The White House cast serious doubt Wednesday on the likelihood of President Trump’s participation in the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing next week, saying the president has done “nothing wrong.”
Press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that the White House is reviewing the offer from Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat.
“But what is obvious to every American is that this letter comes at the end of an illegitimate sham partisan process,” Ms. Grisham said. “The president has done nothing wrong, and the Democrats know it.”
Mr. Nadler sent the letter to Mr. Trump late Tuesday as he announced that the Judiciary Committee will hold its first impeachment hearing Wednesday. He said the focus will be on the Constitution’s definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as the standard for impeachment and later will delve into Mr. Trump’s actions involving military aid to Ukraine.
The president will be traveling back to the U.S. after several days of meetings in London.
Mr. Trump said at a rally in Florida on Tuesday night that he is blameless in the impeachment probe. He reiterated that he never demanded that Ukraine conduct investigations that could benefit him politically in return for U.S. military aid.
“I have never had a direct link between investigations and security assistance,” the president told supporters. “You know what it means — it means we did zero. We did nothing wrong.”
Documents released Tuesday by the House Budget Committee showed that the White House Office of Management and Budget first moved to withhold military aid to Ukraine on July 25. It was the day of Mr. Trump’s phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky in which he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Democratic political rivals.
At his campaign rally, the president laid out part of his likely impeachment defense.
“During the time period at issue, the U.S. government officials held many meetings with Ukraine,” the president said. “And never once, never, did Ukraine or the officials say anything that was wrong.”
OMB official Mark Sandy testified this month that he was told the aid to Ukraine was held up because of Mr. Trump’s concerns that other countries were not contributing enough. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a transcript Tuesday of Mr. Sandy’s closed-door deposition.
Mr. Sandy said the president started asking questions about the aid on June 19. He learned about a month later that the president decided to withhold the money, and he sought advice from the OMB counsel about how long the funds could be held legally.
In early September, Mr. Sandy testified, he received an email saying the military aid had been held up because of “the president’s concern about other countries not contributing more to Ukraine.”
The impeachment inquiry stems from the July 25 phone call, in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky for a “favor.” He wanted an investigation of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and other corruption allegations. A whistleblower, who is believed to be a CIA official assigned to the White House, accused the president of abusing his power for personal gain on the call, including withholding nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid from Ukraine as leverage.
A rough transcript of the call the White House released in late September did not show the president seeking a quid pro quo deal for the investigations, but Democrats argued that the threat was understood and part of an ongoing pressure campaign of “shadow” foreign policy conducted by Mr. Trump’s private attorney, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
The quid pro quo, a Latin term meaning a transaction of “this for that,” is the crux of the Democrats’ case that Mr. Trump engaged in a bribery or extortion scheme that warrants impeachment.
The most powerful testimony yet in the inquiry came from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who said Mr. Trump offered a quid pro quo of a prized White House visit for the newly elected Mr. Zelensky in exchange for the investigations. But Mr. Sondland said he “presumed” that was what Mr. Trump wanted.
In Mr. Sondland’s only conversation with the president about the issue, Mr. Trump told him that there was “no quid pro quo,” he testified.
At his campaign rally Tuesday night, the president told supporters, “The Ukrainian foreign minister stated, and I quote, ‘Ambassador Sondland did not tell us, and certainly did not tell me, about a connection between the assistance and the investigations.’ Never told him.”
None of the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry has linked the delay of military assistance to the investigations or provided a reason for the holdup. The aid was delayed for about two months. The money started to flow to Ukraine on Sept. 11, two days after the inspector general of the intelligence community informed Congress of the whistleblower’s complaint.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Mr. Trump had been told about the whistleblower’s complaint when he released the aid to Ukraine.
Mr. Trump has acknowledged that he wanted an investigation into alleged corruption involving Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, who landed a high-paying seat on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings in 2014. At the time, his father was the point man for Obama White House policy in the country, which is notorious for corruption, especially in the energy industry.
The former vice president recently boasted of forcing Ukraine’s leaders to fire the country’s chief prosecutor in spring 2016 by threatening to block a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee. The prosecutor was widely viewed as not doing enough to combat corruption.
But the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, also had looked into corruption allegations against Burisma and the Ukrainian oligarch running the company.
Mr. Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into a missing Democratic National Committee server that was hacked by Russia during the 2016 presidential campaigns. An American cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike examined the server to probe the hack, but the server disappeared before it got to the FBI.
Mr. Trump subscribes to an unsubstantiated theory that the server ended up in Ukraine.
The White House said Wednesday that in the 64 days since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “announced the start of this baseless impeachment sham, Democrats have completely abandoned their duty to the American people while President Trump continues to deliver results” on trade policy, national security and other fronts.
⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.