WASHINGTON (CN) – Hours after returning from summer recess, House Democrats Monday launched an investigation into reports that President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani manipulated the Ukrainian justice system to boost his re-election campaign.
The House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees jointly initiated the investigation and demanded that the White House hand over a hoard of records. In a similar request for records sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the committees’ chairmen assert that the State Department may have abetted Trump’s “scheme” to coerce Ukraine into pursuing politically-motivated investigations.
Democrats set a one-week deadline for the White House and State Department to produce the requested documents.
The two-pronged inquiry pertains to the prosecution of Ukrainians who offered up key evidence against convicted Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and a case targeting Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President – and current presidential candidate – Joe Biden.
One of the records the committees seek is a transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Democrats say that Trump focused on the two Ukrainian probes during this call. The next day, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Kurt Volker met with Zelensky, followed shortly after by a meeting between Giuliani and Andriy Yermak, an aid to Zelensky.
In their requests for records, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said that Guiliani suggested to Yermak a “possible heads of state meeting” between the U.S. and Ukranian presidents. The Democrats noted that Trump’s personal attorney holds no official administrative or diplomatic role.
While the State Department said the second meeting between Giuliani and Yermak was in no way linked to U.S. government business, Yermak publicly stated “it was not clear to him whether Mr. Giuliani was representing Mr. Trump in their talks.”
Labeling the State Department a “broker” between Ukraine and Giuliani, Democrats in the letter to Pompeo voiced concern that the agency may have prioritized Trump’s personal agenda and undercut U.S. interests.
The Democrats also took issue with Trump’s recent threat to withhold a $250 million aid package to Ukraine – aimed at countering Russia-backed separatist forces – that the Pentagon supports and Congress has already approved.
In the first year of his administration, Trump approved the sale of hundreds of lethal weapons to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, a move his predecessor, Barack Obama, warned could escalate the conflict with Russia.
“If the President is trying to pressure Ukraine into choosing between defending itself from Russian aggression without U.S. assistance or leveraging its judicial system to serve the ends of the Trump campaign, this would represent a staggering abuse of power, a boon to Moscow, and a betrayal of the public trust,” the committee chairs stated in their letters.
Last month, Giuliani said he “strongly urged” Ukraine to look into claims that Biden used his political power to boost his son’s business interests as a board member of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company.
But in May, Ukraine’s prosecutor general reported there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president or his son.
The letters dispatched Monday include, in a footnote, a Tweet from Giuliani on Aug 3. that propagates the false corruption claims.
“The Politico coverup article doesn’t mention the bribery of Ukraine Pres. by then VP Biden to get the case against his son dismissed. Nor does it explain the Chinese pay-off of $1.5billion to Biden’s useless fund. Joe took his son on AFII to get the investment. It stinks!!” Giuliani said in the Tweet.
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told CNBC Monday that Trump is “abusing the office of the presidency and jeopardizing national security aid to a key ally in order to pressure them to prop-up a comprehensively discredited conspiracy theory that The Washington Post editorial board has labeled ‘bogus on its face.’”
“This is beneath us as Americans, and it reinforces a truth that Trump and his allies have made patently clear for months: he is terrified of facing Joe Biden,” Bates said.
The committee chairs made it clear that the document requests mark the first step in what will be a “broad investigation,” one of many currently underway that seek to uncover possible wrongdoings by the Trump administration.
The White House has repeatedly refused to turn over documents to Democrat-led committees attempting to act under their constitutional mandate to conduct oversight of the Oval Office.
“A growing public record indicates that, for nearly two years, the President and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, appear to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity,” the three committee chairs stated in a press release.
The White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.