by Steve Herman
WHITE HOUSE – U.S. President Donald Trump says he will not be sending a lawyer to Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing “because the whole thing is a hoax.”
Committee Chairman Democrat Jerrold Nadler invited Trump and his counsel to attend the committee’s first hearing as the impeachment inquiry moves into its next phase.
“It’s an absolute disgrace what they’re doing to our country,” said Trump, before boarding the Marine One helicopter on the White House South Lawn Monday.
Trump also criticized Democrats for holding the hearing at the time he will be attending the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s leaders’ summit in London.
“This is the one of the most important journeys that we make as president,” said Trump.
He also pointed to fresh comments by Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskiy claiming that he never spoke with the U.S. president “from the position of a quid pro quo.”
Zelenskiy also told reporters for four magazines (Time, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and Gazeta Wyborcza) that at a time Ukraine is at war with Russia, the United States, as Kyiv’s strategic partner, should not have been blocking military aid.
“I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo,” said Zelenskiy.
Trump seized on that comment as further vindication from Democrats’ allegations that Trump withheld support to Ukraine until the country helped dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, now a leading contender to challenge Trump in next year’s election.
Zelenskiy “just came out a little while ago and he said, ‘President Trump did absolutely nothing wrong’ and that should end everything,” the U.S. president said Monday.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone, in a letter to Nadler late Sunday, said the Trump administration “cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the president a fair process through additional hearings.”
Cipollone said he will reply by the end of the week on whether the White House would appear at future hearings.
Nadler assured Trump and his counsel in his invitation letter last week that he “remains committed to ensuring a fair and informative process.”
The Judiciary Committee chairman added the president has the “opportunity to be represented in the impeachment hearings, or he can stop complaining about the process.”
Wednesday’s hearing will focus on the constitutional grounds surrounding impeaching a president. The yet-to-be-named witnesses will be legal experts.
The House Intelligence Committee, which held a series of public and closed-room hearings last month, will send its findings to the Judiciary Committee, whose members will decide whether to draw up articles of impeachment against Trump.
Possible charges that could lead to his impeachment include bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors.
Trump is accused of holding up nearly $400 million in badly-needed military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Zelenskiy’s public commitment to investigate Biden for alleged corruption.
Biden’s son, Hunter, sat on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. Trump alleges that when Biden was vice president, he threatened to hold up U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine, unless the government fired a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma.
Trump also insists it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election on behalf of Democrats.
No evidence against the Bidens has ever surfaced and the charge against Ukraine was based on a debunked conspiracy theory that originated in Russia.
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Steve Herman is the White House Bureau Chief for VOANews.com