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Adam Schiff says whistleblower may not testify in impeachment probe

POLITICO logo POLITICO 10/13/2019 By Heather Caygle

Video by CBS News

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff indicated Sunday that the whistleblower at the heart of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump may not testify over concerns about that person’s safety.

Schiff’s remarks come after Trump has dramatically escalated his attacks on the whistleblower and repeatedly called for the official to be unmasked. Trump’s unrelenting barrage has spurred worries from Democrats that congressional Republicans may try to reveal that person’s identity — conceivably endangering his or her safety — at the behest of the president.

Schiff (D-Calif.) said the whistleblower’s testimony might not be needed given that a rough transcript of the call with Trump asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” — the centerpiece of the whistleblower’s complaint — is public. In addition, lawmakers have a collected a tranche of damning text messages and witness testimony related to the scandal in the last two weeks.

“Our primary interest right now is making sure that that person is protected. Indeed now there’s more than one whistleblower, that they are protected,” Schiff said on CBS’ “Face the Nation“ on Sunday.

A second whistleblower, reportedly with direct knowledge of the call, is being represented by the same legal team as the first official but it’s unclear what information, if any, that person has provided House investigators.

Adam Schiff wearing a suit and tie: Rep. Adam Schiff. © Liz Lynch/Getty Images Rep. Adam Schiff. “We do want to make sure that we identify other evidence that is pertinent to the [investigation] — the withholding of the military support, the effort to cover this up by hiding this in a classified computer system,” Schiff continued. “It may not be necessary to take steps that might reveal the whistleblower’s identity to do that.”

House Democrats are entering week four of their impeachment inquiry as they investigate efforts by Trump and his allies to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 political rival, and his son Hunter, to potentially help Trump’s reelection. At the heart of the investigation is whether Trump withheld military aid and a much-sought after White House meeting requested by the newly elected Zelensky in a bid to force Ukraine to investigate the Biden family.

Hunter Biden, whose role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company is at the center of Trump’s unfounded allegations of corruption, announced Sunday he was stepping down from the board of a Chinese equity firm. Biden also said he wouldn’t work for foreign-owned businesses if his father wins the presidency in 2020.

Several Republicans, meanwhile, refused to answer questions Sunday about whether it is acceptable for Trump to solicit foreign assistance for political gain, instead attacking the former vice president and House Democrats.

“He expresses whatever's on his mind. And people can take that and twist it any way they want to,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) on CNN’s “State of the Union.“ “But the new precedent for impeachment is that we don't like this president that just got elected, so we're going to spend all four years trying to impeach him.”

Host Jake Tapper circled back to the subject, but Cramer’s answers remained basically the same.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) also dodged the question during an appearance on ABC. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said on CBS that “foreign countries should stay out of American elections” without mentioning Trump by name. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) made headlines earlier in the week for repeatedly refusing to answer similar questions.

Republicans have generally been reluctant to answer questions about whether it was proper for Trump to solicit foreign assistance, instead attacking House Democrats over how they’re conducting the investigation.

“There should be a process, but instead what Adam Schiff wants is to get United States of America drunk on his favorite cocktail,” Zeldin said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.“ “There's three ingredients. One is cherry-picking leaks, second is withholding facts, and three is just outright lying.”

Republicans also have been pressuring Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold an impeachment inquiry vote on the House floor, citing precedent in past presidential impeachments. But Pelosi has refused, saying there’s no constitutional or legal requirement to do so.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday he’s fine with holding an inquiry vote, but doesn’t believe it’s necessary.

“This idea that the process is somehow is not fair is just a fiction designed to avoid the question of whether the conduct of the president is good or not,” Himes said on ABC.

Republicans have had equal access to witnesses during closed-door depositions, Himes argued, comparing the inquiry to a grand jury investigation.

“Impeachment is more akin to a grand jury indictment, and in a grand jury indictment, it happens behind closed doors, there aren’t cross-examinations, evidence is presented,” Himes said. “if there is a trial in the Senate, [Republicans] will be afforded all of the other due process that they have and will always be entitled to.”

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Tuesday after a two-week break that saw a flurry of activity on the House side as investigators heard closed-door testimony from multiple current and former administration officials involved in the Ukraine controversy.

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified Friday that she was abruptly forced out of her role earlier this year after a “concerted campaign” by people “with clearly questionable motives.” Yovanovitch’s testimony was remarkable because it came in defiance of a State Department directive to block House impeachment investigators’ access to administration officials and documents related to the probe.

Yovanovitch instead agreed to comply with a House subpoena to attend. Similarly, lawmakers will hear much anticipated testimony from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, on Thursday. Sondland was subpoenaed following his failure to show up for a scheduled deposition earlier this week at the direction of the State Department.

Democrats are eager to hear directly from Sondland and what role he played in trying to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden and his son in exchange for $400 million in U.S. military aide and a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky.

In a cache of damning text messages released last week by Kurt Volker, Trump’s former envoy to Ukraine, Sondland told the other officials involved that “potus really wants the deliverable.”

In a later text exchange, when another official says its “crazy” to withhold U.S. military aid as part of a pressure campaign to help damage Trump’s political rival, Sondland responds hours later insisting that there are “no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”

Republicans have repeatedly pointed to Sondland’s response in an effort to defend the president, saying without a quid pro quo, there isn’t any proof that Trump or his allies committed a crime. The White House earlier this week announced a full blockade of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, calling it an “illegitimate” effort. But Sondland, like Yovanovitch, is expected to defy the administration’s directive.

Sondland plans to tell House investigators later this week that his text response came at the direction of the president, after a telephone conversation with Trump, and he doesn’t know if the president was telling the truth, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Lawmakers are also expecting to hear testimony from Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top adviser on Russia, on Monday.

And Democrats have set several deadlines this week for the administration to hand over documents related to the probe — including from Vice President Mike Pence, the Pentagon, the Office of Management and Budget and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and a key figure in the probe — although they aren’t expecting much.

But Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on CBS on Sunday that his department will "do everything we can to comply" with Democrats' subpoena.

Pelosi and other top Democrats have refused to put a firm timeline on the inquiry, saying only they want to move “expeditiously.” But privately, Democrats say they hope to wrap up their investigation — including a potential House vote on articles of impeachment — by the end of the year.

“The whole point of this inquiry is to save the Constitution of the United States,” Pelosi told Democrats on a private call Friday afternoon. “I’ve said before Trump, himself, is not worthy of impeachment because it’s divisive in the county. But our Constitution is worth it.”



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