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House Democrats launching probe of Trump, Giuliani actions on Ukraine

Three U.S. House of Representatives committees led by Democrats said Monday they had begun “a wide-ranging investigation” into reports that President Donald Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others pressured Ukraine’s government to assist Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.

The Democratic chairmen of the House’s intelligence, oversight and foreign affairs committees wrote to the White House and State Department seeking records related to what they described as efforts to “manipulate the Ukrainian justice system.”

“A growing public record indicates that, for nearly two years, the president and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, appear to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity,” their statement read.

White House aides did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the announcement of the probe.

Then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, left, poses with Rudy Giuliani during their meeting in Kyiv on Nov. 22, 2017. (Mikhail Palinchak/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service Pool via AP)

Republican operatives have sought to raise questions about decisions current Democratic candidate Joe Biden made regarding Ukraine while serving as U.S. vice-president, given that his son Hunter served on the board of a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch. Giuliani and others have alleged Hunter Biden improperly benefited financially while his father was vice-president and involved in formulating the Barack Obama administration’s Ukraine policy.

Joe Biden has said he was unaware that his son even served on the Burisma board, while Hunter Biden has made similar comments.

Giuliani admitted to CNN last month that he met with a lawyer for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is in his first months in office.

Democrats have cried foul over Giuliani’s outreach to a foreign government, as he does not serve in a State Department or White House capacity.

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton met with current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Aug. 28. It’s not clear if the Bidens were discussed during their meeting. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via Reuters)

Earlier in the year, Giuliani admitted to the New York Times that the pressure on the Ukraine officials could be viewed as “improper,” but said it was not illegal.

Democrats want to hear from Flynn

The Ukraine angle is one of just a number of inquiries Democrats are eager to begin or renew as Congress is back in session this week.

The U.S. House intelligence committee, under chair Adam Schiff of California, said Monday it had sent a letter to Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser. The committee is demanding Flynn testify before the panel on Sept. 25, a committee aide said Monday.

In a letter sent Friday and seen by Reuters, the committee said Flynn had failed to comply with its subpoena, served on June 12, or co-operate with its efforts to secure his compliance.

Attorneys for Flynn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, resigned as Trump’s national security adviser in February 2017. He pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about conversations with Sergey Kislyak, who was Russia’s ambassador to the United States, about U.S. sanctions imposed on Moscow by Obama.

That plea came in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Flynn was one of the first people in Trump’s inner circle to be charged by Mueller’s prosecutors for lying to investigators. Flynn worked on Trump’s election campaign, and the conversations with Kislyak took place between Trump’s November 2016 election victory and his inauguration in January 2017.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, seen in June, was found to have lied to both the administration and the FBI over his contacts with Russian officials. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press)

Meanwhile, the Democratic chair of the House’s judiciary committee said in a statement released Monday the committee will vote Thursday to establish rules for hearings on impeachment.

The resolution is a technical step toward Trump’s impeachment, but the panel would still have to introduce impeachment articles against Trump and win approval from the House. It’s unclear if that will ever happen, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged caution on the issue, saying the public still isn’t yet supportive of taking those steps.

The vote on Thursday will set rules for those hearings, empowering staff to question witnesses, allowing some evidence to remain private and permitting the president’s counsel to respond to some of the testimony.

The committee says that the resolution is similar to procedural votes taken at the beginning of the impeachment investigations into presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

House committees have had difficulty on many occasions this year in getting current or former Trump campaign and administration officials to testify on Capitol Hill.

The judiciary committee has filed two lawsuits against the administration after the White House has repeatedly blocked the panel from obtaining documents and testimony.

“The adoption of these additional procedures is the next step in that process and will help ensure our impeachment hearings are informative to Congress and the public, while providing the president with the ability to respond to evidence presented against him,” Democratic chair Jerry Nadler said in a statement announcing the vote. “We will not allow Trump’s continued obstruction to stop us from delivering the truth to the American people.”

Pelosi has said she wants to see what happens in court before making any decisions on impeachment.