U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney denounced President Donald Trump’s appeal to Ukraine and China to investigate one of his main political opponents, calling the overture “wrong and appalling.”
The Utah Republican said Friday that Trump’s call for a probe of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter was “brazen and unprecedented.” The former 2012 GOP presidential nominee rejected Trump’s assertion that he was concerned only with corruption and not with weakening Biden, a leading contender in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.
“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney said in a statement, which he also tweeted. “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”
Romney’s comment comes a day after Trump openly urged China to look into the Bidens' behavior.
Romney's fellow Republican senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, objected to the call for an investigation Thursday night.
"Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth," Sasse said in a statement to the Omaha World-Herald. "If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps."
Unlike Romney, Sasse went on to blast the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff, who opened a hearing with a parody of a private call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“Congressman Schiff is running a partisan clown show in the House — that’s his right because the Constitution doesn’t prohibit clown shows, but fortunately, in the Senate, we’re working to follow the facts one step at a time,” Sasse said.
Romney, who has had a contentious relationship with the president at times, had earlier tweeted that facts needed to come out regarding reports that Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had been pressuring the president of Ukraine for the investigation. Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid that Congress had approved for Ukraine to fend off Russian aggression, though the money was eventually released. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
"If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme," Romney said. "Critical for the facts to come out."
Meanwhile on Friday, Trump said that the White House would formally object to Democrats conducting an impeachment inquiry without an official vote. A letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to say that the administration will not cooperate without a vote — although Trump also said he believed it would pass.
Pelosi has said that a vote is unnecessary.
"The existing rules of the House provide House Committees with full authority to conduct investigations for all matters under their jurisdiction, including impeachment investigations," Pelosi wrote Thursday in a letter to House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who also called for a vote.
Democrats have said they will subpoena the White House for documents they have requested if they are not turned over by Friday. Any failure to produce the documents will be used as evidence of obstruction for impeachment, they say.
Democrats began an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions, after the White House released a memo about Trump’s July 25 private conversation with Zelenskiy. During the call, Trump pressed the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens in Ukraine, where the former vice president worked with Ukrainians to try to end corruption. Hunter Biden, meanwhile, had a paid position on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas producer, whose owner had been under investigation.
On Friday, Ukraine’s general prosecutor, Russian Ryaboshapka, said his office was reviewing that earlier probe as part of wider audit of at least 15 cases closed or dismissed by his predecessor. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, which Ryaboshapka acknowledged on Friday.
After the phone call with the Ukrainian president, a whistleblower submitted a complaint to Congress regarding the call and later the handling of a word-for-word transcript of it, which was stored in a separate electronic system reserved for particularly sensitive classified information. He wrote that he had received information from multiple government officials that “the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
Trump has demeaned the whistleblower, questioned his motives and insisted he has a right to know his identity.
Two Republicans senators have come forward to defend the whistleblower, who remains anonymous — Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa.
“This person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected," Grassley said on Tuesday. "We should always work to respect whistleblowers,”
And Ernst said Thursday said, “Whistleblowers should be protected.”
But few GOP senators have joined Romney and Sasse in criticizing Trump's actions.
Republican U.S. Sen. Mario Rubio of Florida was among those who downplayed Trump's comments about China.
“I don’t know if that’s a real request or him just needling the press knowing that you guys are going to get outraged by it,” Rubio told reporters at an economic opportunity event in the Florida Keys, the Miami Herald reported. “He’s pretty good at getting everybody fired up and he’s been doing that for a while and the media responded right on task.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray, meanwhile, declined to comment in response to Trump's public call for China and Ukraine to investigate his election rival or the release of text messages late Thursday that showed how American diplomats dangled a White House meeting for Ukraine's president in return for a Biden probe.
In May, Wray had testifed before Congress: "I think my view is that if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that’s something that the FBI would want to know about."
CORRECTION (Oct. 4, 2019, 2:10 p.m.): An earlier version of this story misstated who was the first Republican senator to criticize President Donald Trump’s appeal to China about investigating Biden. It was Sen. Ben Sasse, of Nebraska.