Democrats are increasingly fending off accusations that their impeachment inquiry is chiefly a mission to oust President Trump from office or damage him politically, rather than the solemn fact-finding quest for truth they have claimed.
With more witnesses set to testify this week, Republicans on Sunday pointed to Democrats’ recent shift to focus on “bribery” in the wake of focus group testing as evidence that the impeachment inquiry is intrinsically political in nature.
“The worst part is they don’t care about the substance. They know they have nothing, so now they’re making it up and polling to figure out what is best to sell to the American people,” Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
That was a reference to reports that House Democrats’ campaign arm conducted polling that showed the use of the word “bribery” provoked a bigger reaction than “quid pro quo” or “extortion” in relation to allegations that President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine for political reasons.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have been saying in recent days that Mr. Trump engaged in attempted bribery by threatening to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the country’s leaders publicly announced anti-corruption investigations, including into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
Still, Mrs. Pelosi said she had “no idea” whether bribery would be among the articles of impeachment should the House ultimately move to impeach the president. She also said she wasn’t sure whether the process would be wrapped up by the end of the year.
“There’s not even a decision made to impeach the president. This is a finding of fact, unfolding of the truth. And then a decision will be made, and that is a decision that goes beyond me,” the California Democrat said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“If he has information that is exculpatory, that means ex, taking away, culpable, blame, then we look forward to seeing it,” she said of the president.
Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, acknowledged that it is a challenge to explain the impeachment process to an American public that might be more concerned about other things.
“I think a lot of Americans are paying attention to their pocketbooks, are more concerned with the president’s sabotage campaign against the Affordable Care Act than they are with this impeachment inquiry,” Mr. Murphy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “So we have a job to do, to explain why this matters.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who has been leading efforts on the impeachment inquiry, turned some heads when he attacked the president at a California Democratic convention over the weekend.
“We are a majority in one House and we will become the majority in the other, and we will send that charlatan in the White House back to the golden throne he came from,” Mr. Schiff said.
Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican, said Sunday that Mr. Schiff has been looking for a way to impeach Mr. Trump for three years.
“He’s on the quest for impeachment. He’s obsessed with impeaching the president of the United States, and a majority of the Democrats were already on record of wanting to impeach this president before the Ukrainian call even [happened],” Mr. Turner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“So I’m certain we’ll continue to see the long list of new reasons why Adam Schiff thinks this president should be impeached,” he said.
Mr. Schiff’s committee is scheduled to hear from a handful of current and former Trump administration officials this week, including Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Mr. Sondland revised testimony he gave behind closed doors to say that he recalled telling Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, that Ukraine would likely not receive the military aid in question until a public anti-corruption statement under discussion was made public.
Mr. Murphy said Mr. Sondland is faced with a choice of whether his primary loyalty is to the United States or to Mr. Trump.
“It seems clear that he was in fact talking pretty regularly, potentially, with the president directly. And if that were the case, then he needs to explain that,” Mr. Murphy said on CNN. “Ultimately, this is about his legacy. And if it comes out that he misled the committee in his initial testimony or outright lied there are real consequences for him down the line.”
Mr. Schiff’s committee also released transcripts over the weekend of closed-door interviews with Timothy Morrison, a former official on the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence on Europe and Russia issues.
Mr. Morrison testified that Mr. Sondland had communicated to Mr. Yermak that he believed they could help expedite the aid if a prosecutor general would “go to the mike” and announce an investigation into Burisma Holdings.
Burisma is an energy company where Hunter Biden, a son of the former vice president, held a lucrative seat on the board until recently.
Ms. Williams testified that Mr. Trump’s mentioning such investigations on a July 25 phone call with Mr. Zelensky was “unusual and inappropriate.”
David Holmes, an aide to a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, also delivered testimony Friday to House investigators behind closed doors.
Mr. Holmes said that on July 26, a day after the Trump-Zelensky call, he overheard a conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Sondland.
“I heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s going to do the investigation?’ ” Mr. Holmes said, according to his opening statement. “Ambassador Sondland replied that, ‘He’s going to do it,’ adding that President [Zelensky] will do ‘anything you ask him to.’ “
Marie Yovanovitch, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified publicly Friday before Mr. Schiff’s committee.
Mr. Trump tweeted about her during her testimony, leading some Democrats to accuse the president of witness intimidation.
“She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors,” the president tweeted.
Ms. Yovanovitch said the real-time attacks were “very intimidating.”
Asked whether he was trying to intimidate Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Trump said Friday that he just wanted “freedom of speech.”
Mr. Turner said that while the president’s tweets can be unfortunate, they don’t amount to witness intimidation.
“It’s certainly not impeachable, and it’s certainly not criminal, and it’s certainly not witness intimidation,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t trying to prevent her or would have prevented her from testifying. She was actually in the process of testifying.”