Upton calls Trump-Ukraine controversy 'disconcerting' as Dems defend inquiry

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Democrats in Congress defended their impeachment inquiry Thursday following the release of a whistleblower’s complaint about President Donald Trump's call with Ukraine's leader, while many Republican lawmakers defended Trump. 

House Democrats highlighted claims that White House officials wanted to "lock down" records of the July call in which the president asked Ukraine's leader for help investigating a rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. 

President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York.

The whistleblower, an unidentified intelligence official, suggested this "lock down" effort indicated those involved “understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call,” according to the complaint released Thursday.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Holly, a former National Security Council staffer and CIA officer, said the whistleblower laid out a thorough, well-cited and evidence-based case that Trump used his position to press a foreign leader to "unearth dirt" on an opponent.

“This complaint walks through a deeply troubling pattern of behavior that was not limited to one phone call, but part of a concerted, multi-month effort by the President and his advisers to pressure Ukrainian leadership," said Slotkin.

Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin speaks at a town hall event at Oakland University, in Rochester, MI on March 21, 2019.

"It elevates my concern that the president is threatening our democratic process for the 2020 election, setting a dangerous precedent for any and all future American elections."

The nine-page whistleblower complaint centers in part on the July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump raised unsubstantiated claims that Biden and his son Hunter were involved in corrupt business activities in the former Soviet republic.

At the time of the call, Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in aid that Congress had approved for Ukraine.

The president on Thursday dismissed any allegations that he acted improperly. 

It’s a disgrace to our country. It's another witch hunt. Here we go again,” he told reporters. “My call was perfect.”

Republican Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, said Trump was "well within his rights as a world leader" to ask what he did of Zelensky. 

Bergman argued that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, doesn’t have the unilateral authority to declare an impeachment inquiry, as she did this week.

"If this is really what members of the House want, then we should have a recorded vote on the subject. These charades are disgraceful and a disservice to the people of the United States," Bergman said in a statement. 

“This entire saga is just another attempt to delegitimize the President because they aren’t happy with the results of the 2016 election. Impeachment inquiries are not what the people of the First District want, and this is not why they sent me to Washington.”

Other Republicans were more cautious, preferring to reserve judgment until further facts are established. 

“I’ve been clear — these developments are disconcerting, but this is an arduous process," said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan's senior Republican in Congress. 

"There are some people who may want to use this to grind our entire government to a halt, but I'm not one of them. There’s no joy in Mudville," Upton continued in a statement. 

"I remain focused on solving issues that matter the most to the folks of southwest Michigan while continuing to carefully review the facts that emerge before making any conclusions."

Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., is quitting the Republican party.

GOP lawmakers including Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden stressed that the unidentified whistleblower's information was gathered secondhand, "which troubles me," he said.  

At the same time, Mitchell does not believe elected officials should involve foreign leaders "in what appear to be political activities," he said. 

"That’s not something I would have done or something I think we should be doing. I think that is pretty clear," Mitchell said in an interview.  

"The blunt question is, is it an impeachable offense? Which is high crimes and misdemeanors?" he added. 

"The Constitution wasn’t designed around whether or not we thought someone’s actions were 'appropriate,' whether we would have done them in those circumstances, whether we like them. That’s not the criteria, and we need to remember that." 

Mitchell does not think Trump's actions rise to impeachable conduct. 

"Not based on the information we have at this point in time. No. It’s a clumsy political act, yeah, absolutely. But it doesn’t rise to that level," Mitchell said.

"Impeachment is not supposed to be a solely partisan act. You’re overriding an election. You’ve got to have a pretty high bar."

He fears House Democrats are nevertheless on an "auto pilot" course to impeachment.

"Let’s actually get whatever information we can get that’s real, that are facts but not conjecture, not allegations," he said. 

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, also does not think that Trump's request of Ukraine constitutes an impeachable offense, he said. 

"Based on the context and what I saw, I don't think it was wildly inappropriate," he said Thursday at the U.S. Capitol. 

"Having been a guy who was a staffer serving during the time of Bill Clinton's impeachment — where you actually had a proof that the president had perjured himself in front of a grand jury — they have not produced that," added Huizenga, who worked for former Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland in 1998.

"They've been trying to hang their hat on anything, and I'm looking at this saying, man, I think they're making the mistake of overplaying this." 

Rep. Dan Kildee, chief deputy whip for House Democrats, was floored by the Republican reaction, saying GOP lawmakers are putting their loyalty to Trump over their oath to the Constitution. 

"In no real world is this OK. Only in Trump World is it ever OK for him to do something like this. It's just historically beyond the pale," said Kildee of Flint Township.

"I am concerned about the immediate muscle memory of Republicans to defend him no matter what without even them knowing the facts," Kildee said, acknowledging the fact-gathering process is ongoing.

"They can't say he didn't seek foreign involvement in the 2020 election because he basically said, yes, he did. There's no other way to characterize it." 

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, lamented that House Democrats' "fixating" on impeachment would slow or shut down the prospect of Congress passing meaningful legislation.

"Their never-ending, all-consuming quest for impeachment is detrimental to the country and grinds to a halt any type of important policy work," Walberg said in a statement.

"Our focus should be on the pocketbook issues that matter to our constituents’ daily lives." 

But Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat who just backed an impeachment inquiry this week, noted that President Richard Nixon accomplished a lot while he was under investigation during the Watergate scandal, including establishing the Environmental Protection Agency and signing the Endangered Species Act and Title IX of the federal civil rights law. 

Dingell did stress the need for Democrats not to drag out the process or play "political games." 

"Multiple senior national security staff inside the White House have seen a pattern of corruption that they think endangers our democracy," said Dingell, a junior member of the Democratic leadership. 

"What I'm hoping is people see the facts, and they'll understand that everybody's got to follow the rule of law. Everybody."