(CNN) — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that impeachment “may be the only remedy” to President Donald Trump’s refusal to make public a whistleblower complaint and transcript of a phone conversation he had with Ukraine’s president.
“If the President is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that conduct represents,” the California Democrat told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” stopping short of calling on Congress to immediately launch proceedings.
As previously reported by CNN, a person familiar with the situation said Trump pressed Ukrainian President Vologymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. That call was also part of a whistleblower complaint submitted to the Intelligence Community Inspector General, another person familiar with the situation told CNN.
Following a refusal last week by acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to turn over the complaint to Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told House members in a letter on Sunday that if the administration’s resistance continues, it “will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.”
Biden has accused the President of abusing his power to “smear” him, while Trump has branded criticism of the call a “Ukranian Witch Hunt.”
There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
Pressure to impeach
Schiff, who has so far resisted joining other Democrats in calling for impeachment, told Tapper Sunday he has been “very reluctant” to push for proceedings against the President because he sees it as a “remedy of last resort,” but also said Sunday that the President doesn’t have the authority “to engage in underhanded discussions.” The chairman’s apparent edging toward impeachment follows pressure from others in his party — including from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — to start proceedings.
On Friday, Warren, who is vying for her party’s presidential nomination, tweeted that “Congress is complicit” in failing to start impeachment proceedings against Trump after news broke that he had allegedly pressured Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden.
Echoing Warren’s sentiments, Ocasio-Cortez suggested in a tweet on Saturday that her party’s “refusal to impeach” Trump was an even bigger scandal than what she said was the President’s “lawbreaking behavior.”
Asked by Tapper Sunday about Trump keeping conversations with foreign leaders private, Schiff said: “Well not if those conversations involve potential corruption or criminality or leverage being used for political advantage against our nation’s interest.”
“This would be, I think, the most profound violation of the presidential oath of office, certainly during this presidency, which says a lot, but perhaps during just about any presidency. There is no privilege that covers corruption. There is no privilege to engage in underhanded discussions,” he said, adding that he’s not certain that the call is the subject of the complaint.
White House split on releasing calls
Earlier Sunday, Trump defended his controversial phone call with Zelensky and said he hopes officials release details of the conversation.
“We had a great conversation. The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption — all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son (adding to the corruption),” Trump told reporters as he left the White House.
The President described the conversation as “warm and friendly” and repeatedly urged reporters to look instead at Biden and Democrats, who he said — without providing evidence — have “done some very bad things.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told reporters on Saturday that he didn’t think Trump had tried pressuring Zelensky during the July call, but stopped short of saying the subject of Biden’s son wasn’t raised.
But while the President said he was open to releasing the conversation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there’s no evidence such an action “would be appropriate” at this time.
“We don’t release transcripts very often. It’s the rare case,” Pompeo said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Those are private conversations between world leaders, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to do so except in the most extreme circumstances. There’s no, there’s no evidence that would be appropriate here at this point.”
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also weighed in, telling Tapper Sunday that he thinks releasing the transcript “would be a terrible precedent,” arguing that “conversations between world leaders are meant to be confidential.”