U.S. President Donald Trump, faced with a mounting impeachment inquiry, said Monday that written answers are not good enough from the whistleblower who first disclosed that he had pressed Ukraine to pursue investigations of one of his chief 2020 Democratic political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.
"He must be brought forward to testify," Trump said on Twitter regarding the whistleblower. "Written answers not acceptable!" He called the impeachment investigation a "con."
Trump offered his latest assessment on the impeachment effort targeting him in the House of Representatives a day after a Washington lawyer, Mark Zaid, said his client, the unnamed whistleblower, would be willing to answer questions in writing posed by Republican supporters of Trump, other than queries about his identity. Republican lawmakers also said the conditions were unacceptable.
The dispute over the whistleblower's possible testimony came as the leader of the House impeachment inquiry, Congressman Adam Schiff, began to release transcripts of testimony of U.S. diplomats already heard by lawmakers behind closed doors in recent weeks.
Two envoys, Marie Yovanovitch, a former ambassador to Ukraine, and Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both told investigators that they did not feel supported by the State Department in their dealings with Ukraine or in their relations with Trump and his aides.
Yovanovitch said she felt threatened by Trump when he described her as "bad news" in a late July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump officials recalled her to Washington months before her tour in Kyiv was due to end and dismissed her.
McKinley quit last month, telling the impeachment investigators he left the State Department for two reasons: "The failure, in my view, of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry, and second, by what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives."
Trump has been unsuccessful in several attempts to block national security and diplomatic officials from testifying behind closed doors at the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry in advance of planned public hearings later this month.
On Monday, however, four White House witnesses, including John Eisenberg, the lead lawyer for the National Security Council, defied subpoenas to testify.
Schiff said the absence of the four officials amounted to obstruction of the congressional investigation and could eventually be one more article of impeachment against Trump.
In one of his Twitter comments, Trump wrote, "What I said on the phone call with the Ukrainian President is 'perfectly' stated. There is no reason to call witnesses to analyze my words and meaning. This is just another Democrat Hoax that I have had to live with from the day I got elected (and before!). Disgraceful!"
Trump on Sunday derided the whistleblower, linking him to his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, along with former CIA director John Brennan and former national security adviser Susan Rice — two of Obama’s top aides.
“There have have been stories written about a certain individual, a male, and they say he’s the whistleblower,” Trump said at the White House. “If he's the whistleblower, he has no credibility because he’s a Brennan guy, he’s a Susan Rice guy, he’s an Obama guy. And he hates Trump.”
“Now, maybe it’s not him. But if it’s him, you guys ought to release the information,” the president urged reporters.
Zaid, the whistleblower's lawyer, said his legal team has offered to allow Congressman Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, to submit questions which the whistleblower would answer "in writing, under oath and penalty of perjury."
But Congressman Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, objected to the proposed process, saying written answers would not give Republicans a chance to cross-examine the whistleblower.
"You don't get to ignite an impeachment effort and never account for your actions and role in orchestrating it," Jordan said in a statement. "We have serious questions about this individual's political bias and partisan motivations and it seems Mark Zaid and Adam Schiff [the Democrat leading the impeachment probe] are attempting to hide these facts from public scrutiny."
Zaid responded on Twitter, saying Jordan's statement showed a "misunderstanding" of federal whistleblower protections.
Those laws protect the identity and careers of people who report issues such as misconduct, abuse of authority and dangers to public safety by government employees.
The whistleblower reported being "deeply concerned" about Trump's July 25 telephone call with Zelenskiy in which Trump urged the Ukrainian leader to investigate Biden for alleged corruption, his son Hunter Biden, who worked for a Ukrainian natural gas company, and any efforts Ukraine undertook to try to defeat Trump in the 2016 election.
Although the whistleblower gave a second-hand account of the Trump phone call, witnesses who heard the call directly have verified much of what he said, as did a rough transcript of the call released by the White House.
Trump has been unsuccessful in several attempts to block national security and diplomatic officials from testifying at the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry conducted behind closed doors in advance of planned public hearings later this month.
On Monday, however, two White House witnesses, including John Eisenberg, the lead lawyer for the National Security Council, defied subpoenas to testify and two others were also expected to do the same later in the day.
Despite laws protecting government whistleblowers, Trump demanded again Sunday that the whistleblower be revealed.
"The Whistleblower got it sooo wrong that HE must come forward," Trump tweeted. "The Fake News Media knows who he is but, being an arm of the Democrat Party, don’t want to reveal him because there would be hell to pay," Trump said. "Reveal the Whistleblower and end the Impeachment Hoax!"
Trump insisted that he does not know who the whistleblower is, although he keeps referring to that person as "he" and says it's an "Obama guy."
The Democratic-led impeachment probe is centered on whether Trump called on a foreign government — Ukraine — to interfere in next year's election and withheld $391 million in military aid unless Zelenskiy publicly committed himself to investigating Biden and the Democrats.
White House aide Kellyanne Conway told CNN Sunday that Trump's request was not an impeachable offense.