In a day of bitter partisan skirmishing, President Trump’s allies and his Democratic antagonists took to the nation’s talk shows Sunday to present stridently opposing views of the impeachment inquiry that hit Washington last week like a tornado, sweeping nearly all other priorities aside.
The sharply dueling narratives showed that the impeachment battle will be one of bitter political messaging as much as impartial sifting of evidence. Initial polls showed a majority of Americans approve of the inquiry — but no national consensus on how to assess the president’s actions.
While the president spent the day golfing, his allies angrily attacked the legitimacy of the House inquiry, excoriated the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the crisis, and repeated debunked allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
Trump later upped the ante on Twitter, leveling an incendiary charge against Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that is spearheading the impeachment process. Schiff, the president wrote, should be “questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason.”
Democrats pushed back, saying that if the whistleblower’s complaint is borne out, Trump’s misconduct was egregious enough to merit ouster from office.
“This is classic abuse of power. This is as serious as it gets,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic caucus, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
At issue is whether Trump abused his authority for personal gain, and put national security at risk, by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in promised military aid to Ukraine while urging its president to do him a “favor” by digging up dirt on his potential Democratic rival in the 2020 election.
Schiff said lawmakers had reached an agreement with the whistleblower who filed an anonymous complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and subsequent White House efforts to “lock down” evidence, to testify behind closed doors.
Schiff did not give a date, but said he expects it as soon as the individual’s lawyers are granted an appropriate security clearing to attend the hearing. “We’ll get the unfiltered testimony of that whistleblower,” Schiff said on ABC News’ “This Week.”
“We are taking all the precautions we can to protect the whistleblower’s identity,” Schiff added. “With President Trump’s threats, you can imagine the security concerns here.”
Mark Zaid, one of the lawyers representing the whistleblower, tweeted, “We continue to work w/both parties in House & Senate & we understand all agree protecting whistleblower’s identity is paramount.” He added that no date or time had been set for the testimony.
Schiff, asked if Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and a central figure in the impeachment storm, would also be called to testify, said it was too soon to say.
“I don’t want to commit myself to that at this point,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We certainly need to do a lot of work to find out what Giuliani has been doing in Ukraine.”
Giuliani, a private citizen who claims the State Department approved his back-channel dealings with Ukrainian officials on Trump’s behalf, said during a testy exchange on ABC’s “This Week” that he “wouldn’t cooperate” with Schiff.
He derided Schiff, who has served nearly two decades in the House, as an “illegitimate chairman” who “wants to hang the president.”
Stephen Miller, a senior White House aide who has mounted scorched-earth campaigns for Trump’s controversial immigration crackdown, branded the whistleblower’s complaint a “little Nancy Drew novel” that “drips with condemnation, condescension and contempt for the president.”
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Miller called the whistleblower “a saboteur trying to undermine a democratically elected government,” and endorsed Trump’s menacing characterization of the whistleblower — made in a closed-door meeting in New York last week — as “close to a spy.”
The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, told Schiff’s committee last week that the whistleblower, who is reportedly a CIA analyst who was assigned to the White House, had acted “in good faith” and had followed the law.
Republicans have generally stood behind Trump, but in an administration beset by near-constant turnover and turmoil, some former White House officials began to venture criticism.
Trump’s former homeland security advisor, Tom Bossert, told ABC’s “This Week” that “it is a bad day and a bad week for the president and for this country if he is asking for political dirt on an opponent.”
But Trump’s staunchest congressional supporters — including Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), who once called Biden “as good a man as God ever created” — sought to counter allegations against Trump by insisting it was the Democratic presidential candidate whose actions needed investigating.
Giuliani and other Trump supporters have repeatedly claimed that in 2016, Biden, then vice president, acted improperly to help his son, Hunter, by pushing for the firing of Ukraine’s prosecutor general, the country’s senior law enforcement official.
The prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was ousted at the request of not only the Obama administration but also the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, who were seeking to stem corruption in Ukraine and believed Shokin was obstructing that work.
Shokin had once looked into the oligarch who owned Burisma, the energy company that had given a lucrative job to Hunter Biden, but the younger Biden was not the target or accused of any wrongdoing. In any case, the probe was already dormant when Shokin was pushed out.
Graham said on “Face the Nation” Sunday that “I love Joe Biden” but added, “somebody ought to look at whether or not Joe Biden had the prosecutor fired, and in a proper way.” Graham also said the whistleblower’s complaint “smells to high heaven.”
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.), who recently traveled to Ukraine, said attacks on the former vice president were groundless, noting that no evidence of any criminal conduct has emerged in either Ukraine or the U.S.
“All these insinuations around Joe Biden — there is zero evidence for the claims the president is making,” Murphy said, describing them as a deliberate attempt to distract attention from Trump’s own comments in his July phone call to Zelensky.
“The whistleblower complaint is absolutely credible, but frankly you don’t need it because you have a transcript of a conversation in which the president of the United States tried to convince a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 election,” he said.
“And you have Rudy Giuliani on TV every morning and every night, openly admitting that as an agent of the president’s campaign, he has been coordinating with the State Department in order to try to perpetuate the president’s political agenda,” Murphy added. “This is not allowable in a democracy.”