Politics House questions Volker as impeachment probe ramps up

19:35  03 october  2019
19:35  03 october  2019 Source:   thehill.com

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Lawmakers from three House committees on Thursday began questioning Kurt Volker, the Trump administration's former special envoy to Ukraine, as Democrats accelerate their impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Kurt Volker wearing a suit and tie: Kurt Volker is the first witness in the Trump impeachment probe. © Greg Nash Kurt Volker is the first witness in the Trump impeachment probe.

Volker, who resigned his post last week, was one of the figures named in the whistleblower complaint indicating that Trump had pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate corruption allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden, while delaying hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid that had been approved by Congress.

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The notion that Trump would enlist the help of a foreign leader to gain a political advantage over a domestic rival outraged Democrats, who have heightened their investigative scrutiny of the president and could be drafting impeachment articles before the end of the year.

In a week when Congress is officially on recess — and the halls of the Capitol would typically be empty — scores of reporters, photographers and cameramen packed the halls outside the closed-door meeting with Volker. In attendance were members of three House committees: Intelligence, which is leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump; Foreign Affairs; and Oversight and Reform.

By Thursday morning, when Volker's deposition began, the media presence dwarfed that of the lawmakers trickling into the secure meeting space in the basement of the Capitol.

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Two Trump allies, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), were spotted walking into the meeting separately; both are former chairmen of the conservative Freedom Caucus and are senior members of the Oversight and Reform Committee.

Others Republicans seen headed to the deposition were Rep. Mike Turner (Ohio), an Intelligence member, and Rep. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), who sits on Foreign Affairs.

In a statement Thursday morning, Turner disclosed that the first hour of the deposition consisted of staffers for Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) questioning Volker. Turner praised Volker as an "incredible diplomat" and slammed Schiff's impeachment probe.

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"It is deeply unfortunate and regrettable that Schiff's show trial investigation has clearly affected Volker's ability to advance U.S. interests with Ukraine. It is my strong belief that Volker would not have been involved in nor permitted anything inappropriate, let alone illegal, in his service to our country," Turner said. "Today he continued his legacy of integrity under questioning from Schiff's staff. I do not believe that Volker's testimony advanced Schiff's impeachment agenda."

The Democrats on hand included Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), an Intelligence member who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race this summer; Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), a former constitutional law professor who serves on Oversight; and Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.), a Foreign Affairs member.

The first lawmaker seen leaving the meeting, Raskin, declined to comment. Connolly left soon after, saying he needed to attend a town hall in his district but would not answer any questions about Volker.

Far from shying away from the Ukraine allegations, Trump has defended himself by going on offense. Even as Thursday's deposition was underway in the Capitol, the president urged both Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens.

"I would think that if they were honest about it they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens," Trump told reporters at the White House.

And Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, began to tweet out screenshots of text messages between Giuliani and Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who now heads the McCain Institute.

In one such text message, Volker tried to arrange a meeting in Madrid between Giuliani and Zelensky adviser Andriy Yermak.

Volker's deposition was expected to run well into Thursday afternoon.

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