Politics

'The most profound violation' yet: Democrats assail Trump's Ukraine phone call

Allan Smith
US President Donald Trump speaks during a storm briefing with the US Coast Guard, after disembarking from Air Force One in Houston on September 22, 2019.
SAUL LOEB | AFP | Getty Images

Democrats on Sunday lashed out at President Donald Trump's apparent effort to have Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his family as "the most profound violation of the presidential oath of office" yet — one for which "there has to be consequences."

Administration officials, meanwhile, dismissed concerns about Trump's July conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky just as the president confirmed to reporters he discussed Biden with the Ukrainian leader. As the Wall Street Journal first reported, Trump was said to have pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden's son Hunter's role at a Ukrainian energy company.

As the New York Times and others reported, the phone call led to a whistleblower complaint which is now at the center of a standoff between Congress and the administration. The administration has refused to turn over to Congress details of the complaint, though the Washington Post has reported that allegation centers on a "promise" Trump made. In a letter to colleagues Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the administration "will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation" if Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire fails to provide the complaint when he testifies in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., questioned that, if Trump's conversation involved no wrongdoing, "why doesn't the president simply release the transcript of that call?"

"And I don't know whether the whistleblower complaint is on this allegation but if it is and even if it isn't, why doesn't the president just say 'release the whistleblower complaint?'" Schiff told CNN's "State of the Union." "Clearly, he's afraid for the public to see either one of those things and we're determined to make sure the public does, the nation is protected."

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Administration officials said Sunday that such transcripts are not released so that foreign leaders and the president can discuss matters candidly, but Schiff said there should be no privilege afforded to discussions that "involve potential corruption or criminality."

"This would be the most profound violation of the presidential oath of office certainly during this presidency, which says a lot, but perhaps just about during any presidency," Schiff said. "There is no privilege that covers corruption. No privilege to engage in underhanded discussions."

Schiff added that the "only remedy" to such behavior is impeachment.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking with CBS's "Face the Nation," called the push for Ukraine to probe Biden a "fundamental, profound and deeply concerning abuse of power," adding it was "unprecedented" and that the transcript should be released to show whether Trump "colluded" with a foreign government to influence the upcoming presidential election.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said that if the president "is asking another foreign leader to interfere in an American election" then "there has to be consequences."

Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently met with Zelensky in Kiev. He said the Ukrainian president "didn't understand whether this was an official government position, these requests to investigate the former vice president."

Some Republicans also expressed concern about the phone call. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., told "Meet The Press" that while he didn't "know the context" of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky or "what was said," "it is not appropriate for any candidate" to "ask for assistance from a foreign government."

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said in a Sunday tweet if Trump "asked or pressured Ukraine's president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme."

"Critical for the facts to come out," he said.

Meanwhile, Trump and his allies sought to deny any wrongdoing by the president.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told "State of the Union" that he would not "speculate" on what Trump discussed with Zelensky, though he said he didn't "expect there were any issues whatsoever."