This week saw a flurry of consequential activity on Capitol Hill: a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, an approximate transcript of a controversial call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, and a whistle-blower complaint that accuses Trump and associates of serious misdeeds. But House Democrats argue that they’re only just getting started.
In the party’s first hearing since formally upping the ante against Trump, acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday was filled with more singular flare-gun shots than any real fireworks, besides the usual hyper-partisan sparks that erupted from all sides.
Still, even as Democrats recognize the whistleblower report, which went live ahead of the high profile hearing, may not contain the smoking gun many in the party have longed for, many say it provides them the coordinates to reach their ultimate goal: holding Trump ultimately accountable for his multitude of alleged misdeeds.
“There’s a road map,” representative Peter Welch (D-Vermont) told WIRED upon leaving the hearing. “You know, the reference to the many people who were witness to the call, witness to the things that the president said—there was no investigation that was done here.”
Welch and the vast majority of House Democrats—including their party leaders, who up until this week have resisted calls to “impeach the motherfucker,” in the words of representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan)—now see their job as filling in the gaps that the administration has failed to provide.
“There are obvious steps to follow up. Things that the FBI would normally do when there was a complaint,” Welch said. “The content that we have in the [whistleblower] report itself, all of that is available for investigatory follow up, both by the committee, also by journalists.”
The scope of the probe, at least in many Democrat’s minds, is narrowing. They say the whistleblower gives them new strings to pull that have nothing to do with the initial Russia investigation headed by former special counsel Robert Mueller. A Russia-related Judiciary Committee probe remains underway, albeit with limited support than the latest Ukraine investigation. But while it has commanded less recent attention, the two seem inexorably linked.
“We’re talking about the same guy. This is not exactly some kind of aberration in terms of his conduct,” says representative Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland). “The [Democratic] Caucus is unified around the lawlessness and corruption pouring forth from the White House, and our job will be to reduce it to a set of articles of impeachment that makes sense to the country.”
Now they have a government whistleblower’s report to mine, one that looks rich with leads.
“I’m now more worried than ever,” senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) told reporters at the Capitol.
Murphy sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and views the report as damning. He says it implicates Trump’s inner sanctum of advisors and top government representatives. So he’s urging his House counterparts—many of whom are friends of his; Murphy served in that chamber for six years before he jumped to the Senate in 2013—to pull as many threads as they can.
And he’s got Trump’s top dogs on his radar, including (but by no means limited to) secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the US special representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, embassy staff in Kiev, and even the ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who Murphy says “appears to be compromised.” House Democrats subpoenaed Pompeo Friday afternoon, demanding documnets pertaining to Trump and Ukraine.
“This seems absolutely extraordinary,” Murphy bemoaned. “How many people were trying to get the Ukrainians to do the president’s reelection bidding?”
Republicans laugh off such claims. Former Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows is a top ally of the president. He was one of just 12 Republicans invited to the White House early Wednesday morning to get a private glimpse of the transcript of the president’s call with the Ukrainian president before it was publicly released later.