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Democrats Planning To Get Around Trump Blocks To Pursue Impeachment

Facing a White House vowing to block the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, Democratic congressional leaders were planning on Thursday the next moves in their probe of President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Two days after the administration abruptly blocked the U.S. ambassador to the European Union from testifying to three House committees, lawmakers were negotiating how to secure testimony from the U.S. intelligence officer whose whistleblower report on Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president sparked the furor.

Talks on the intelligence officer were focused on how to prevent that person’s identity from being made public, possibly by having the officer testify from a remote location and using technology to hide the officer’s identity, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Congressional sources also acknowledged some concern that the administration would block testimony by a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was removed from her post by Trump before her term was up. On Tuesday, the State Department called off testimony by Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU, after he had flown in from Brussels to appear voluntarily.

House Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry after the revelation that Trump had sought foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. election. A whistleblower complaint to Congress also raised concerns that Trump leveraged $400 million in U.S. aid to secure a promise from Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and has described the probe as a partisan smear.

“Republicans are now refusing to answer the simplest question: whether it’s acceptable for a president to pressure foreign countries to undermine our elections. American elections should be decided by Americans, not by ‘favors’ from foreign governments,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Thursday.

House Democrats spearheading the inquiry are said to be mulling a possible counterattack against White House efforts to block the investigation, which one aide said could be unfurled early next week, when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill from a two-week recess.

Pelosi is expected to discuss the impeachment inquiry in a conference call with Democratic members of the House on Friday according to a Democratic leadership aide.

Are Democrats on a witch hunt?

Two Ukrainian businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, whose testimony the House had sought, are no longer expected to speak, U.S. media reported. A lawyer for the men has said that neither will appear for depositions.

The House has also asked Trump’s former Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, to appear on Oct. 14, Axios reported.

It also subpoenaed Sondland to appear on Oct. 16.

BIDEN LASHES OUT

The impeachment fight played out on the campaign trail on Wednesday, when former Vice President Biden for the first time called for Trump’s impeachment. One of the most moderate of the Democrats seeking the 2020 nomination, Biden waited longer than many of his rivals to make that call.

“With his words and his actions, President Trump has indicted himself. By obstructing justice, refusing to comply with a congressional inquiry, he’s already convicted himself,” Biden said. “In full view of the world and the American people, Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed this nation and committed impeachable acts.”

Trump, true to form, fired back immediately on Twitter: “So pathetic to see Sleepy Joe Biden, who with his son, Hunter, and to the detriment of the American Taxpayer, has ripped off at least two countries for millions of dollars, calling for my impeachment – and I did nothing wrong.”

Trump has repeatedly and without evidence accused Biden and his son of benefiting from a corrupt deal in Ukraine.

Biden has denied wrongdoing.

A number of recent polls have also shown a shift in public support for Congress’ impeachment inquiry. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll this week found 45% of Americans support impeachment, with rising support among Democrats.

HELP US ‘RESOLVE IT’

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday Trump did not seek to blackmail him in a July 25 telephone call or a September meeting, and that his aim was to arrange a meeting with Trump and seek a change in White House rhetoric on Ukraine.

Zelenskiy said he did raise the issue of the withheld U.S. aid with Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, at a separate meeting in September.

“I told him … please help to resolve it,” Zelenskiy told reporters in Kiev regarding his meeting with Pence in Poland. “And after our meeting America unblocked the aid.”

Pence told reporters on Wednesday he had no objection to releasing transcripts of his call with Zelenskiy and said he did not discuss the Bidens with the Ukrainian leader. Zelenskiy, in his comments to reporters on Thursday, said he was not ready to publish records of his conversations with any world leaders.

In a read-out of the Trump-Zelenskiy call released last month by the White House, the two discussed U.S. assistance generally before Trump pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Biden.

Asked if the White House record of the call was accurate, Zelenskiy said he had not checked but thought it was correct.

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