Democrats prepared Thursday to derail a Republican-backed resolution to censure House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., for his handling of the impeachment inquiry as another key witness testified on Capitol Hill.
President Donald Trump has been calling on House members to support a censure of Schiff. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised Schiff’s work in a morning news conference, saying, “I value the way he is conducting this.”
On Thursday morning, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told House impeachment investigators Thursday that President Donald Trump urged him to work with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on matters related to Ukraine.
The revelation came as Sondland, a key figure in the probe, appeared behind closed doors to testify about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden at a time when nearly $400 million in military aid was being withheld.
“He directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns,” Sondland said. “It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the president’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani.”
Later Thursday, at a combative session in the White House briefing room, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged that the Trump administration held up U.S. military aid to Ukraine in part due to the president’s request for that country to investigate a Democratic National Committee server.
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said when asked about criticism that the administration’s dealings with Ukraine amounted to a quid pro quo.
People familiar with the president’s thinking have told The Washington Post that Trump has come to suspect the DNC server hacked by Russian intelligence agents in 2016 may have been hidden in Ukraine.
Mulvaney maintained that Trump’s request of Ukraine was unrelated to Biden, even though Trump mentioned the former vice president in his July phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Following the early Thursday death of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who was chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, a group of House Republicans postponed a news conference scheduled for Thursday morning at which they planned to demand greater “transparency and inclusion” in the impeachment inquiry.
“We anticipate the conference may be rescheduled for the near future and will be working on those details, but out of respect for Representative Cummings it will not take place today,” said a statement released by the office of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
Cummings was a leading figure in the Trump impeachment inquiry. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the second-highest-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, will become the panel’s acting chair, according to a senior Democratic leadership aide.
Trump left the White House shortly before 11 a.m., to head to Dallas for a “Keep America Great Rally.” In recent weeks, he has used such events to air grievances about the impeachment process and the Democrats who are leading it. He has several events scheduled in Texas before the rally Thursday night.
The rally comes a day after Pelosi and other top Democrats walked out of a meeting with Trump at the White House after the president disparaged Pelosi. It was the first time they had come face-to-face since Pelosi launched the impeachment inquiry.
In remarks outside the White House, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that Trump had called Pelosi a “third-rate politician.” Pelosi later clarified at the Capitol that Trump had called her a “third-grade politician.”
Pelosi declined to say whether she agrees with Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell’s assessment that the House will vote on articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving and the Senate will hold a trial that lasts until late December.
“The timeline will depend on the truth line,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol.
She pushed back on Republicans’ argument that the voters should deliver the final verdict on Trump at the polls next November, describing the issues that have triggered the impeachment inquiry as completely separate from concerns about the president’s policies on matters such as Syria, gun violence, immigration and climate change.
“We don’t know where this path could take us, but it could take us down a further path. But these two are completely separate,” Pelosi said.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · John Wagner, Felicia Sonmez