Facing a White House vowing to block the US House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry, Democratic congressional leaders on Thursday were plotting the next moves in their probe of President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine.
Two days after the administration abruptly blocked the US ambassador to the European Union from testifying to three House committees, lawmakers were negotiating how to secure testimony from the US intelligence officer whose whistleblower report on Trump's call with the Ukrainian president sparked the furore.
Talks on the intelligence agent were focussed on how to prevent that person's identity from being made public, possibly by having the officer testify by telephone from remote location and using voice-obscuring technology to hide the officer's voice and appearance, according to sources close to the negotiations.
Congressional sources also acknowledged some concern that a former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump removed from that post last May before her term was up, could be blocked from testifying. The State Department on Tuesday called off testimony by Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU, after he had flown in from Brussels to do so.
The investigation is focussed on whether Trump used almost $400 million in congressionally approved aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump's main Democratic rivals as he seeks re-election in 2020.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and has described the probe as a partisan smear.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to discuss the impeachment inquiry in a Friday afternoon conference call, according to a Democratic leadership aide.
House Democrats spearheading the inquiry are said to be mulling a possible counterattack against White House efforts to block the investigation, which one aide said could be unfurled early next week, when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill from a two-week recess.
Two Ukrainian businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, whose testimony the House had sought, are no longer expected to speak, US media reported. A lawyer for the men has said that neither will appear for depositions.
The House on Tuesday subpoenaed Sondland to appear on Oct. 16.
Biden Lashes Out
The impeachment fight played out on the campaign trail on Wednesday, when Biden for the first time called for Trump's impeachment. One of the most moderate of the Democrats seeking the 2020 nomination, Biden waited longer than many of his rivals to make that call.
"With his words and his actions, President Trump has indicted himself. By obstructing justice, refusing to reply with a congressional inquiry, he's already convicted himself," Biden said. "In full view of the world and the American people, Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed this nation and committed impeachable acts."
Trump, true to form, fired back immediately on Twitter: "So pathetic to see Sleepy Joe Biden, who with his son, Hunter, and to the detriment of the American Taxpayer, has ripped off at least two countries for millions of dollars, calling for my impeachment - and I did nothing wrong."
Trump has repeatedly and without evidence accused Biden and his son of benefiting from a corrupt deal in Ukraine. Biden has denied wrongdoing.