WASHINGTON (CN) – Ratcheting up the impeachment inquiry, the head of the House Oversight Committee warned the White House on Wednesday to expect a formal subpoena for records related to President Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky.
“I do not take this step lightly,” House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings wrote.
In the 10-page memo, Cummings described the White House’s refusal to answer multiple voluntary requests for records as “flagrant disregard” for Congress and that they have been left with “no choice” but to issue a subpoena as soon as this Friday.
Cummings requested the White House provide all documents memorializing communications between Trump and the leader of “any other foreign country” that may relate to Trump’s admitted attempt to pressure Zelensky to investigate his 2020 opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter.
In addition to records related to the July 25 call, the committee seeks a list of all individuals who participated in a call between Trump and Zelensky on April 21.
Specifically, the committee wants correspondence from administration officials like Attorney General William Barr and key White House figures like Vice President Mike Pence.
Also sought are records from other officials like the assistant to the president for national security affairs; the assistant’s deputy; the senior director for European affairs; all directors covering energy affairs, including those directly involved with European and Russian affairs; the senior director for the directorate of international economics; and all White House Situation Room duty officers who staffed the July 25 call.
During a Wednesday press conference with House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Congress had “no choice but to go forward” on the impeachment inquiry.
“This is a very sad time for the country,” she said. “Impeaching the president or having an investigation to impeach the president is nothing to be joyful about. It is a sad time. … It’s hard, we want to weigh the equities and be fair as we go forward.”
Schiff said he expects the White House to stonewall congressional oversight requests but that any attempt to do so will be considered further evidence of obstruction on behalf of the Trump administration.
“We will also draw the inference as appropriate that they are trying to conceal facts that would corroborate allegations of the whistleblower complaint,” Schiff said. “We’ll have to decide whether to litigate or how to litigate, but we’re not fooling around here. We won’t have this drag on months and months, which appears to be the administration’s strategy.”
Schiff underscored that Congress would do everything in its power to protect the whistleblower’s identity despite Trump’s repeated demands he or she be identified.
“The president wants to make this all about the whistleblower and suggests that people who come forward with evidence of his wrongdoing are treasonous and should be treated as traitors and spies,” Schiff warned. “This is a blatant effort to intimidate witnesses and it’s an incitement to violence.”
For critics of the impeachment inquiry who think Democrats are overblowing the call, Pelosi encouraged they look first at Trump’s undisputed call record with Zelesnky, the undisputed suspension of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine, and the administration’s decision to sequester records of the call into a standalone system designed for top-secret and classified records instead of the usual system used for Cabinet-level transcripts.
“But the facts must still be fleshed out: What was the State Department’s role? The secretary’s role? The role of the Attorney General? We must understand the full depth of the president’s misconduct,” Pelosi said.
Former U.S. ambassador Kurt Volker, who last week resigned his post as special envoy to Ukraine, will testify before the House Intelligence committee privately. Testimony from Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson will follow Friday, and next week the committee will depose Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Schiff confirmed Wednesday that he House Intelligence Committee is in talks with other State Department officials for interviews.
Just ahead of Pelosi and Schiff’s conference, Trump lashed out on Twitter, frequently shifting his attention from Democrats to the media and back again, as he denied the call with Zelensky was inappropriate.
“The Do Nothing Democrats should be focused on building up our Country, not wasting everyone’s time and energy on BULLSHIT, which is what they have been doing ever since I got overwhelmingly elected in 2016, 223-306,” he wrote. “Get a better candidate this time, you’ll need it!” [Emphasis and punctuation in original]
Pelosi told reporters the impeachment inquiry could have been avoided all together.
“Was there any national security justification to withdraw military assistance? It could have gone through Congress but the president decided on his own to use it for leverage,” she said, before adding that President Trump undermined the U.S. Constitution and the integrity of U.S. elections with his actions.
During a Wednesday press conference in the Oval Office with Trump and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö, Trump unloaded on Schiff, suggesting the House Intelligence Committee chairman should be investigated for treason.
Going below the not-so-proverbial belt, the president also drew a comparison between Schiff and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“That guy couldn’t carry his — and I won’t say it because they will say [I] said something bad — that guy couldn’t carry his ‘blank’ strap,” Trump said, referring to a jock strap.
Though Schiff stated clearly during Wednesday’s press conference that intimidating commentary from the president on the whistleblower could fall in the realm of obstruction, Trump delivered his opinion on the whistleblower nonetheless.
“The whistleblower is so dishonest,” Trump said, adding that Democrats and the media who cover the whistleblower complaint are “very bad, dishonest people.”
Trump also called on Pelosi, Schiff and House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler to resign.
“They should resign in disgrace, all of them, it’s a disgrace… You have a perfect conversation with the president of another country, and they say, oh, let’s impeach him. They have been trying to impeach me since the day I got elected,” Trump said. “I’ve been doing this for three years. They failed and this one is the easiest one of all.”
During his remarks, Trump also abruptly singled out Nancy Pelosi’s district – San Francisco.
“It’s a tent city. There’s unsafe water, unsafe conditions … there’s needles and drugs all over the street,” he said. “There’s tents. There’s people dying in squalor in San Francisco. You have to see what the Democrats have allowed to happen.”