US president Trump, Democrats battle on impeachment inquiry

Reuters . Washington | Published: 13:36, Oct 09,2019


US president Donald Trump speaks as he awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former attorney general Edwin Meese at the White House in Washington, US, on October 8, 2019. — Reuters photo

The Democratic-led United States House of Representatives was set on Wednesday to step up its impeachment investigation of president Donald Trump over his dealings with Ukraine, as the White House declared it would not cooperate with the probe.

The three congressional committees leading the inquiry were working on final arrangements to interview a US intelligence officer who filed the whistle-blower complaint that triggered the probe, a day after the state department abruptly blocked the US ambassador to the European Union from speaking to them.

The investigation is focused on whether Trump used almost $400 million in congressionally approved aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into former vice-president Joe Biden, one of Trump’s main Democratic rivals as he seeks re-election in 2020.

Trump has denied wrongdoing, White House counsel Pat Cipolline wrote on Tuesday to House speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats that the administration would refuse to cooperate with what it called an ‘illegitimate’ and ‘unconstitutional’ impeachment inquiry.

‘The effort to impeach president Trump is a naked political strategy that began the day he was inaugurated,’ Cipolline’s letter added.

Pelosi said in response to the letter, ‘Mr president, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.’ She did not indicate what steps, if any, House Democrats might take to compel Trump’s cooperation.

In addition to the whistle-blower, lawmakers aim to hear later this week from a former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump removed from that post last May before her term was up.

Lawyers for the whistle-blower were focused on how to protect the person’s identity from being made public during any testimony, according to sources close to the talks.

The showdown between Trump and Pelosi heightened just as a newly released Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showed Democratic support rising for impeachment. At the same time, 45 per cent of all adult Americans said they support impeachment while 39 per cent oppose it, unchanged from last week.

Relations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress were already raw when the State Department on Tuesday ordered US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a major Trump political donor, not to appear at a closed-door meeting of three US House panels investigating Trump.

Democrats view Sondland as a key witness who could help shed light on whether Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine as part of an effort to pressure it to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had business dealings in Ukraine. Trump has alleged corruption by the Bidens, but has not provided any evidence to back that up.

The move prompted Democrats to accuse Trump of obstructing their investigation and Republicans to accuse Democrats of operating a secretive, biased inquiry.

The hot rhetoric in the high-stakes battle between Trump and Democrats who control the House is expected to intensify next week when Congress returns from a two-week recess.

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