WASHINGTON – Democratic lawmakers escalated the partisan furor over the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump Wednesday after the White House released a summary of a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Democrats called “damning.”
The president asked the Ukrainian leader to assist him in investigating former Vice President Joe Biden during a July 25 call.
“I would like you to do us a favor,” Trump said, according to the call summary, hinting at a possible investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company.
“I will have (personal lawyer to Trump) Mr. (Rudy) Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General (William) Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it,” Trump said to Zelensky according to the transcript.
The reports of the exchange, confirmed in the summary, have consumed Washington in the past several days, prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement Tuesday that Congress is opening an impeachment inquiry into the president.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, who previously mirrored Pelosi’s caution in calling for the president’s impeachment to avoid jeopardizing Democratic seats in 2020, voiced his support of the House inquiry during a press conference Wednesday.
“I don’t think it’s a question of risk,” he said. “It’s a question of duty.”
While Hoyer stopped short of characterizing Trump’s conversation with Zelensky as impeachable per se, he said the summary was a “damning” piece of evidence that the president tried “to put pressure on a foreign government to interfere in our elections or to get dirt on his opponent.”
Each Democrat from Maryland’s congressional delegation has come out in strong support of an impeachment inquiry and many weighed in on the telephone call summary.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, told Capital News Service the summary contents fit a “pattern of misconduct” by the president and will be a “key piece of evidence in the impeachment inquiry.”
Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Largo, labeled the president’s actions as deserving of his removal from office “with all deliberate speed,” he said on Twitter Wednesday.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, said the memo “validates” his stance on the need for a formal impeachment inquiry. “The President has now admitted to undermining our national security for political gain,” he wrote in a statement. “He held up military aid days before asking a foreign leader for a ‘favor’ in digging up dirt on his political rival.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, referenced interference in the 2016 election to underscore his condemnation of Trump’s actions.
“Our country is still reeling from foreign interference in our 2016 national elections and yet the president of the United States sought the direct assistance of a foreign government that would benefit his own political campaign,” Cardin said in a statement.
Cardin didn’t go so far as to call Trump’s actions impeachable, but said, “I agree that the American people need a full and complete understanding of whether President Trump has violated his responsibilities under the Constitution.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 200 Democratic representatives have come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry, but not a single Republican.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, accused the Democrats of relitigating the 2016 election and having a “singular focus to damage President Trump.”
“Democrats are barreling towards more reckless investigations and more wasted time at the American taxpayer’s expense,” he said.
In an interview with Capital News Service, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, said, “there’s nothing in (the summary) that could possibly lead to impeachment of a president.” He added, “this is much ado about nothing.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, dubbed the uproar a “nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger” on Twitter. He added: “If you are underwhelmed by this transcript, you are not alone or ‘crazy.’”
But Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, broke ranks to voice his concern about Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian leader. Romney called the transcript “deeply troubling in the extreme,” but would not say whether the conversation rose to the level of an impeachable action.
The last 48 hours have been an extraordinary shift for Democrats, many of whom were reluctant to formally begin impeachment inquiries until now.
Only three former presidents have faced impeachment proceedings: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Richard Nixon — the latter resigned under threat of impeachment. No president has been removed from office through impeachment.
Trump appeared untroubled by the swell of Democratic support for impeachment, chiding Democrats in a tweet: “Will the Democrats apologize after seeing what was said on the call with the Ukrainian President? They should, a perfect call – got them by surprise!”
In a joint statement issued by chairmen of the House committees on Oversight, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary, Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, Adam Schiff, D-California and Eliot Engel and Jerry Nadler, both D-New York, called the summary an “unambiguous, damning and shocking abuse of the Office of the Presidency.”
The chairmen wrote that the released records demonstrate how the president spurred an investigation that would benefit his own interests by dangling military aid in front of Zelensky.
“This was a shakedown,” the chairmen wrote. “Congress is now exercising its constitutional responsibility to investigate under the umbrella of impeachment, and we need cooperation immediately.”
CNS reporter Colleen Crowley contributed to this report.