WASHINGTON (AP) — Agitated and angry, President Donald Trump squared off against House Democrats, packing his increasingly aggressive impeachment defense with name-calling, insults and expletives. Quietly but just as resolutely, lawmakers expanded their inquiry, promising a broad new subpoena for documents and witnesses.
Democratic leaders put the White House on notice that the wide-ranging subpoena would be coming for information about Trump’s actions in the Ukraine controversy, the latest move in an impeachment probe that’s testing the Constitution’s system of checks and balances. They said they’d go to court if necessary.
Amid the legal skirmishing, Wednesday was a day of verbal fireworks.
Trump complained that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was handing out subpoenas “like cookies,” railed against a government whistleblower as “vicious” and assailed the news media as corrupt and the “enemy.” All that alongside a presidential tweetstorm punctuated with an accusation that congressional Democrats waste time and money on “BULL----.”
Pelosi said Democrats had no choice but to take on the most “solemn” of constitutional responsibilities to put a check on executive power after the national security whistleblower’s complaint that recently came to light. The administration and Congress are on a collision course unseen in a generation after the whistleblower exposed a July phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump pressed for an investigation of Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his family.
“We take this to be a very sad time” for the American people and the country, Pelosi said. “Impeaching the president isn’t anything to be joyful about.”
Standing beside her, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff accused Trump of “an incitement to violence” with his attacks on the unnamed whistleblower, who is provided anonymity and other protections under federal law. He said the investigation is proceeding “deliberately” but with a sense of “urgency.”
Unlike Trump, Schiff never raised his voice, but said firmly: "We’re not fooling around here.”
Pelosi, in a “Good Morning America” interview to be broadcast Thursday, said Trump is “scared” of the impeachment inquiry and the arguments that can be made against him.
Democrats are talking of basing an impeachment charge of obstruction on the White House’s slow-walking of documents and testimony — administration actions that echo the months of resisting Congress in its other investigations of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and Trump’s business dealings.
Ahead of the new subpoena, the chairmen of three House committees accused the administration of “flagrant disregard” of previous requests for documents and witnesses and said that refusal could be considered an impeachable offense.
The standoff took on a defiant tone this week when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would not stand for Democrats “bullying” his employees into appearing before the congressional committees, even as he acknowledged that he had been among those U.S. officials listening on the line during the Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine leader.
Pompeo’s admission is complicating his situation, and House leaders now consider him a “witness” to Trump’s interaction with Ukraine.
One former State Department official, Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, was to appear Thursday for a closed-door interview with House investigators. He is said to be eager to tell his side of the story. That’s ahead of next week’s deposition of ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Maria “Masha” Yovanovitch.