The whistle-blower who raised alarms about President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and touched off the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry is willing to answer written questions submitted by House Republicans, the person’s lawyer says.
But President Trump says that’s not good enough.
Trump himself refused to provide anything but written answers in response to limited questions during the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election.
The testimony offer, made over the weekend to Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, followed escalating attacks by Trump and his GOP allies who are demanding the whistle-blower’s identity be revealed.
It would allow Republicans to ask questions of the whistle-blower without having to go through the committee’s chairman, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff.
“Being a whistle-blower is not a partisan job nor is impeachment an objective. That is not our role,” Mark Zaid, the whistle-blower’s attorney, tweeted Sunday.
“We will ensure timely answers,” he said.
U.S. whistle-blower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. Lawmakers in both major political parties have historically backed those protections.
But Trump, weighing in on Twitter Monday morning, said the person should appear publicly.
“He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!” Trump wrote, slamming the entire process as a “Con!”
Trump has denied he did anything wrong in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which he pressed Zelenskiy to investigate Trump’s political rivals. At the time, the administration was withholding military aid to Ukraine that had been approved by Congress.
That call sparked the complaint that led to the inquiry.
Zaid said the whistle-blower would answer questions directly from Republican members “in writing, under oath & penalty of perjury.” Only queries seeking the person’s identity won’t be answered, he said.
Nunes’ office did not have immediate comment.
The new proposal came as Trump stepped up his attacks on the investigation, tweeting on Sunday, “Reveal the whistle-blower and end the Impeachment Hoax!”
The whistle-blower’s secondhand account of the phone call has been providing a road map for House Democrats investigating whether the president and others in his orbit pressured Ukraine to probe political opponents, including former Vice-President Joe Biden.
Democrats are heading into a crucial phase of their impeachment inquiry as they move toward public impeachment hearings this month. They have called for testimony in the coming weeks from 11 witnesses, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former national security adviser John Bolton in closed-door interviews. It’s unclear whether any of them will come to Capitol Hill.
Trump is also pushing the news media to divulge the whistle-blower’s identity.
“They know who it is. You know who it is. You just don’t want to report it,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Sunday. “And you know you’d be doing the public a service if you did.”
The Associated Press typically does not reveal the identity of any whistle-blower.
The whistle-blower’s complaint has been corroborated in many respects by people with firsthand knowledge of the events who have appeared on Capitol Hill.
Trump says he demanded no quid pro quo, as has been alleged, but he also says such arrangement are common while leveraging power in conducting foreign policy.
The whistle-blower has become a central focus for Republicans, and in particular the president. The intelligence community’s inspector general has said the person could have an “arguable political bias,” but he nevertheless found the whistle-blower’s complaint to be “credible.”
The president believes that if he can expose bias in the initial allegations against him, he can paint the entire impeachment inquiry as a partisan, political probe. To this point, Republicans have largely fought the inquiry on process, not substance, arguing it is tainted because interviews are being conducted in closed sessions – though GOP lawmakers are in attendance and grilling the witnesses – and complaining that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had not called a vote to launch the matter.
Pelosi did call such a vote last week – the inquiry was approved in a mostly partisan vote – and the investigation will soon shift into open hearings.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Sunday that he had not yet discussed the whistle-blower’s offer with Nunes, but agreed with Trump that the person should answer questions in a public appearance before the committee.
“When you’re talking about the removal of the president of the United States, undoing democracy, undoing what the American public had voted for, I think that individual should come before the committee,” McCarthy told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Attorney Zaid said his team had addressed the issue of alleged bias with Republican members of the committee and had stressed the need for anonymity to maintain the safety of the whistle-blower and that person’s family, “but with little effect in halting the attacks.”
“Let me be absolutely clear: Our willingness to co-operate has not changed,” tweeted Andrew P. Bakaj, another attorney representing the whistle-blower. “Their fixation on exposing the whistle-blower’s identity is simply because they’re at a loss as to how to address the investigations the underlying disclosure prompted.”
CHANGE OF THOUGHT
Lev Parnas, an indicted Ukrainian-American businessman who has ties to President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is now prepared to comply with requests for records and testimony from congressional impeachment investigators, his lawyer told Reuters on Monday.
Parnas, who helped Giuliani look for dirt on Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, is a key figure in the impeachment inquiry that is examining whether Trump abused his office for personal political gain.
His apparent decision to work with the congressional committees represents a change of heart. Parnas rebuffed a request from three House of Representatives committees last month to provide documents and testimony.
“We will honour and not avoid the committee’s requests to the extent they are legally proper, while scrupulously protecting Mr. Parnas’ privileges including that of the Fifth Amendment,” said the lawyer, Joseph Bondy, referring to his client’s constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination.
Giuliani did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On Capitol Hill, the House leadership and a spokesperson for the House Intelligence Committee declined comment.
His previous lawyer, John Dowd, wrote to the committees in early October complaining that their requests for documents were “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
Parnas pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court last month to being part of a scheme that used a shell company to donate money to a pro-Trump election committee and illegally raise money for a former congressman as part of an effort to have the president remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
The indictment does not address the issues involved in the impeachment inquiry.
Parnas would be a crucial witness if he were to cooperate. He has said he played a key role in connecting Giuliani to Ukrainian officials during Giuliani’s investigation into Biden and his son Hunter.
Trump’s request to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a July 25 phone call to investigate the Bidens was at the heart of a whistleblower complaint by an intelligence officer that sparked the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24.
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