President Trump’s defense team hit lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff over his contacts with the alleged whistleblower Saturday, suggesting Mr. Schiff’s conduct at the start of the impeachment inquiry in the House will be a sticking point in the defense’s strategy.
Patrick Philbin, deputy counsel to the president, referenced a transcript being withheld by Mr. Schiff’s committee that could be helpful to the president’s defense team, pointing to the inspector general for the intelligence community, who raised the issue of the whistleblower’s political bias.
“We don’t know what exactly the political bias was because the inspector general testified in the House committees in an executive session and that transcript is still secret. It wasn’t transmitted to the House Judiciary Committee,” Mr. Philbin said.
The revelation of the closely held transcript was reported Thursday by The Washington Times, noting the significance of the classified material.
“We don’t know what he was asked and what he believed about the whistleblower,” Mr. Philbin added. “You would think before going forward with an impeachment proceeding against the President of the United States, you would want to find something out about the complainant that started all of it.”
The House impeached Mr. Trump in a mostly party-line vote Dec. 18 on two counts, abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joseph R. Biden and obstruction of Congress for not cooperating with the impeachment investigation.
The House impeachment managers argued that they had “overwhelming evidence” of wrongdoing by Mr. Trump, including using Oval Office power to strongarm Ukraine into smearing Mr. Biden.
Mr. Philbin suggested the reason some of this information is being withheld is because Mr. Schiff first denied having contact with the whistleblower, but then it was later revealed his staff did communicate with the whistleblower.
“He was an interested fact witness at that point,” said Mr. Philbin. “He had been caught out saying something that wasn’t truthful about that contact he had — a reason to not want that inquiry.”
The whistleblower is said to be a CIA analyst assigned to the White House who has ties to the Democratic Party and Mr. Biden.
The arguments from Mr. Trump’s legal team comes after the House impeachment managers repeatedly talked about the 17 witnesses interviewed during the House’s secretive depositions. But they did not mention an 18th witness, Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general who has firsthand knowledge of the origins of the whistleblower complaint that led to the impeachment.
Members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who conducted the interview are barred from disclosing details. But Republicans on the committee said the testimony should be heard at the president’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
“The reason it hasn’t been released is it’s not helpful to Adam Schiff. It is not helpful to the whistleblower,” said Rep. John Ratcliffe, Texas Republican, who took part in the October interview with Mr. Atkinson. “It raises credibility issues about both of them.”
The potentially exculpatory evidence for Mr. Trump has remained classified and is not part of the record for the impeachment trial.
Senate Democrats said the opening argument from the president’s counsel, including that record is incomplete and full of second-hand speculation, served to strengthen their demand for more administration documents and witnesses at the trial.
Pressed about whether that included the transcript of the inspector general interview, Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, said, “I want to see everything.”
The issue of whether senators will need to hear more witness testimony will be debated later next week after the president’s legal team finishes their arguments and the senators submit written questions to both sides.
Mr. Schiff, meanwhile, said the president’s team made several misrepresentations during their opening arguments Saturday.
The California Democrat said that the president’s counsel was trying to imply some wrongdoing by his staff, but that it is standard practice for whistleblowers to contact congressional committees.
“The advice he or she — the whistleblower — got was you should talk to a lawyer and you should talk to the inspector general,” Mr. Schiff said.
“The only motive they have for trying to out the whistleblower is trying to punish the whistleblower,” he added.
Republican senators, after about two hours of arguments from Mr. Trump’s defense team, said the House Democrats had a weak case.
“Now, we have seen for the first time, holes being poked in it,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican.
“Within two hours I thought that the White House Counsel and their team entirely shredded the case that has been presented by the house managers,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican.