using the aid as leverage for information on Biden.
The president has denied any wrongdoing and labelled the inquiry “witch-hunt garbage”.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, both Democrats, told reporters on Wednesday that Trump had abused the power of his office to pressure the Ukrainian president.
“In that phone call, the president undermined our national security because of what he had done a few days earlier,” Pelosi said. “The sequencing of it, you have to look at the sequencing of it.”
Trump tweeted during the news conference, “The Do Nothing Democrats should be focused on building up our Country, not wasting everyone’s time and energy on BULLS***”.
Pelosi’s legislative agenda is “just camouflage for trying to win an election through impeachment”, he tweeted.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump called Schiff a “lowlife” and said the Democrat intelligence leader “should resign from office in disgrace and frankly they should look at him for treason”.
Treason is narrowly defined in the US Constitution, which states the offence “shall consist only in levying war against” the US “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort”.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday confirmed he had been on Trump’s call with Zelensky and he asserted that the president’s approach did not reflect a shift in US policy towards Ukraine.
“It’s been remarkably consistent,” Pompeo said. The call was about “taking down the threat that Russia poses there in the Ukraine,” Pompeo told reporters travelling with him in Italy on Tuesday.
Events in Washington, DC, have unfolded rapidly as new disclosures expanded the public’s understanding of the Trump administration’s handling of its relationship with Ukraine.
The State Department Inspector General, an independent watchdog operating separately from the secretary, surprised politicians on Tuesday by asking to share State Department documents on Ukraine with congressional staff as soon as Wednesday, according to reports.
Ambassador Kurt Volker, Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, who resigned last week, will be interviewed by congressional staff on Thursday, Schiff said. Volker had introduced Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a key figure in the affair, to top Ukrainian government officials.
Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who first investigated the whistle-blower’s complaint and found it both credible and urgent, will appear before the Intelligence Committee for a second time in a closed hearing on Friday, Schiff said.
Ambassador Masha Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine who was abruptly recalled in May, will give a sworn interview to the committee next week, Schiff said. Trump had disparaged Yovanovitch, a career Foreign Service officer, in the call with Zelensky.