Lawmakers spar over impeachment witnesses as probe enters public phase

The US Capitol last week.
The US Capitol last week.Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — With the impeachment inquiry into President Trump poised to enter a new public phase this week, lawmakers sparred Sunday over the witnesses who will be allowed to testify, with Democrats dismissing GOP efforts to call the anonymous whistle-blower and former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

Democrats and Republicans have crafted dramatically different strategies for controlling the narrative of what happened between Trump and Ukraine. Democrats are trying to stay narrow and focused, keeping the story simple. Republicans want the opposite — bringing in as many characters and events as possible and arguing that while Trump may have acted inappropriately, his actions are far from impeachable and are no different from business as usual in Washington.


Trump, meanwhile, urged Republicans to say his actions were not just ‘‘not impeachable’’ but ‘‘PERFECT.’’

Both parties’ dueling game plans were in sharp relief Sunday on the morning talk shows.

‘‘This is a very simple, straightforward act. The president broke the law,’’ Democratic Representative Jackie Speier of California said on ABC News’ ‘‘This Week.’’ ‘‘He went on a telephone call with the president of Ukraine and . . . proceeded to ask for an investigation of his rival.’’

She said ‘‘this is a very strong case of bribery.’’

But Republicans do not want to focus on the much-discussed July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, or even on events of recent months. Instead, they are seeking to broaden the investigation to include actions taken years ago by the Bidens.

On NBC News’s ‘‘Meet the Press,’’ Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, argued that ‘‘it’s unfair to treat Trump under one standard and Joe Biden under a different standard.’’ He claimed that a variety of American elected officials from both parties have in recent years sought to use leverage over Ukraine to advance some kind of agenda.


‘‘I would make the argument that every politician in Washington, other than me, virtually, is trying to manipulate Ukraine to their purposes,’’ Paul said.

Republicans have sought to minimize Trump’s role in the campaign to pressure Ukraine, and the list of potential witnesses they released Saturday suggests they will continue to do so.

Among those on the list are Hunter Biden, whose father is a leading Democratic candidate to challenge Trump in 2020; Hunter Biden’s business partner Devon Archer; the unnamed whistle-blower, whom Trump and some of his allies have campaigned to publicly identify; the researcher Nellie Ohr of Fusion GPS, which commissioned a dossier that linked Russia and Trump; and Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian American who worked with the Democratic National Committee.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, said in a statement Saturday that Democrats would evaluate the requests but that the impeachment probe ‘‘will not serve . . . as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations’’ into the Bidens or the 2016 campaign, or to retaliate against the whistle-blower.

Several Democrats on Sunday pushed back against their GOP counterparts’ request.

Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, raised the issue of the ‘‘great risk associated with (the whistle-blower’s) life right now.’’ She said that it is unnecessary for the individual to appear before the intelligence panel because other witnesses who were actually on Trump’s phone call with Zelensky will testify.

‘‘The only thing that the whistle-blower can say is that he was told by other people about the phone call,’’ Speier said. ‘‘We have the other people coming forward to actually testify. So you have direct evidence, not indirect evidence.’’


Speier argued that having Hunter Biden testify would also be ‘‘irrelevant’’ because he ‘‘is unrelated to the Ukraine call.’’

Some of the witnesses Republicans have requested may be allowed, she added, including National Security Council official Tim Morrison and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, both of whom have already testified behind closed doors.

Some Republicans, meanwhile, focused on the process of the impeachment inquiry rather than on the substance of the allegations against Trump.

Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas argued on ‘‘This Week’’ that ‘‘there will be a taint to this one-sided, partisan approach to impeachment.’’

He said it would be ‘‘inappropriate,’’ but not impeachable, for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival, as Trump is alleged to have done. The importance of process, Thornberry maintained, cannot be ignored.

‘‘There’s a reason we let murderers and robbers and rapists go free when their due process rights have been violated,’’ Thornberry said.

In a tweet later Sunday, Trump suggested that saying his actions were ‘‘not impeachable’’ is not good enough. He urged Republicans to go further.

‘‘The call to the Ukrainian President was PERFECT,’’ Trump said. ‘‘Read the Transcript! There was NOTHING said that was in any way wrong. Republicans, don’t be led into the fools trap of saying it was not perfect, but is not impeachable. No, it is much stronger than that. NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG!’’