Trump officials shun requests to testify to impeachment inquiry

Donald Trump

Four U.S. officials called to testify by Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump will not show up as requested on Monday, lawmakers said, and the president pressed his demand for a whistleblower to appear.

Trump loyalists have refused to appear before Democratic-led committees in the U.S. House of Representatives, ramping up the tussle between the White House and lawmakers over their power to conduct investigations.

Some Democrats say Republican Trump, who has ordered administration officials not to cooperate, should face an obstruction of justice charge among the impeachment counts they plan to consider against him.

The testimony of the four witnesses — three White House budget officials and the White House National Security Council’s top lawyer — would have been part of the investigation into whether Trump used foreign aid to Ukraine as leverage to secure a political favor.

Lawmakers were especially interested in questioning the lawyer, John Eisenberg, about a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden, a former vice president and contender for the Democratic Party nomination to run against Trump in the November 2020 election.

Eisenberg decided to take the unusual step of moving a transcript of the call into the White House’s most classified computer system, according to a person familiar with last week’s testimony by Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who listened in on the call.

A few days after the call, Eisenberg also told Vindman not to discuss the matter, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. Vindman testified that he found it improper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and was so worried about the implications that he took the matter to Eisenberg.

“There is no reason to call witnesses to analyze my words and meaning,” Trump tweeted on Monday.

Separately, Trump on Monday dismissed an offer by the anonymous U.S. official whose whistleblower complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry to answer Republican lawmakers’ questions in writing.

The official, a member of a U.S. intelligence agency, has not been identified in keeping with longstanding practice to protect whistleblowers. Lawyers for the whistleblower say they have received death threats after conservative media outlets have floated possible names.

“He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!” Trump tweeted.

Democrats leading the effort say they don’t need to hear from the whistleblower because other witnesses have corroborated much of the initial complaint. Republicans say they need to hear from the whistleblower directly to assess their credibility.

“We think he should be here and we should get a chance to ask some of those questions,” said Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican supporter of Trump on the House Oversight Committee.

The impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump’s request in the July phone call for Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who was once on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump made his request after withholding $391 million in aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine fight Russian-backed separatists.

The investigation is probing whether Trump misused the power of his office and, if so, whether that amounted to “high crimes and misdemeanors” that merit impeachment and removal from office.

If the House votes to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove the president from office. Senate Republicans have so far show little appetite for removing the president.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and defended his Zelenskiy call as “perfect,” accusing Democrats of unfairly targeting him. Democrats are expected to wrap up the closed-door testimony in coming weeks and begin public hearings.