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Vt. Rep. Peter Welch Invites President Trump To Testify At Impeachment Hearings

Congressman Peter Welch poses for a portrait outside his office at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.
Eman Mohammed for VPR
Vermont Rep. Peter Welch says it's critical this week's impeachment hearings are perceived as fair and non-partisan.

Rep. Peter Welch blew up the Twittersphere when he invited President Trump to participate in his own impeachment hearings. Welch made the comments on Wednesday, the first day of public impeachment hearings being held by the House Intelligence Committee. Welch is a member of that committee.

When some Republicans on the committee requested that a whistleblower come testify under oath, Welch suggested a different witness.

“I'd be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify,” he said. “President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”

And with that, Twitter took off:

Welch said he believes that President Trump acted unconstitutionally when he linked military aid to Ukraine to an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son.

He said there's no question that a president has the legal authority to change U.S. foreign policy. But he argues that what Trump did crossed a constitutional line.

“You know, the question here is not a dispute about the enormous power that a president has, the question is whether in this case it was an abuse of that power,” Welch said. “A president could change his position and our position on Ukraine, but is there a limit? There is, because our Constitution says no one is above the law, and that limit is that one cannot, even as president, use the public trust of high office for personal gain."

Welch asked Ukrainian ambassador William Taylor if Trump's actions represent a dangerous way to conduct foreign policy:

"Is there a new normal that you fear that a president – any president – can use congressionally approved foreign aid as a lever to get personal advantage in something that is in his interest but not the public interest?”

Taylor responded, "That should not be the case, Mr. Welch."  

More from NPR — In Impeachment Hearing, Taylor Says Trump Asked About Ukraine 'Investigations' [Nov. 13]

Rep. Peter Welch
Credit Susan Walsh / Associated Press
The Associated Press
Vermont Rep. Peter Welch during his questioning of former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yavonovitch on Nov. 15, as part of the House Intelligence Committee's public impeachment inquiry hearings.

The House Intelligence Committee continued public impeachment hearings on Friday. As former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch began her testimony, the president sent outa tweet criticizing the ambassador's service in the State Department.

Welch said the tweet was part of an effort by Trump to intimidate people who testify in the impeachment inquiry.

"This is another step by the president to intimidate witnesses. He didn't intimidate you — you're here, you've endured," Welch said to Yovanovitch. "But there are other people out there that can expect the Trump treatment if they come forward. That's a question for us."

Welch also said the committee should consider whether the president's pressure tactics constitute "an obstruction of justice" during the impeachment inquiry.

According to Welch, a key question in the House impeachment inquiry is whether Trump tried to bribe the president of Ukraine. Welch said there's strong evidence to suggest the president linked military aid to Ukraine with an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden — and Welch said Trump dismissed Yovanovitch as ambassador in May, in part, because she raised concerns about the propriety of linking the aid to the Biden investigation.

At Friday's public hearing, Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee repeatedly maintained that a president has the right to replace an ambassador at any time. Welch said the Republicans are asking the wrong question.

"The question really is about whether the president of the United States has the authority to withhold Congressionally approved aid to condition a White House meeting on extracting from a foreign leader a willingness to assist him in his political campaign," Welch said during Friday's hearing.

The public hearings will continue next week.

More from NPR — "Ambassador Yovanovitch: Trump Comments In July Call Felt Like A 'Threat'" [Nov. 15]

Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Peter Welch said this week's impeachment public hearings should provide the American people with a much better understanding of an improper link between the Trump administration and the government of Ukraine.

“The public hearings are about informing, in open, the American people and the full Congress about what evidence there is about the whole Ukraine incident,” Welch said.

Welch said it's critical members of the public perceive these hearings as being fair and not driven by a Democratic partisan agenda, and that GOP committee members have a full opportunity to cross examinethe witnesses.

“It is divisive,” Welch said. “It's not something that any of us want to be doing, but at a certain point, it's your constitutional obligation to proceed." 

House Democratic leaders are hoping to vote on apossible article of impeachment by the middle of next month.

More from NPR — "Impeachment Hearing FAQ: Who Will Testify And How The Questioning Will Work" [Nov. 12]

A thin grey line.

Update 1 — Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. Post was updated following Wednesday's testimony.

Update 2 — Nov. 15 at 4:55 p.m. Post was updated following Friday's testimony

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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