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Democrats push back on GOP demands for Biden, whistleblower testimony

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring) questions acting

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring) questions acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 26. Credit: AP / Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON — House Democrats and Republicans offered a preview Sunday of the case each side will make this week when public hearings start in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Top Democrats making the Sunday talk show rounds argued the president's dealings with Ukraine as described by a succession of top diplomats and White House officials in closed-door depositions over the past month were evidence of "bribery" and an abuse of power.

Congressional Republicans countered that the president's request for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into his political rivals may have been "inappropriate" but did not rise to the level of impeachment. 

Trump, spending the day out of sight at his Trump Tower residence in Manhattan, weighed in on Twitter, calling on Republicans to not be "led into the fools trap of saying it was not perfect, but is not impeachable."

The president repeated his long-standing defense that his July 25 call with Zelensky was "perfect." During the call, now at the center of the impeachment inquiry, Trump called on his newly elected counterpart to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, and into a debunked theory that credits Ukraine, not Russia, with hacking into the Democratic National Committee's 2016 emails.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), appearing on ABC’s “This Week," said Trump's request, which came days after he withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, pointed to "a very strong case of bribery."

"You have an elected official, the president, demanding action of a foreign country in this case, and providing something of value, which is the investigation, and he is withholding aid, which is that official act," Speier said. "The Constitution is very clear: treason, bribery or acts of omission. In this case, it's clearly one of those."

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, told “This Week” that Trump’s call with Zelensky was “inappropriate” but not “impeachable.”

“I believe it's inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival. Now that leads to a question if there's a political rival with a family member who is involved in questionable activity, what do you do?” Thornberry said.

Trump and House Republicans continued to press House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to approve the caucus' list of those it would like to question at the open hearings, including the Bidens and the U.S. intelligence whistleblower whose Aug. 12 complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry.

Democrats making the Sunday show rounds said some of the names on the GOP list would probably be called, but the Bidens and the whistleblower would probably not be summoned. 

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney  (D-Cold Spring), appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said Hunter Biden’s testimony was “not relevant” to the impeachment inquiry focused on Trump’s push to have Ukraine investigate in part Biden’s role on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was in office.

“He has no knowledge of what the president did or didn’t do here that is the subject of the impeachment hearing,” said Maloney, who sits on the intelligence committee, one of three committees leading the inquiry. He added that Hunter Biden was a “private citizen” and had “broken no laws” by serving on a foreign corporate board.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a former CIA analyst who sits on the Intelligence Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace that he believed it was critical for Hunter Biden and “other Americans who served on the board of Burisma,” the Ukrainian gas company, to testify to ensure those leading the inquiry “turn over every rock and pursue every lead.”

Hurd, a moderate Republican, split from most House Republicans in saying the whistleblower should not be identified publicly, as Trump has sought in defiance of federal whistleblower protection laws.

“How we treat this whistleblower will impact whistleblowers in the future,” Hurd said. “Having this whistleblower law on the books is important, it’s an important check and balance.”

Schiff, in a letter to Republicans sent Saturday rejected their bid to depose the whistleblower, saying it was "redundant" to bring forward the individual whose claims have since been corroborated by the testimony of State Department and White House officials, and the White House's release of a summary transcript of Trump's call with Zelensky. 

Trump has repeatedly said the request was “perfect,” but administration officials testifying in the initial closed-door impeachment inquiry hearings over the past month, have said there was a quid pro quo involved in tying the aid and further U.S. support of Ukraine to Trump’s demand that Zelensky announce the opening of an investigation into Trump’s political rivals.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Trump ally appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press," said Trump had “every right” as president to withhold aid from Ukraine if he believed the country was grappling with corruption.

“I think it's a mistake to say, 'Oh, he withheld aid until he got what he wanted.’ Well, if it's corruption and he believes there to be corruption, he has every right to withhold aid,” Paul said.

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