WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump raged about the impeachment inquiry he faces in Congress and the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate said on Monday that he would have “no choice” but to allow a trial if the House of Representatives decides to impeach the president.
Senator Mitch McConnell appeared to put to rest speculation that he would use his position to derail any impeachment effort by the Democratic-led House by avoiding a trial at all. The Republicans control the Senate and have been largely muted about the allegations and inquiries into fellow-Republican Trump.
The House initiated an impeachment inquiry against Trump last week after a whistleblower report raised concerns that Trump tried to leverage nearly $400 million in U.S. aid in exchange for a political favor from Ukraine’s leader in July.
Three House committees on Monday said a subpoena for documents had been sent to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani, a former New York mayor, had said on television that he asked the government of Ukraine to “target” former Vice President Joe Biden, who is a potential Democratic candidate to run against Trump in the 2020 election.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took part in the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Wall Street Journal reported, something also likely to draw the attention of House investigators.
If the House approves bringing charges, known as “articles of impeachment,” against a president the process moves to the Senate which has a trial.
“I would have no choice but to take it up,” McConnell told CNBC.
“Under the Senate rules, we are required to take it up if the House does go down that path. “The Senate impeachment rules are very clear,” McConnell said.
A Sept. 26-30 Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll found that 45% of American adults believe Trump “should be impeached,” compared with 37% in a similar poll that ran last week. 41% said that Trump should not be impeached and 15% said they “don’t know.”
Trump spent much of the day directing his ire at the Democrat leading the inquiry, suggesting on Twitter that congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, should be arrested for “treason.”
Later, speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump accused Schiff of distorting his July 25 conversation with Zelenskiy at a House hearing last week.
“Adam Schiff made up a phony call and he read it to Congress and he read it to the people of the United States and it’s a disgrace,” Trump said.
In those comments, Schiff says the call to Zelenskiy “reads like a classic organized crime shakedown” and parodies the president’s remarks.
A spokesman for Schiff did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s remarks.
Witnesses are due to testify in the House this week in hearings about Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden.
“You stated more recently that you are in possession of evidence – in the form of text messages, phone records, and other communications – indicating that you were not acting alone and that other Trump Administration officials may have been involved in this scheme,” the chairmen of the three committees wrote to Giuliani in a letter.
He was given until Oct. 15 to respond.
TRUMP SEEKS WHISTLEBLOWER’S IDENTITY
A U.S. intelligence official filed a whistleblower complaint citing the July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
The whistleblower has not been publicly identified, but Trump said on Monday that “we’re trying to find out about a whistleblower. We have a whistleblower who reports things that were incorrect.”
Trump has also accused the whistleblower and White House officials who gave the whistleblower information of being spies and suggested they may be guilty of treason.
“The Intel Community Whistleblower is entitled to anonymity,” Andrew Bakaj, an attorney for the whistleblower, said on Twitter shortly after the president’s remarks. “Law and policy support this and the individual is not to be retaliated against. Doing so is a violation of federal law.”
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday called on the committee’s Republican chairman, Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, to convene hearings to investigate the administration’s handling of the whistleblower’s complaint, and said the panel should act to “protect witnesses from intimidation.”
“This Committee should not sit idly by as the President threatens potential witnesses, whose testimony may be crucial to congressional investigations into credible allegations against him,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Graham.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to move “expeditiously” on the impeachment inquiry, perhaps paving the way for an impeachment vote on the House floor early next year.
A majority vote in favor of articles of impeachment would throw the matter to the Senate. And while McConnell said on Monday that he would be forced to hold a trial, he did not commit to letting it run its full course.
“How long you’re on it is a whole different matter,” McConnell told CNBC.
According to a Senate Republican leadership aide, any senator could attempt to have the articles dismissed in the early stages of the trial, which would trigger a vote with a majority of the Senate needing to be in favor for it to succeed.
Democrats accuse Trump of pressuring a vulnerable U.S. ally to get dirt on a rival for personal political gain. The phone call with Zelenskiy came after Trump froze nearly $400 million in aid intended to help Ukraine deal with an insurgency by Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. The aid was later provided.
Schiff said on Sunday he expects the whistleblower to appear before the panel very soon.
The U.S. Congress is on a two-week recess but members of the Intelligence Committee will return to Washington this week to carry out an investigation that is likely to produce new subpoenas for documents and other material.
The committee is scheduled to hold a closed-door hearing on Friday with the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, who has concluded that the whistleblower complaint was of urgent concern and appeared credible.
House investigators are set to take the first witness testimony from two people mentioned in the whistleblower’s complaint.
On Wednesday, three House committees – Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight – are due to get a deposition from former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who Trump labeled “bad news” during his call with Zelenskiy.
On Thursday, the committees are set to get a deposition from Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as Trump’s special representative for Ukraine after the whistleblower complaint named him as one of two U.S. diplomats who followed up with Ukrainian officials a day after Trump’s call to Zelenskiy.
Some House Democrats said articles of impeachment against Trump could move to the House floor as soon as next month.
“In my mind, it’s several weeks,” House Judiciary Committee member David Cicilline told reporters last week. “He has already admitted that he contacted a foreign leader and discussed with him ginning up a fake story about one of his political opponents.”
Last Friday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a subpoena to Pompeo for documents related to the Ukraine scandal. House Democrats also have sought material from the White House and Justice Department.
Schiff said any effort by Trump to stonewall the probe could be used to impeach him for obstructing Congress.
Reporting by David Morgan and Roberta Rampton and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Doina Chiacu; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing by Will Dunham, Sonya Hepinstall and Grant McCool