WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congress is determined to get access to Donald Trump’s calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders, the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee said on Sunday, citing concerns the Republican president may have jeopardized national security.
U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during a news conference about impeachment proceedings at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Al Drago
“I think the paramount need here is to protect the national security of the United States and see whether in the conversations with other world leaders and in particular with Putin that the president was also undermining our security in a way that he thought would personally benefit his campaign,” Democrat Adam Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Congress is investigating a whistleblower complaint that said Trump solicited a political favor from Ukraine’s president that could help him get re-elected to a second term next year. Democrats say Trump’s actions jeopardized national security and the integrity of U.S. elections.
The whistleblower’s complaint cited a telephone call in which Trump asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leader among Democrats seeking to challenge Trump in 2020, and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
The July 25 phone call came shortly after the United States froze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, prompting concern that Trump was using the taxpayer money already approved by Congress as leverage for his personal political gain.
The complaint said White House lawyers directed that an electronic summary of the call be moved from the place where such things are usually kept to a secret server reserved for covert matters.
“If those conversations with Putin or with other world leaders are sequestered in that same electronic file that is meant for covert action, not meant for this, if there’s an effort to hide those and cover those up, yes we’re determined to find out,” Schiff said on NBC.
Schiff did not say whether he plans to subpoena that information. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Schiff’s statement that he wanted access to the call summaries.”
The Ukraine scandal cast a shadow over Trump’s presidency just months after the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign worked with Russia to help him win the 2016 presidential election.
That investigation concluded that Moscow waged a social media and propaganda campaign aimed at putting Trump in the White House. The Mueller report, released in April, laid out numerous contacts between Russian officials and Trump’s campaign, but found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
The Ukraine matter prompted Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump on Tuesday.
“DEEP STATE OPERATIVE”
Polls show an increase in support for Trump’s impeachment last week, and Democrats say they think voters are turning their way. Republican leaders maintain the inquiry will backfire.
Trump says there was nothing wrong with his phone call with the Ukrainian leader and denounced the whistleblower as a “political hack.”
White House adviser Stephen Miller took up the attack on Sunday, accusing the whistleblower of being part of a “deep state” government conspiracy to foment opposition to Trump.
“I know the difference between a whistleblower and a ‘deep state’ operative. This is a ‘deep state’ operative pure and simple,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
Trump’s Republican supporters in Congress defended the president’s actions on Sunday TV news shows. “I have zero problems with this phone call,” Senator Lindsey Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The whistleblower’s complaint was deemed credible by the inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community and the acting director of national intelligence told lawmakers the person “acted in good faith” and “did the right thing.”
The intelligence committee has reached an agreement with the whistleblower to appear before the panel, Schiff told ABC’s “This Week.” Schiff said he hoped it would be very soon.
Lawmakers were working out logistics to protect the person’s identity and get security clearance for lawyers who represent the whistleblower. A person close to the whistleblower said on Sunday many issues remained to be worked out.
House committees on Friday issued a subpoena to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for documents concerning contact with the Ukrainian government. They also scheduled depositions for five State Department officials.
Schiff said Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, appeared to lay the foundation for Trump’s call to Zelenskiy through his efforts to encourage Ukrainian authorities to investigate the Biden family.
Schiff told ABC his committee would decide whether to have Giuliani testify after the investigation fleshes out details of his involvement.
Giuliani said on Sunday he would testify with Trump’s approval.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Lisa Shumaker