Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted Democrats’ impeachment push Tuesday as unfair and a violation of President Trump’s rights, echoing the White House’s objections and sending an important signal to fellow Republicans.
Mr. McConnell said past impeachment efforts in the House have given the president and his team access to evidence and the power to suggest their own witnesses, and have given the minority party subpoena powers — all in an effort to be fair.
House Democrats have rejected those standards this time, and have even declined to hold a vote in the whole House to bless the impeachment inquiry, instead operating on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s say-so.
“For all the public hyperventilating over institutional norms that we’ve heard from House Democrats, it appears they have no intention of letting norms, precedents or basic due process stand in the way as they seek to cancel out a presidency,” Mr. McConnell said.
He spoke as lawmakers returned to Washington for a six-week stretch that’s likely to determine whether Democrats do pull the trigger on impeachment.
The White House made clear Tuesday it will continue to resist the impeachment effort, calling it illegitimate.
Vice President Mike Pence said he’ll defy a request for documents, and Democrats said they’ve also been stonewalled by Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, the White House budget office and the Pentagon.
“Never before in history has the Speaker of the House attempted to launch an ‘impeachment inquiry’ against a president without a majority of the House of Representatives voting to authorize a constitutionally acceptable process,” wrote Matthew Morgan, Mr. Pence’s lawyer, in a letter to the three House chairmen leading Mrs. Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry.
Mrs. Pelosi remained adamant she’s not going to hold a vote.
“There’s no requirement we have a vote, and at this time we will not be having a vote,” she said.
Asked why she didn’t hold a vote anyway, out of caution, she said that wasn’t appropriate.
“We’re not here to call bluffs. We’re here to find the truth, to uphold the Constitution of the United States. This is not a game for us,” she told reporters.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, who as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has taken the lead in impeachment, said the more the White House stonewalls, the more it creates a case for obstruction of Congress — which could be grounds for impeachment on its own.
“The case for obstruction of Congress continues to build,” he said.
Yet Mr. McConnell, who would lead the Senate in any eventual impeachment trial, signaled he considered Democrats’ effort fatally flawed.
“House Democrats have wasted no time throwing fairness and precedent to the wind,” he said.
Democrats’ case for impeachment has shifted dramatically over the year. Gone are the arguments over special counsel Robert Mueller, Russian “collusion” and the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey.
Instead Democrats are focused on Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president during which Mr. Trump pushed for an investigation into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, one of the front-runners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Both Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky say they didn’t see the request as a quid pro quo, but others at the White House were reportedly troubled by the president’s behavior.
Democrats say there’s more than enough to pursue.
Mr. Schiff defended Democrats’ decision not to follow precedent and allow Mr. Trump’s team access to witnesses, or to allow the GOP equal subpoena powers. He said past impeachment probes such as the one into President Clinton came after an investigation by a special counsel or independent prosecutor, who operated in secret.
In the case of Ukraine, the Justice Department has already cleared the president, so Congress is doing the initial investigation — and he said that means there must be secrecy. He said otherwise, witnesses could compare testimony and get their stories straight.
That’s drawn complaints, but Mr. Schiff says it’s also paying off.
George Kent, a career State Department diplomat, arrived for private testimony with lawmakers Tuesday, becoming the latest official to defy a White House gag order and appear before the impeachment inquiry.
The deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, Mr. Kent currently oversees U.S. policy for several Eastern European countries, including Ukraine. He previously served as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
A day earlier Fiona Hill, Mr. Trump’s former Russia adviser, reportedly told House investigators behind closed doors that she raised her concerns with then-National Security Adviser John R. Bolton.
He encouraged her to report the matter, according to The New York Times, calling it a “drug deal.”
⦁ Stephen Dinan contributed to this article.