WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his attacks Monday against the impeachment investigation, two days ahead of public hearings targeting him for allegedly abusing his office to help himself politically.
Before observing the annual Veterans Day tribute to the U.S. military at a New York ceremony, Trump claimed on Twitter, without offering any evidence, that Congressman Adam Schiff, the leader of the impeachment probe in the House of Representatives, had "doctored" transcripts of eight officials who have testified in recent weeks behind closed doors in a secure room at the U.S. Capitol.
According to the transcripts, the current and former diplomatic and national security officials have detailed how Trump and his aides pressed Ukraine to launch investigations of one of his chief 2020 Democratic presidential challengers, former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election, not Russia, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded.
"Republicans should put out their own transcripts!" Trump demanded.
Trump, in a late July call, asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for "a favor," to carry out these investigations, at a time he was temporarily withholding $391 million in military aid Ukraine wanted for its fight against pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. Trump eventually released the assistance to Kyiv in September without Ukraine opening the investigations.
The impeachment inquiry was touched off by a complaint from an anonymous government whistleblower who said he was troubled by Trump's request to Zelenskiy for the Biden investigations, since it seemed the president was seeking the help of a foreign government in next year's election.
Trump, who has often described his call with Zelenskiy as "perfect," tweeted that the impeachment investigation should be ended and that "the Whistleblower, his lawyer and Corrupt politician Schiff should be investigated (sic) for fraud!"
In early 2017 as Trump assumed power, Washington attorney Mark Zaid, the whistleblower's lawyer, tweeted that a "coup has started" and that "impeachment will follow ultimately," later saying, "We will get rid of him, and this country is strong enough to survive even him and his supporters."
It is only the fourth time in U.S. history that impeachment hearings have been opened against a president. In the previous three times, two presidents (Andrew Johnson in the mid-19th century and Bill Clinton two decades ago) were impeached but acquitted in Senate trials, while a third president, Richard Nixon, resigned ahead of all-but-certain impeachment in the 1970s.
As the hearings start Wednesday before Schiff's House Intelligence Committee, two U.S. State Department officials, William Taylor and George Kent, are set to testify how Trump and his aides pressured Zelenskiy to open the investigations of the Bidens. Republicans are hoping to pinpoint any inconsistencies in their testimony and have temporarily named a staunch Trump supporter, Congressman Jim Jordan, to the panel to defend the president.
Trump on Monday and Sunday complained about the impeachment hearing rules adopted by the Democratic-controlled House, saying on Twitter that Schiff "will not allow a White House lawyer, nor will he allow ANY of our requested witnesses. This is a first in due process and Congressional history!"
Under the rules, Trump will be able to have a lawyer representing him when the House Judiciary Committee considers possible articles of impeachment against him in the coming weeks, and, if the full House impeaches him, at a trial in the Republican-majority Senate.
But the rules do not call for Trump legal representation at the House Intelligence panel's hearings.
"The call to the Ukrainian President was PERFECT," Trump tweeted. "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!"
Trump for weeks has denied his late July call with Zelenskiy amounted to a quid pro quo -- the military aid in exchange for an investigation of the Bidens.
Schiff invited Republicans to submit a list of witnesses they want to question. But Schiff has rejected the two most prominent figures on the Republican wish list: Hunter Biden and the unnamed whistleblower.
Under U.S. law, the identity of inside-the-government whistleblowers alleging wrongdoing is protected from disclosure.
Trump, however, has urged that the whistleblower be named and says he should be able to confront his accuser. Democrats have voiced concerns about protecting the whistleblower's safety and note that much of what he alleged has been corroborated by government officials who heard Trump's call or were directed to push for the Ukraine investigations of the Bidens. In addition, a rough transcript of the Trump call with Zelenskiy released by the White House quoted Trump asking the Ukrainian leader for the Biden probes.
Calling in the whistleblower to testify would be "redundant and unnecessary," said Schiff.
"The committee ... will not facilitate efforts by President Trump and his allies in Congress to threaten, intimidate and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm," Schiff said in a letter to the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Congressman Devin Nunes. " ... The whistleblower has a right under laws championed by this committee to remain anonymous and to be protected from harm."
Schiff said that after weeks of behind-closed-doors testimony, his inquiry "has gathered an ever-growing body of evidence – from witnesses and documents, including the president's own words in his July 25 call record – that not only confirms but far exceeds the initial information in the whistleblower's complaint .... In light of the president's threats, the individual's appearance before us would only place their personal safety at grave risk."
Schiff said the public impeachment hearings "will not serve as vehicles" for what he called "sham investigations into the Bidens or debunked conspiracies about 2016 U.S. election interference that President Trump pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit."