WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Democrats on Friday asked Vice President Mike Pence to hand over documents relating to a meeting he held with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and a call between Zelenskiy and President Donald Trump that is at the center of their widening impeachment probe.
The Democratic chairmen of the three House committees leading the impeachment investigation of Trump gave Pence until Oct. 15 to produce any records relating to the July 25 call and a meeting he held with Zelenskiy on Sept. 1.
During the call, Trump pressed Zelenskiy to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and his son, Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.
At the time of the call, the United States was withholding security assistance for the country.
“Recently, public reports have raised questions about any role you may have played in conveying or reinforcing the president’s stark message to the Ukrainian president,” the chairmen of the House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committee wrote in a letter to Pence.
A spokeswoman for Pence said the broad nature of the request showed that it was not “serious.”
When Pence met with Zelenskiy, the two discussed the $250 million in security assistance that the U.S. Congress had approved but that the Trump administration had not disbursed.
Democrats in the House of Representatives are trying to determine whether they should impeach Trump for pressing Ukraine for a probe of Biden and his son. Biden is a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. His son was on the board of Burisma for a number of years.
The investigation could lead to the approval of articles of impeachment – or formal charges – against Trump in the Democratic-controlled House. A trial on whether to remove him from office would then be held in the U.S. Senate. Republicans who control the Senate have shown little appetite for ousting him.
A cache of diplomatic texts Democrats received as part of their impeachment inquiry showed U.S. officials pressured the Ukrainian government to launch investigations that might benefit Trump’s personal political agenda in exchange for a meeting of the two countries’ leaders.
Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, gave the messages to the House committees in a closed-door meeting on Thursday, and the chairmen released them later in the day.
ROMNEY PUSHES BACK
Trump has said Biden and his son are “corrupt” but has shown no evidence to back that up. The president on Thursday went a step further in his attacks on Biden when he called on China to investigate the former vice president and his son, who had business interests there.
U.S. senator and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Friday it was “wrong and appalling” for Trump to push other nations to investigate Biden.
“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney said on Twitter.
Trump said on Friday he would not tie a much-anticipated trade deal with China to his desire for Beijing to investigate Joe Biden.
“One thing has nothing to do with the other,” he said.
Biden leads in most opinion polls among the 19 Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to take on Trump in the November 2020 election. His campaign has blasted Trump’s efforts as desperate.
In a signal of how Kiev will handle investigations being watched in Washington, Ukrainian prosecutors said they would review 15 old probes related to Burisma’s founder but added that they were unaware of any evidence of wrongdoing by Biden’s son.
The White House plans to argue that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, must have the full House vote to formally approve an impeachment inquiry, a source familiar with the effort said.
Without a vote, White House lawyers believe Trump, who has called the impeachment probe a “hoax,” can ignore lawmakers’ requests, the source said, meaning the federal courts would presumably have to render a decision and potentially slow the march toward impeachment.
A White House letter arguing Pelosi must hold a House vote will probably be sent to Capitol Hill next week, an administration official said. The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee plans to issue more subpoenas in coming days.
Reporting by Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Karen Freifeld; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Howard Goller, Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis