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Democrats warn White House that time is up to produce documents

Top House Democrats sent a warning to the White House on Wednesday: Stonewalling the impeachment inquiry will be treated as grounds for impeachment itself. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged for the first time that he was on a July call between President Trump and Ukraine’s president. Yamiche Alcindor reports, then joins Lisa Desjardins and Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Top House Democrats in the House of Representatives are pressing their impeachment probe tonight, and warning against obstruction.

    President Trump is blasting the investigators and the whistle-blower as traitors and spies.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage of this day's events.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, a warning from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a top lieutenant leading the impeachment inquiry.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    The president probably doesn't realize how dangerous his statements are, when he says he wants to expose who the whistle-blower is and those who may have given the whistle-blower that information.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said stonewalling will be treated as grounds for impeachment itself.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    We're not fooling around here, though. We don't want this to drag on for months and months and months, which appears to be the administration's strategy. They will be strengthening the case on obstruction if they behave that way.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Schiff also took on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is challenging demands for documents and testimony.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff:

    We are deeply concerned about Secretary Pompeo's effort now to potentially interfere with witnesses who — whose testimony is needed before our committee, many of whom are mentioned in the whistle-blower complaint.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In Italy, Pompeo acknowledged, for the first time, that he was on that contested July phone call. It was on that call that President Trump requested the president of Ukraine investigate former Vice President Biden and his son.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    As for was I on the phone call, I was on the phone call.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But Pompeo again ripped into Democrats, who want five current and former State Department officials to testify.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    We will, of course, do our constitutional duty to cooperate with this co-equal branch. But we are going to do so in a way that is consistent with the fundamental values of the American system. And we won't tolerate folks on Capitol Hill bullying, intimidating State Department employees. That's unacceptable.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The State Department's inspector general, Steve Linick, met today behind closed doors with key House and Senate staffers, at his request. He reportedly provided documents related to the State Department's actions regarding Ukraine.

    Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee announced it will subpoena the White House on Friday for records of the president's dealings with Ukraine. Chairman Elijah Cummings said the White House has so far shown a — quote — "flagrant disregard" of previous requests.

    Democrats also warned President Trump against abusing potential witnesses. Again, Adam Schiff:

  • Rep. Adam Schiff:

    The president wants to make this all about the whistle-blower and suggest people that come forward with evidence of his wrongdoing are somehow treasonous and should be treated as traitors and spies. This is a blatant effort to intimidate witnesses. It's an incitement to violence.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    During an Oval Office meeting with the president of Finland, President Trump went after the Democrat again.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He should be forced to resign, Adam Schiff. He's a lowlife. He should be forced to resign.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump agreed in general whistle-blowers should be protected, but not the whistle-blower who reported his conversation with the president of Ukraine.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He wrote a vicious conversation. In other words, he either got it totally wrong, made it up, or the person giving the information to the whistle-blower was dishonest. And this country has to find out who that person was, because that person is a spy.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At a joint press conference later in the day, President Trump responded to a report in The New York Times that the Intel Committee got an early account of the complaint.

    The president claimed Schiff may have written parts of it.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, I think it's a scandal that he knew before. I'd go a step further. I think he probably helped write it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A spokesperson for the congressman said in a statement that the Intelligence Committee didn't review or receive the whistle-blower complaint in advance.

    Meanwhile, President Trump refused to answer questions about what exactly he wanted Ukraine to do regarding the Biden family. House Democrats will hold a closed-door deposition tomorrow with the administration's former envoy to the Ukraine, Kurt Volker. He resigned from the State Department last week.

    And former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will be deposed next week. She was abruptly recalled in May.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now, along with our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins.

    Hell to both of you. Another fast-moving day.

    Lisa, so back to what the House is doing there, they are now saying, we are prepared to subpoena the White House for documents. What you have learned about what they're seeking, the timetable for this, and so forth?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a large category of documents, in fact, 13 different categories of documents, that the House has been requesting for many months.

    And what they're saying now in this memo to the White House — in fact, we will show you some of the memo — is that now time is up. Now we think we need a response, and we're ready to subpoena you.

