WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Monday said for the first time that he might be willing to testify in the impeachment inquiry over his dealings with Ukraine, even as Democrats questioned the truthfulness of his testimony in the Russia 2016 election interference probe.
Lawmakers in the Democratic-led impeachment process in the US House of Representatives have not formally called Trump as a witness in the impeachment inquiry into whether he used foreign policy to try to get Ukraine to investigate domestic political opponent Joe Biden.
During former US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, Trump said he was willing to testify but ultimately gave only written answers.
Counsel for House Democrats said in a Washington court on Monday that they are investigating whether those answers were untruthful.
Denying wrongdoing, the Republican president has railed on Twitter and elsewhere against the impeachment inquiry and attacked witnesses by name, much as he did in the two-year-long Mueller investigation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said on Sunday in a CBS interview that Trump has every opportunity to present his case, including coming before intelligence committee hearings.
“Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!” Trump said on Twitter.
At the heart of the inquiry is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into former US Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 US election.
The hearings could pave the way for the House to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for Trump’s removal.
House Speaker Pelosi, in her interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” said: “The president could come right before the committee and speak all the truth that he wants if he wants to take the oath of office … or he can do it in writing. He has every opportunity to present his case.”
Trump’s written answers to federal investigators in the Mueller probe were under renewed scrutiny apparently because last week, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates testified in the trial of Trump ally Roger Stone that Trump’s 2016 campaign was keen to keep abreast of the release of emails by WikiLeaks website potentially damaging to the Republican’s opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Gates’ testimony appeared to conflict with sworn written statements that Trump gave Mueller. Stone was convicted on seven charges, including lying to Congress.
Hearings this week
The public phase of hearings shifts into higher gear this week when a parade of officials will face questioning by Democratic lawmakers seeking details that could link Trump to a pressure campaign against Ukraine.
Eight more witnesses are due to testify in the second week of the televised hearings. They include Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, whose direct interactions with Trump are likely to be a main focus in the investigation of whether the president made security aid to Ukraine contingent on it agreeing to dig up dirt on Biden, who is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump in 2020.
Several witnesses testified last week that they were alarmed over the pressure tactics used against Ukraine, as well as the role of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
The latest round of hearings will stretch from Tuesday to Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee. Democrats are looking into whether Trump abused his power in part by withholding US$391 million in aid to Ukraine as leverage to get Kiev to investigate Biden. The money, approved by the US Congress to help US ally Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists, was later provided.