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'Haven't had the chance': Republicans stall, saying they haven't had time to read whistleblower complaint

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 9/26/2019 David M. Drucker
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie © Provided by MediaDC: Washington Newspaper Publishing Company, Inc.

Some Senate Republicans are hedging their bets, avoiding comment after the release of a whistleblower complaint that President Trump sought to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Trump's potential 2020 opponent, Joe Biden.

Several declined to comment Thursday, claiming they had yet to read the nine-page complaint that House Democrats are using as a basis for an impeachment inquiry. Some said they were withholding judgment on Trump’s culpability until the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence completes a bipartisan investigation into Trump's actions.

Conveniently, Senate Republicans were preparing to depart Washington for a two-week recess. Some have conceded discomfort with the president asking Ukraine’s leader to investigate a potential 2020 opponent.

“Right now, I have more questions than I have answers,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who serves on the intelligence committee, told reporters. “I have a job to do and I’m taking it very seriously.” Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who is running for reelection and has been endorsed by Trump, said.

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“I’m waiting to see what the intelligence committee determines when it finishes its work,” remarked Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also avoiding comment: “I haven’t had a chance to actually read the whistleblower complaint yet. I read the first couple of paragraphs, but I got busy today,” he said.

A summary transcript of a telephone call between Trump and Zelensky confirmed that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, in relation to the younger Biden’s business interests in Ukraine. The transcript also revealed that Trump asked Zelensky to consult with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, and Attorney General William Barr, who has denied involvement.

The whistleblower complaint was made public Thursday morning by the House Select Committee on Intelligence just prior to hearing public testimony from acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. The complaint showed additionally that records of the Trump-Zelensky telephone call were siloed in a government computer system more secretive and less accessible than that typically used for calls between the president and a foreign leader.

Democrats are suggesting that the White House engaged in a cover-up. Trump is defending his conduct as routine, and so are most House Republicans, where defense of Trump led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been swift and aggressive.

“Think about what the Democrats have just done to this country in the last week, or in the last two years. They’re talking about impeaching a sitting president that they have no crime for — the leader of the free world,” McCarthy said during his weekly news conference. “Let’s be very clear, the president did not ask to investigate Joe Biden.”

Even some House Republicans have expressed concerns about the whistleblower complaint. Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a former central intelligence officer who is retiring from Congress next year, tweeted that “there is a lot” in the complaint that is worrisome.

Despite the concerns and hedging, most Republicans right now are confident that Trump has not committed an impeachable offense and argue that the Democrats are overreaching, politically, with their headlong dive into impeachment. Some Republicans who have read the whistleblower complaint sought to delegitimize it by emphasizing that the individual who compiled it did not witness Trump’s call with Zelensky first hand, relying instead on information provided by other officials.

“First of all, it doesn’t come from a person with personal knowledge. It’s kind of like: ‘Now I heard these people say this, so now I’m reporting it.’ I think that’s pretty bizarre,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn. “Secondly, after a certain point it doesn’t allege facts, it’s just kind of a dossier or a political diatribe. So I think there’s plenty of reasons to be skeptical.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, a longtime supporter of federal whistleblower protection laws, signaled that he is not necessarily convinced the individual behind the complaint qualifies as a lawful whistleblower. “I’m going to believe the whistleblower until I hear some lawyer explain to me why he isn’t,” the Iowa Republican said. “If they aren’t really a whistleblower then they don’t get the protection.”

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