With the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump poised to enter a public phase this week, lawmakers sparred Sunday over the witnesses who will be allowed to testify, with Democrats dismissing GOP efforts to call the anonymous whistleblower and the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Democrats and Republicans have crafted different strategies for controlling the narrative of what happened between Trump and Ukraine. Democrats are trying to conduct a narrow investigation that focuses on Trump. Republicans are pushing to expand the scope of the inquiry, arguing that Trump's actions are far from impeachable and represent business as usual in Washington.
Trump, meanwhile, urged in a tweet that Republicans say his actions were "PERFECT," rather than saying only that they were "not impeachable."
Both parties' game plans were shown in sharp relief Sunday on the morning talk shows.
"This is a very simple, straightforward act. The president broke the law," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said on ABC's This Week. "He went on a telephone call with the president of Ukraine and ... proceeded to ask for an investigation of his rival." She argued that "this is a very strong case of bribery."
But Republicans have not focused on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the focus of the whistleblower's complaint. Instead, Republicans are seen as wanting to publicly question witnesses on issues tangentially related to the case, such as unfounded claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and that the Bidens acted nefariously in their dealings with Ukraine.
On NBC's Meet the Press, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., argued that "it's unfair to treat Trump under one standard and Joe Biden under a different standard." He said a variety of American elected officials from both parties have in recent years sought to use leverage over Ukraine to advance their agendas.
"I would make the argument that every politician in Washington, other than me, virtually, is trying to manipulate Ukraine to their purposes," Paul said.
Among those on the Republicans' witness list are Hunter Biden, whose father is a leading Democratic candidate to challenge Trump in 2020; Hunter Biden's business partner Devon Archer; the unnamed whistleblower, whom Trump and some of his allies have campaigned to publicly identify; the researcher Nellie Ohr of Fusion GPS, which commissioned a dossier that claimed to link Russia and Trump; and Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian American who worked with the Democratic National Committee.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement Saturday that Democrats would evaluate the requests but that the impeachment probe "will not serve ... as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations" into the Bidens or the 2016 presidential campaign, or to retaliate against the whistleblower.
Several Democrats on Sunday pushed back against their GOP counterparts' request.
Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, raised the issue of the "great risk associated with [the whistleblower's] life right now." She said it is unnecessary for the individual to appear before the intelligence panel because other witnesses who were actually on Trump's phone call with Zelenskiy will testify.
"The only thing that the whistleblower can say is that he was told by other people about the phone call," Speier said. "We have the other people coming forward to actually testify. So you have direct evidence, not indirect evidence."
Speier argued that having Hunter Biden testify would also be "irrelevant" because he "is unrelated to the Ukraine call." She added that some of the witnesses whom Republicans have requested may be allowed, including National Security Council official Tim Morrison and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, both of whom have already testified in private.
Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., who is also on the House Intelligence Committee, rejected the call for Hunter Biden to testify.
"He has no knowledge of what the president did or didn't do here that is the subject of the impeachment hearing," Maloney said on Fox News Sunday.
Some Republicans, meanwhile, focused on the process of the impeachment inquiry.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a vocal Trump ally, called the Democratic impeachment inquiry a "complete joke" because the whistleblower has not been identified and subjected to cross-examination.
"If they don't call the whistleblower in the House, this thing is dead on arrival in the Senate," Graham said on Fox News' Sunday Morning Futures.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, argued on This Week that "there will be a taint to this one-sided, partisan approach to impeachment."
He said it would be "inappropriate," but not impeachable, for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival, as Trump is accused of having done. But the importance of process, Thornberry maintained, cannot be ignored.
"There's a reason we let murderers and robbers and rapists go free when their due process rights have been violated," Thornberry said.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said on CBS' Face the Nation that the case could come down to Trump's intent and motive -- and whether he was asking for an investigation of a political rival or a probe of possible corruption of someone who happened be a political rival.
If a request for an investigation of a rival could be proved, then that would be "over the line," Kennedy said. Asked whether that means an impeachable offense, Kennedy replied, "yeah, probably," but said he wants to hear the testimony.
In a tweet later Sunday, Trump suggested that saying his actions were "not impeachable" is not good enough. He urged Republicans to go further.
"The call to the Ukrainian President was PERFECT," Trump said. "Read the Transcript! There was NOTHING said that was in any way wrong. Republicans, don't be led into the fools trap of saying it was not perfect, but is not impeachable. No, it is much stronger than that. NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG!"
On Fox News Sunday, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said the impeachment inquiry "has been a partisan exercise from the very beginning." He said Republicans want to hear testimony from Hunter Biden.
"I think we should just turn over every rock and pursue every lead to ultimately get to the truth," Hurd said.
Hurd also argued that Schiff should be forced to testify about his office's contacts with the whistleblower, claiming that the committee chairman "misled the American public earlier in the year about what he knew about the contact with the whistleblower."
Schiff said in September that his committee had "not spoken directly with the whistleblower." He later said he "should have been much more clear."
Other Republicans maintained that Trump sought to hold up military aid to Ukraine over general concerns about corruption -- despite closed testimony from witnesses who said the White House had threatened to withdraw the aid unless Kyiv announced investigations for Trump's political benefit.
"I remain sympathetic with President Trump's legitimate concerns about the corruption," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said on CNN's State of the Union. "When you're going to provide hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into a system, you want to make sure it isn't corrupt. ... I never heard the president say, 'I want to dig up dirt on 2020 opponents.'"
Information for this article was contributed by Felicia Sonmez, Joel Achenbach, Paige Winfield Cunningham, Rachael Bade and Colby Itkowitz of The Washington Post; and by Mark Niquette, Craig Torres and Christopher Condon of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 11/11/2019
Print Headline: Testimony list by GOP raises inquiry dispute; Democrats question relevance