US lawmakers view Trump whistleblower complaint

Members of US Congress have seen for the first time a whistleblower complaint against Donald Trump that has led to calls for his impeachment

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump

Members of US Congress have seen for the first time a whistleblower complaint against Donald Trump that has led to calls for his impeachment.

One Democrat described it as "disturbing" while a Republican said it was "troubling".

The complaint refers to a controversial phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, US media has said.

The latest developments come as the acting director of US intelligence is due to testify on the issue.

Joseph Maguire's account of the complaint by an unnamed intelligence officer will be closely scrutinised when he appears before members of the House Intelligence Committee later on Thursday.

The content of the complaint is still classified but the most senior Democrat in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, has called for its immediate release.

During a news conference on Wednesday evening, Trump again dismissed the impeachment proceedings as a "hoax" and a "witch-hunt".

According to notes of the 25 July phone call, Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, to look into corruption claims involving the son of Joe Biden, Trump's possible rival in next year's presidential election. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Bidens.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Biden accused Trump of "an abuse of power".

The complaint against the president was hand-delivered to members of Congress on Wednesday.

It is said to concern not only Trump's call with President Zelensky but also the way that records of the conversation were handled by White House staff, the New York Times reported.

"I found the allegations deeply disturbing. I also found them very credible," said Adam Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

"I think that what this courageous individual has done has exposed serious wrongdoing," he said referring to the whistleblower. "We will do everything possible to protect you."

Lawmakers have said they hoped to hear from the whistleblower at some point, but no meeting has been scheduled.

Democrat committee member Mike Quigley called the complaint "deeply disturbing" while Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there were "real troubling things here".

"Republicans ought not just circle the wagons [to protect Trump]," he said.

However Mike Conaway, a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he did not think the complaint would compromise Trump, adding: "I haven't seen anything that bothers me."

Schumer, calling for the contents of the complaint to be made public, said: "The public has a right to read the whistleblower's complaint for themselves."

Democrats have accused Trump of seeking foreign help in the hope of smearing Joe Biden and of using aid as a potential bargaining tool.

Under the US constitution, a president can be impeached for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours" - a procedure that can lead to removal from office.

In July, Trump froze military aid to Ukraine, but he has insisted that this was not used to put pressure on the new government in Kiev.

A House vote to impeach the president could trigger a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office.

Congress's investigation focuses partly on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought to help his own re-election by seeking the aid of a foreign government to undermine Biden.

Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said such actions would mark a "betrayal of his oath of office" and declared: "No-one is above the law."

But on Wednesday Trump said denied he had put pressure on Zelensky.

"I didn't do it. I didn't threaten anybody," he said. "No push, no pressure, no nothing. It's all a hoax, folks, it's all a big hoax."

Trump discussed with newly elected Zelensky the 2016 removal of a prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, according to notes of their telephone conversation released by the White House.

The US president is quoted as saying in the half-hour call: "I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair.

"A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved."

He continues: "The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution [of Biden's son] and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the [US] Attorney General would be great.

According to ABC News, an adviser to Zelensky has contended that discussing the Biden case was a US precondition to any phone call between the two leaders.

On the call, the US president also asks Zelensky to work with US Attorney General William Barr and Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, to look into the matter, according to the notes.

The Department of Justice said on Wednesday that Trump had not spoken with the attorney general about having Ukraine investigate Biden, and Barr had not communicated with Ukraine.

Trump and his conservative allies have focused on how Biden, as US vice-president in 2016, lobbied Ukraine to fire Shokin.

Shokin's office had opened an investigation into Burisma, a natural gas company on which Biden's son, Hunter Biden, was a board member.

Other Western officials had called for Shokin to be fired because of the perception that he was soft on corruption.

Biden last year told a foreign policy event how he threatened to withhold $1 billion in aid to Ukraine unless Shokin was removed.

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