Washington: Democrats are mulling impeachment proceedings against US president Donald Trump after reports surfaced that he had asked new president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy to probe his political rival and Democratic presidential nomination frontrunner Joe Biden and his son.
This followed the reports that Trump made a phone call to Ukrainian president pressurizing him to investigate the dealings of Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
“Extorting a foreign leader for the purposes of getting that leader to do your political work, to try to find dirt on your opponent, is extortion. It is using the assets of the United States of America and the public trust for your own corrupt … ends, certainly political ends. I can’t tell you that the House will move into impeachment mode right away, but this really ups the ante”, Jim Himes of Connecticut, a member of the House panel, told CNN on Monday.
At the weekend, Biden, among the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination, accused Trump of making a baseless political smear, in an “overwhelming abuse of power”.
Campaigning in Iowa on Saturday, Biden said “Trump deserves to be investigated” for “trying to intimidate a foreign leader, if that’s what happened”. Biden said Trump was motivated by politics, “because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum”.
The Republican Utah senator Mitt Romney, a longtime Trump critic, said it was “critical for the facts to come out”. “If the president asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney [former New York mayor Rudy Giuiliani, who has admitted pressuring Ukraine], it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out,” Romney said.
Even the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, a fierce defender of Trump, said details of the call should be released. “I’m hoping the president can share, in an appropriate way, information to deal with the drama around the phone call,” Graham said. “I think it would be good for the country if we could deal with it.”
The details of the call are the subject of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint about the president’s behaviour. Against legal precedent, the acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to share details with lawmakers, citing presidential privilege. In what is swiftly becoming one of the most challenging moments of Trump’s presidency, Maguire is due to testify before the House intelligence committee on Thursday
Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee that will oversee Thursday’s hearing, said on Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union: “We may very well have crossed the Rubicon here.”
Hunter Biden was hired by the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings in April 2014, two months after Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president was ousted by protesters.
Joe Biden was heavily involved in US efforts to support the new pro-western government and its pledge to fight corruption. The hiring of the younger Biden raised concerns that the Ukrainian company, whose owner was an ally of the ousted president, was seeking to gain influence with the Obama administration.
Two years later, Joe Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire its prosecutor general, who was accused by many in Ukraine and in the west of being soft on corruption.
Trump has claimed that the prosecutor, who had led an investigation into Burisma’s owner, “was after” Hunter Biden and the vice-president, was trying to protect his son. There is no evidence for this.
Trump has insisted he said “absolutely nothing wrong” in the call to Zelenskiy. He did not answer directly when asked whether he would release a transcript. Trump and Zelenskiy plan to meet at the UN general assembly in New York this week.
Trump called the intelligence community whistleblower “partisan” before acknowledging he did not know the identity of the official who lodged the complaint.
The complaint was based on a series of events including the 25 July call between Trump and Zelenskiy, the Associated Press reported, citing intelligence officials.
Leaving the White House on Sunday for Texas, Ohio and then New York and the United Nations, Trump told reporters the call, on 25 July, with Volodymyr Zelenskiy was both “congratulatory” and focused on corruption in the eastern European nation.
Trump said he raised Biden as an example. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Regardless, Trump said: “It was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice-President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”
Trump’s apparent admission added to pressure on Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings. Even some Republicans urged the president to make public the details of his call with Zelenskiy. Trump hinted at such a move.