Donald Trump impeachment: With fresh evidence in hand, Chuck Schumer demands more emails and documents

Senator Chuck Schumer said on Monday that newly-released emails showing that military aid to Ukraine was suspended 90 minutes after President Donald Trump demanded "a favour" from Ukraine's president were "explosive". They strengthened, he said, Democratic demands for far more internal administration documents before Trump's impeachment trial.

The emails, made public over the weekend, included one from a White House budget office aide, Michael Duffey, telling Pentagon officials to keep quiet "given the sensitive nature of the request".

The timing of the email — just an hour-and-a-half after Trump raised investigations of his Democratic rivals with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine — added an element to Democrats' contentions that they say become clearer with every new release of evidence: Trump abused the power of his office to solicit Ukraine to help him win reelection in 2020.

"What happened over the weekend has only bolstered the case that documents should be produced and witnesses testify," Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said at a news conference, referring to the emails released to the Center for Public Integrity.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, showed no sign that he would comply with Schumer's request. Still, Schumer clearly believed that the new emails gave Democrats momentum to present evidence in the trial that the House did not have when it charged Trump with high crimes and misdemeanours.

In a letter to his Senate colleagues, Schumer laid out a long list of records that Democrats would like to see, including internal emails and documents from the White House, the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget relating to the president's effort to press Ukraine's leader to investigate Trump's political rivals.

 Donald Trump impeachment: With fresh evidence in hand, Chuck Schumer demands more emails and documents

Senator Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Thursday. By Erin Schaff © 2019 The New York Times

In the House on Monday, Democrats indicated that a broader investigation into Trump was not over. The House's counsel, Douglas Letter, raised the prospect of a second impeachment if new evidence emerged that Trump had tried to obstruct justice. His argument was contained in an appeals court filing as part of the Democrats’ effort to press the case that they still needed the testimony of Donald McGahn, the former White House counsel.

"If McGahn's testimony produces new evidence supporting the conclusion that Trump committed impeachable offences that are not covered by the articles approved by the House," Letter wrote, the House Judiciary Committee "will proceed accordingly — including, if necessary, by considering whether to recommend new articles of impeachment."

The actions in the House and the Senate may deepen the partisan impasse over Trump’s trial. If Schumer saw his document request as increasing pressure on McConnell to negotiate over the format of the proceedings, the majority leader appeared unswayed.

"Do you think Chuck Schumer is impartial?" McConnell asked during an appearance Monday morning on Fox & Friends. He went on: "So let's quit the charade. This is a political exercise."

With lawmakers at home in their districts for a two-week holiday recess, Trump's trial is in limbo. The House voted almost entirely along party lines last week to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in connection with the Ukraine matter.

For a trial to begin, the House must transmit the charges contained in the articles of impeachment to the Senate. But with McConnell coordinating trial planning with the White House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is withholding the articles, she has said, until she gets some assurance that the proceedings will be fair.

In his Fox & Friends appearance, McConnell called Pelosi's decision to withhold the articles "absurd". He predicted that she would ultimately back down. "I can't imagine what purpose is served by her holding on to the papers, so sooner or later I'm assuming she will send them over," he said.

McConnell is also unlikely to agree to Schumer's demand for documents. He has already rejected Schumer's request for testimony from four White House officials: John Bolton, Trump's former national security advisor; Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff; Robert Blair, Mulvaney's senior advisor; and Duffey, the official with the Office of Management and Budget.

Democrats argue that McConnell, who has said he is "taking my cues" from the White House, is effectively letting Trump plan his own trial and violating the oath that all senators take to be impartial jurors during an impeachment trial. In his letter demanding new documents, Schumer took a shot at McConnell.

"To oppose the admission of this evidence would be to turn a willfully blind eye to the facts, and would clearly be at odds with the obligation of senators to 'do impartial justice' according to the oath we will all take in the impeachment trial," he wrote.

Bolstering his case was the new evidence that emerged over the weekend. In Trump's 25 July call with Zelenskiy, after the Ukrainian leader mentioned that Ukraine was ready to buy anti-tank missiles to use in a war against a Russian-backed insurgency, Trump said, "I would like you to do us a favour, though," according to a reconstructed transcript released by the White House.

He then pressed Zelenskiy to open an investigation based on a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 US elections and another based on unsubstantiated claims of corrupt acts by former vice-president Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate.

That call took place from 9.03 am to 9.33 am. At 11.04 am, Duffey emailed Defence Department officials telling them of the aid, "Please hold off on any additional DoD obligations of these funds, pending direction from that process." Obligation refers to the process of a government agency designating how funds will be spent.

In addition, he wrote, "Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute the direction."

Administration officials have said the timing was coincidental. Other administration officials testified before Congress that the hold on the aid was announced at a meeting on 18 July, a week before the call.

But Schumer did not accept that. His letter demanding still more releases built on one that he sent to McConnell on 15 December, in which he asked the Senate to subpoena an unspecified list of documents, along with the four witnesses. That letter did not specify which records Schumer wanted.

The new letter was specific. His request for the White House includes "email communications, messages, memoranda and other records" related to the 25 July call, as well as White House records related to the whistleblower complaint that spurred the House impeachment inquiry.

From the State Department, he asked for "detailed notes, emails, text and WhatsApp messages, memoranda to file, and diplomatic cables pertinent to the investigation that State Department witnesses told the House are being withheld." The Office of Management and Budget, he wrote, "is also in possession of highly relevant documents and communications related to this case."

Democrats including Schumer said om Sunday that the emails made it all the more urgent that Duffey and the other witnesses testify.

"If the president is so innocent and claims he's innocent, why would he not allow, just like Richard Nixon did, the people that were closest to him to testify?" Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who is seeking the presidential nomination, said Sunday on the CBS programme Face the Nation.

The trial can proceed in one of two ways: Schumer and McConnell can reach agreement on a resolution governing the format, or McConnell can proceed on his own if he can get 51 senators to agree to a resolution.

When former president Bill Clinton was tried in 1999, the Senate passed two resolutions. The first, adopted unanimously, governed the basic format of the opening of the trial, including how long each side was given to present its case. The second, which passed along party lines, governed witnesses; there were three, all of whom gave depositions rather than testify in person. McConnell and other Republicans want Democrats to adopt the Clinton format.

"My belief is that once we’re sworn in, that 51 of us could adopt the rules from last time that would still apply," Senator Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, told reporters on Monday in the Capitol.

"The Speaker is a powerful position," Blunt added. "But it's not so powerful that the speaker can decide not to follow through on something like this."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Catie Edmondson c.2019 The New York Times Company

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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2019 08:42:59 IST