Politicians have evidence of an “extortion scheme” by Donald Trump to try to pressure a foreign government to investigate his opponents, a member of the House intelligence committee has said ahead of public impeachment hearings beginning this week.
Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell told CBS’s Margaret Brennan on Sunday that there was already ample evidence that the president had abused his office.
He said: “We have enough evidence from the depositions that we’ve done to warrant bringing this forward. Evidence of an extortion scheme, using taxpayer dollars to ask a foreign government to investigate the president’s opponent.
“But it’s important that these witnesses raise their right hands and take questions from both Republicans and Democrats. The president is going to get that.”
This week three officials will give evidence in public, having already given behind-closed-doors testimony -- since released -- to the committees leading the impeachment inquiry.
On Wednesday, the House intelligence committee will hear from William Taylor, the most senior US diplomat in Ukraine, and from George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs.
On Friday Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine who was abruptly recalled in May after apparently refusing to cooperate with Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in his efforts to dig up dirt on Democrats will give evidence.
All three have given damning testimony suggesting that the president and top aides were involved in an effort to force Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and into the 2016 US election in return for military aid and a meeting at the White House.
Mr Trump denies any wrongdoing and accuses the Democrats of a witch-hunt against him.
One of Mr Trump’s most vocal supporters, Republican senator Rand Paul, suggested the president should try a new defence by abandoning his repeated denials that his demands of Ukraine represented a “quid pro quo”.
Mr Paul told NBC’s Meet the Press: “Presidents have withheld aid before for corruption.
“So the thing is, I think it’s a mistake to say, ‘Oh, he withheld aid until he got what he wanted’. Well, if it’s corruption and he believes there to be corruption then he has every right to withhold aid.
“So I think it’s a big mistake for anybody to argue ... ‘he didn’t have a quid pro quo’, and I know that’s what the administration’s arguing. I wouldn’t make that argument. I would make the argument that every politician in Washington, other than me virtually, is trying to manipulate Ukraine to their purposes.”
However, Democratic congressman Jim Himes said Republicans were trying to create a false equivalency between politicians like Mr Biden having tried to address corruption in Ukraine as part of US policy while he was vice-president and Mr Trump’s alleged efforts to benefit his own political position.
He told Meet the Press: “The president of the United States demanding – extorting – a vulnerable country to do his political bidding, to go after his opponent, has nothing to do with Joe Biden executing the foreign policy of the United States.
“What the president did is wrong and impeachable.”