Democrats clamoring for more witnesses at President Trump’s impeachment trial are concealing one of those questioned in the House investigation, President Trump’s defense team says.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, and other impeachment managers repeatedly talk about the 17 witnesses interviewed during the House’s secretive depositions. But they do not mention an 18th witness, Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general who has firsthand knowledge of the origins of the whistleblower complaint that led to the impeachment.
Members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who conducted the interview are barred from disclosing details. But Republicans on the committee said the testimony should be heard at the president’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
“The reason it hasn’t been released is it’s not helpful to Adam Schiff. It is not helpful to the whistleblower,” said Rep. John Ratcliffe, Texas Republican, who took part in the October interview with Mr. Atkinson. “It raises credibility issues about both of them.”
The potentially exculpatory evidence for Mr. Trump has remained classified and is not part of the record for the impeachment trial.
Because it remains classified, only members of the intelligence committee have seen it and Mr. Trump’s legal team is denied a copy.
Mr. Trump is on trial for two articles of impeachment: abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, one of Mr. Trump’s potential opponents in November, and obstruction of Congress for not cooperating with the House impeachment inquiry.
The president acknowledged that he wanted Ukraine to look into any corruption involving Mr. Biden and into allegations that the country meddled in U.S. elections in 2016. He said both are legitimate investigations.
After two days of hearing the impeachment case, Senate Republicans appear poised to acquit Mr. Trump of the charges House Democrats approved on a party-line vote Dec. 18.
Mr. Atkinson’s briefing for House lawmakers covered the origins of the whistleblower complaint that led to the two articles of impeachment. Mr. Trump’s supporters charge that the whistleblower was part of a scheme to take down the president and that the complaint was coordinated by Mr. Schiff, chairman of the intelligence committee and the lead House impeachment manager prosecuting the case.
Mr. Schiff denies he had contact with the whistleblower, but it was later revealed that his staff met with the whistleblower before the complaint was filed with Mr. Atkinson.
The whistleblower is said to be a CIA analyst assigned to the White House who has ties to the Democratic Party and Mr. Biden.
Mr. Atkinson met with Mr. Schiff and his committee in October to discuss the whistleblower complaint in detail. House and Senate members were first briefed about the complaint when news of the whistleblower became public in September.
But the closed-door committee session remains a focus of House Republicans with knowledge of the interview.
Mr. Ratcliffe said they have demanded the release of a transcript of the interview, especially because Mr. Atkinson identified other fact witnesses.
“It addresses the issue about contacts between Schiff, his staff and the whistleblower, and what the inspector general knows about that. So those are material facts that should be talked about, but Adam Schiff has prevented that,” Mr. Ratcliffe told The Washington Times.
An official on Mr. Schiff’s committee staff said the briefing with Mr. Atkinson was not conducted with the other two committees involved in the impeachment investigation, the Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees, and therefore did not qualify as a deposition.
“Contrary to what has been said,” the official said, “the chairman does not have the ability unilaterally to classify or declassify [an intelligence committee] transcript.”
Mr. Ratcliffe said that whatever Mr. Schiff wants to call it — a deposition or a transcribed interview — the information is important for the American people to see.
“His testimony was noticed three days after the impeachment inquiry was announced. There is a 179-page transcript of questions and the IG’s answers under oath … same as with the impeachment inquiry interviews and depositions,” Mr. Ratcliffe said.
It is unclear whether any part of the transcribed interview has been shared with members of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. A spokeswoman for the committee said she will not discuss committee materials.
During a break in the trial, Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, said House Democrats should have submitted the transcript.
“We should be allowed to take a look at that, but again they have stated numerous times in their brief they had overwhelming evidence — it would be so clear to everyone — and I haven’t seen that yet,” she said.
On their second day of arguments, House impeachment managers hammered at the president’s defense that the investigations requested of Ukraine were legitimate.
The investigations, they said, were intended only to benefit Mr. Trump’s reelection bid by wounding Mr. Biden and countering the perception that Mr. Trump’s 2016 election was illegitimate.
Key to that argument is Mr. Biden’s public boasting that as vice president he threatened to block $1 billion in loan guarantees unless Ukrainian leaders fired the country’s chief prosecutor.
The prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, had looked into corruption at Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, where Hunter Biden landed a $50,000-a-month job on the board of directors while his father led Obama administration efforts in Kyiv.
Mr. Biden’s muscling of Ukraine to fire the country’s chief prosecutor was Obama administration policy, not a bid to protect his son, the House impeachment managers argued.
Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia, a Texas Democrat on the prosecution team, said Mr. Shokin’s successor was more likely to investigate Burisma.
“It would actually increase chances of a Burisma investigation,” she said.
Impeachment managers also characterized Mr. Trump’s belief in Ukrainian interference as a debunked conspiracy theory prompted by Russia to obscure its own interference in U.S. elections.
“That’s what Donald Trump wanted investigated or announced — this completely bogus Kremlin-pushed conspiracy theory,” Mr. Schiff told the Senate.
Mr. Trump’s defenders, though, cite Kyiv’s public opposition to Mr. Trump during the campaign and cooperation with the Democratic National Committee in conducting opposition research.
DNC contractor Alexandra Chalupa has acknowledged working with the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The episode was detailed last year by Politico.
Republicans repeatedly mentioned Ms. Chalupa during two weeks of public hearings on impeachment that were conducted by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, credited the impeachment managers with executing a preemptive strike against Mr. Trump’s defense team, which will begin presenting its case Saturday.
“They are preempting the president’s lawyers, who we know will make false arguments,” Mr. Schumer said.
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