New whistleblower may give House Democrats fresh leads
Washington: House Democrats leading an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine may have fresh information to work with after a new whistleblower stepped forward with what the person's lawyer said were firsthand knowledge of key events.
With Congress out for another week and many Republicans reticent to speak out, a text from attorney Mark Zaid that a second individual had emerged and could corroborate the original whistleblower's complaint gripped Washington and potentially heightened the stakes for Trump.
Zaid, who represents both whistleblowers, told The Associated Press that the new whistleblower works in the intelligence field and has spoken to the intelligence community's internal watchdog.
The original whistleblower, a CIA officer, filed a formal complaint with the inspector general in August that triggered the impeachment inquiry. The document alleged that Trump had used a July telephone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter, prompting a White House cover-up.
The push came even though there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president or his son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Trump and his supporters deny that he did anything improper, but the White House has struggled to come up with a unified response.
A second whistleblower with direct knowledge could undermine efforts by Trump and his allies to discredit the original complaint. They have called it politically motivated, claimed it was filed improperly and dismissed it as unreliable because it was based on secondhand or thirdhand information.
A rough transcript of Trump's call with Zelenskiy, released by the White House, has already corroborated the complaint's central claim that Trump sought to pressure Ukraine on the investigation.
Text messages from State Department officials revealed other details, including that Ukraine was promised a visit with Trump if the government would agree to investigate the 2016 election and a Ukrainian gas company tied to Biden's son the outline of a potential quid pro quo.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said word of a second whistleblower indicates a larger shift inside the government.
"The president's real problem is that his behavior has finally gotten to a place where people are saying, 'Enough,'" Himes said.
Democrats have zeroed in on the State Department in the opening phase of their impeachment investigation. The Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees have already interviewed Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine who provided the text messages, and least two other witnesses are set for depositions this week: Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, and Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly ousted as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump's most vocal backers, provided perhaps the strongest defense of the president.
He said there was nothing wrong with Trump's July conversation with Zelenskiy and said the accusations look like a "political setup."