More House Democrats calling for Trump impeachment probe

WASHINGTON — Allegations that President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine’s leader to investigate the family of political rival Joe Biden — and the White House’s response to the uproar — are raising alarms in Congress and pushing a wave of House Democrats toward impeachment proceedings.

Late Monday, an influential group of freshmen Democrats who served in the military and national security before winning office said the allegations against Trump cut to the core of the country’s defenses. Their views, as centrist lawmakers from previously Republican-held districts where Trump has been popular, hold sway.

In all, more than a dozen Democrats, including some in House leadership, have recently added their names to those calling for impeachment proceedings, more than at almost any other moment of Trump’s presidency.

The sudden rush of activity shows the extent to which Trump’s call to the foreign leader, and his subsequent comments about the conversation, are raising further questions about whether the president improperly used his office to pressure another country as a way of helping his own reelection prospects.

“These allegations are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent,” wrote the seven freshmen, who include a former fighter pilot, soldiers, officers and intelligence analysts.

“We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly,” the lawmakers wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect. We must preserve the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders and restore the trust of the American people in our government. And that is what we intend to do.”

Congress on Monday pressed for full disclosure of a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump and pushed the White House to release a transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukraine president.

Democrats, and some Republicans, urged the White House to be forthcoming amid the reports that the president pressured Ukraine’s leader to help investigate Biden at the same time the administration was withholding $250 million in aid to the Eastern European nation.

Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong. The president has acknowledged the phone call and said he didn’t want to give money to Ukraine — if there were corruption issues.

“It’s very important to talk about corruption,” Trump told reporters as he opened meetings at the United Nations. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is, is corrupt?”

Later Monday, Trump denied telling the Ukraine president that his country would only get U.S. aid if it investigated Biden’s son. “I didn’t do it,” he said.

The fresh calls for impeachment proceedings come as House Democrats are heading into a closed-door meeting Tuesday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi and her leadership team on the various oversight committees are considering bringing forward a resolution that will put the House on record on this matter, according to a Democratic leadership aide unauthorized to discuss the private talks. The aide was granted anonymity.

Still, Democrats themselves remained divided on moving forward with an effort to impeach Trump. Pelosi has resisted calls for impeachment and is sticking with her position that Congress must not start formal proceedings unless the American public demands it.

However, Pelosi said Sunday that unless the administration provides more information to Congress by the scheduled Thursday hearing at the intelligence committee, its officials “will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.”

Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate Biden and his son Hunter in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

The matter is under new scrutiny following the whistleblower’s mid-August complaint, which followed Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The person who filed the complaint did not have firsthand knowledge of the call, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Lawmakers are demanding details of the complaint, but the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share that information, citing presidential privilege. He is set to testify Thursday before the House.

“Let’s see the transcript,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, about Trump’s call with the Ukraine president.

The chairmen of the House intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Government Reform committees are threatening to subpoena Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if he does not produce information about whether Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, inappropriately tried to influence the Ukraine government for political gain.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called on Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to investigate the whistleblower’s complaint. In a letter to McConnell, he said that the Republicans’ “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude toward the president’s actions “is unacceptable and must change.”

Schumer called on McConnell to take five specific steps, including issuing a subpoena to compel the whistleblower’s complaint to be delivered to Congress. He said the White House should release transcripts of Trump’s conversation with the Ukraine president and identify who in the administration sought to delay the money to Ukraine.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida doesn’t think Trump’s actions are grounds for impeachment, but said he wouldn’t have called a foreign leader to discuss a rival.

“I don’t think he should have raised the topic of Joe Biden with the Ukraine president,” Rubio said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday the matter is best left behind closed doors in the classified setting of the intelligence committee, though he did push into the spotlight his own role in securing the Ukraine aid.

McConnell said he had been “personally pressuring” the Trump administration this summer in calls to Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to release the U.S. aid money.

Trump said Monday he may, or may not, release details or a transcript of the call but has stressed that foreign leaders should feel free to speak frankly with an American president without fear that the details of their conversations will later be disclosed.

A person familiar with the matter has told The Associated Press that Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate Hunter Biden. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Hunter Biden was hired by the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings in April 2014, two months after Ukraine’s Russia-friendly former president was ousted by protesters and as Biden’s father was heavily involved in U.S. efforts to support the new pro-Western government. The move immediately raised concerns that the Ukrainian firm, whose owner was a political ally of the ousted president, was seeking to gain influence with the Obama administration.

Trump and Zelenskiy plan to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week.

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