- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2019

President Trump praised House Republicans Thursday for getting “tough” with Democrats’ closed-door impeachment inquiry, while the president’s conservative allies took to the airwaves in Democratic districts and some urged the White House to turn the proceedings into a showcase corruption trial of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.

A day after dozens of House Republicans stormed into the secure room where Democrats are hearing testimony to demand a more open process, Senate Republican leaders stirred from what the White House considered a dangerous slumber on impeachment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, introduced a resolution condemning House Democrats’ secretive tactics in the probe.

“The House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is breaking critical precedents, denying the administration important rights that were afforded other presidents and violating basic rules of due process,” Mr. McConnell said.

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Mr. Graham said the resolution is aimed at Democrats’ “secret and illegitimate process,” not at allegations against the president.

“I’m not here to tell you that Donald Trump’s done nothing wrong,” he said. “He keeps telling me he did nothing wrong. He would like the process to be exposed for being basically unfair.”

After lunch with the president at the White House on Thursday, Mr. Graham said Mr. Trump was in a good mood but felt persecuted by Democrats and lacking in Republican defenders.

“He feels like it never ends and that when it comes to Donald Trump, nobody really cares whether he has a fair day in court other than a handful of Republicans,” Mr. Graham said. “Every time he turns around, there’s another reason that his family, his friends — he’s got to pay legal bills. He feels like he doesn’t have a real fair chance of being president of the United States.”

The president thanked on Twitter the House Republicans who crashed the impeachment inquiry at the Capitol “for being tough, smart and understanding in detail the greatest Witch Hunt in American History.” The move delayed a witness’ testimony for several hours and attracted significant media coverage to the Democrats’ weekslong tactic of private questioning.

The leaders of the impeachment inquiry plan to conduct more closed-door interviews Saturday in their effort to prove that Mr. Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in an attempt to force its president to investigate Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential front-runner, and his son Hunter, who was on the board of directors of a Ukrainian energy company.

There were signs on several fronts that the White House and allied Republicans plan to get tougher with Democrats.

The Associated Press reported late Thursday that the Trump administration’s Justice Department has shifted its review of the Russia probe to a criminal investigation, a move that gives prosecutors the ability to issue subpoenas, potentially impanel a grand jury and compel witnesses to give testimony and bring federal criminal charges. It also raises the possibility that, as Congress investigates the president, the executive branch will be investigating those behind the basis of the congressional inquiry.

To show support for the president, the Republican National Committee’s impeachment task force is buying ads in 30 Democratic House districts that Mr. Trump won in 2016. The RNC earlier targeted 60 vulnerable Democrats with ads.

The conservative Club for Growth announced this week that it will air digital ads in several congressional districts held by moderate freshman Democrats, including in California, Illinois, New Mexico and Virginia. The ads target lawmakers in those districts for following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, in lockstep on impeachment instead of working on legislation.

Former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon started a daily radio show and podcast this week called “War Room: Impeachment.” His guest Thursday was Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, a vocal Trump ally who said the party plans to issue a “minority report” to defend the president when the House Judiciary Committee considers articles of impeachment.

“I fully expect that another report needs to be told, so that is just not a one-sided, partisan hit job coming out from Adam Schiff and his team,” said Mr. Meadows, referring to the California Democrat who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and is leading the inquiry.

But some Republicans are criticizing the White House for failing to lay out a clear game plan for combating impeachment. Asked by a reporter why the White House seems to have changed course several times on its impeachment messaging, Mr. Graham replied, “You’ve noticed?”

He also said he had spoken with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and believed “they’re working on getting a messaging team together.”

But about an hour later, Mr. Graham said he didn’t mean to imply that the White House “needed to hire a new team to handle impeachment.”

“My interactions with the White House were in regards to a more coordinated strategy dealing with impeachment,” Mr. Graham tweeted. “What is in development at the White House is the emphasis on a strategy — not personnel.”

Mr. Trump approved of a plan this week for daily calls between White House aides and certain Republican lawmakers to coordinate messaging and legal strategies on impeachment, The Wall Street Journal reported.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said it’s difficult for the president’s team to respond to what it can’t see.

“It’s hard to message anything that’s going on behind closed doors and in secret,” Ms. Grisham said on “Fox & Friends.” “It’s like you’re fighting a ghost. You’re fighting against the air. So we’re doing the best we can.”

American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said the White House “can do a ton to fight back.”

“This is going to be a daily battle,” Mr. Schlapp said. “The Trump administration has a lot of cards it can play.”

He said the president and his team should call witnesses in an impeachment proceeding and turn it into a trial about Hunter Biden’s lucrative overseas deals while his father was vice president.

“I’d release anything on Ukraine that was embarrassing to Joe Biden,” Mr. Schlapp said. “I’d release all the manifests for Air Force Two. Every White House counsel’s office has to approve all those manifests. How many times was Hunter Biden on a flight? The theme of it should be transparency. Why is Hunter Biden in hiding? Why is Joe Biden saying he’s not going to talk about any of this?”

He said many questions haven’t been answered about the FBI’s counterintelligence surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016. “I would start releasing a lot more material about the 2016 election,” he said.

Mr. Schlapp said the White House and its allies need to remain focused on highlighting the unfairness of the impeachment process compared with the impeachments of Presidents Richard M. Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1998.

“If you look at what we did with Clinton and what we did with Nixon as a country, it all started with a bipartisan vote on the floor,” he said. “It starts off a process by which the accused’s counsel can be present and play a role, it contemplates how you would move forward and eventually have public hearings and public testimony. This is why Nancy Pelosi is screwing this up so dramatically. Pelosi is doing nothing by the book. They’re interested in finding any justification to impeach the president. That’s the wrong way to approach impeachment. Eventually, it’s going to fall to the American people — whether or not they see a crime, No. 1, and do they think the president’s getting a fair process.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Republicans will rue the day they demanded transparency in the impeachment inquiry.

Mr. Schumer said House Republicans’ storming of the secure room where the House has been conducting the impeachment probe was a “fit of staged political theater” and that their tactics were intentional diversions from Democrats’ fact-finding mission.

“All the facts must come out, and those who are attempting to obstruct this fact-finding inquiry may regret the day when they said all they want to do is open up the process,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor. “Our Republican friends may get what they wished for — all the facts coming out — they will regret it because at least from reports, the facts are very, very troubling.”

Mr. Graham offered the White House advice similar to that of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — that Mr. Trump should learn from the example of Mr. Clinton during his impeachment.

“I know this sounds weird, but Clinton — look what he did,” Mr. Graham said. “He had a team that was organized, had legal minds that could understand what was being said versus that legal proceedings and in question, and they were on message every day. President Clinton defended himself, but he never stopped being president. And I think [that is] one of the reasons that he survived. … I’m hoping that will become the model here.”

Mr. Graham said some Republican senators have been reluctant to come out strongly in the president’s defense because they would become jurors sitting in judgment of Mr. Trump in a Senate trial.

⦁ Ryan Lovelace contributed to this report.

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