A Republican lawmaker emerged from former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker’s testimony Thursday in the House impeachment probe saying it “blew a massive hole” in the accusations against President Trump.
Democrats were mum as they filed out of the closed-door deposition of Mr. Volker.
Rep. Lee M. Zeldin, New York Republican, said the testimony made it “crystal clear” that Mr. Trump did not pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help smear former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“We knew before today and we know it with even further conformation now that any allegation that President Trump was trying to get President Zelensky to manufacture dirt on the Bidens is just not true,” he said. “It blew a massive hole in the middle of the allegations.”
Mr. Volker has emerged as a key figure in the impeachment inquiry. The probe stems from a whistleblower complaint that Mr. Trump tied to strong-arm the Ukrainian president into doing his political dirty work by investigating Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, declined to discuss the nine hours of testimony. Instead, he slammed Mr. Trump for publicly calling on China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Mr. Schiff said the comments showed that the only thing the president has learned after the two years of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is that “he feels he can do anything with impunity.”
Mr. Volker resigned last week after the State Department confirmed he connected Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, with a top Zelensky adviser. Mr. Giuliani has confirmed that he had frequent contact with Mr. Volker.
In his deposition, Mr. Volker said he warned Mr. Giuliani that allegations against the Biden family were unreliable, The Washington Post reported.
Mr. Zeldin did not address that claim, saying he would not divulge details until the probe was over. But he said the testimony in general was a boon for Mr. Trump.
“The administration is even a stronger place today than they were this morning as a product of Ambassador Volker coming to testify,” he said.
Mr. Volker turned over text messages between two American diplomats — Bill Taylor, who worked in Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union — that related to the allegation that Mr. Trump withheld U.S. military aid to force Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, according to reports.
In the text messages, Mr. Taylor expressed his concern about the delay in military aid for Ukraine for political reasons, which Mr. Sondland rejected before suggesting they stop texting about the matter.
When asked about the text messages, Mr. Zeldin didn’t deny they were seen but said there were many more out there that helped both sides of the argument.
He called for the transcript of the interview to be publicly released as soon as possible.
“I really believe it is in the best interest of the American public to have maximum transparency,” he said. “I really believe that releasing the transcript as quickly as possible, allowing the American public to both read every question asked as well as every answer given is better than hearing from some third party.”
Mr. Zeldin encouraged the State Department and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to comply with the committee’s requests as soon as they can, though he argued that Democrats would make the process easier for everyone by making the investigation official with a vote of the full House and a clear set of procedures.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, earlier Thursday called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to end the impeachment inquiry until she establishes a firm plan for how to proceed.
The speaker rejected his demand.
Several Republican lawmakers said Mr. Volker’s testimony didn’t match the “narrative” coming from the pro-impeachment camp.
“Mr. Volker has been very impressive and has said nothing — nothing — that coincides with what the Democrats are saying,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican.
The first hour of questioning was led by Mr. Schiff’s staff.
Republicans bashed the way in which Mr. Schiff led Mr. Volker’s deposition.
Mr. Jordan accused him of trying to block some members from participating in the interview.
“If this is how Mr. Schiff is going to conduct these types of interviews in the future, that’s a concern as well,” he said.
Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican, blasted Mr. Schiff and Democratic leaders for pumping up an impeachment effort that undercut Mr. Volker’s job in Ukraine.
“It is deeply unfortunate and regrettable that Schiff’s show trial investigation has clearly affected Volker’s ability to advance U.S. interests with Ukraine,” he said. “It is my strong belief that Volker would not have been involved in nor permitted anything inappropriate.”
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