    There, you see some of the memo. And look at this strong language from Chairman Cummings here: "The White House's flagrant disregard of multiple voluntary requests for documents, combined with stark and urgent warnings from the inspector general about the gravity of these allegations, have left us with no choice," essentially, other than to issue a subpoena.

    They have not issued a subpoena yet. That is planned for Friday. But I think really all this speaks to, again, something we have brought up, is that a court battle is looming here.

    One other thing, in that document, they're saying, we're not approaching this lightly. And they say, the White House, it's not just that they refused these documents. They say the White House hasn't even acknowledged the requests at all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's interesting that they're telegraphing that they're going to do this before they do it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is. That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, you have been talking to folks at the White House. How are they responding to this? This is a direct request.

    It's — as Lisa says, the language is very aggressive. What are they saying?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president is responding to the subpoena by House Democrats or the planned subpoena by House Democrats with anger, but not quite defiance.

    Today at the press conference at the White House, the question was put to President Trump, do you plan to comply with this subpoena that's supposed to be filed on Friday? The president said, I'm willing to work with the House Intelligence Committee and Nancy Pelosi.

    So he didn't say, I'm not going to provide these documents, but he also wasn't clear about what he might provide. He also said that Nancy Pelosi is — quote — "handing out subpoenas like cookies."

    So he was basically making the point that Nancy Pelosi is harassing him and that these are too many subpoenas going around. But there is a history of the White House not wanting to provide documents to Congress. The White House says a lot of that has to do with executive privilege.

    Democrats say that this is the White House who stonewalling on a lot of documents. It's also important to note that Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, is going on somewhat offensive here when it comes to legal tactics. He's saying that he might sue House Democrats.

    These are some of the same people who are now seeking documents from the White House. They are two separate things, the president's personal lawyer and the White House. But what you're seeing here is a legal battle that's shaping up here. And President Trump is not quite sure exactly what he's going to provide.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, as we saw, the president addressed all this in two separate sessions with the president of Finland, first in the Oval Office, and then they had a joint news conference scheduled.

    That news conference turned out to be very little about his meeting with the president of Finland, and so much about this impeachment inquiry.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this was a tense press conference, even for a president that has had very, very tense exchanges with the media and other foreign leaders.

    Now, here we had the president lashing out at the whistle-blower. He said, I believe in protecting whistle-blowers, but this person essentially doesn't — doesn't — shouldn't have that protection, because they're saying something about me that I believe to be a lie.

    It was very interesting to watch him also take answers — I mean, take questions from other reporters from a different country. So a Finnish reporter stood up. And it was quite a moment. The Finnish reporter put a question to the president of Finland: What favors has President Trump basically requested of you today?

    And the room gasped. It was, in some ways, a really poignant moment. And it really showed that President Trump is facing, really, scrutiny with the whole world, because, in this case, he's trying to do foreign policy, but he's already being accused of having corruptive behavior with this president.

    The president of Finland said, I essentially haven't been asked to do anything by this president.

    But it's quite a reminder that, when we see the president lashing out and being angry, it's not just about the domestic politics. It's also about the fact that he's being accused of using his relationships with these foreign leaders that are coming to the White House for nefarious things and for his own political gain.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it was a striking — a striking exchange.

    Lisa, another thing that happened today, unusual, in that the State Department's inspector general, supposedly an independent official inside the different federal departments, asked for a briefing with the Congress behind closed doors.

    It was in private, but I know you and other journalists are trying to find out what happened.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We know a lot about what happened.

    And, Judy, I think the best word I can say is, it's pretty weird. The inspector general gave this short notice to Congress. Congress is out of town. So it was staffers and one member of Congress who attended this briefing.

    And in that, the State Department attorney general — inspector general, as Yamiche has reported, brought sort of some documents having to do with this whole Ukraine discussion.

    What were those documents? Those documents were, in the words of Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, it was a series of disinformation papers about conspiracy theories in Ukraine, some having to do with Vice President — former Vice President Biden and his son, some having to do with the former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

    And Raskin said he himself didn't think there was a charge of wrongdoing in all of this, more that the I.G. for the State Department was covering his bases, saying to Congress, here's a packet of material that was sent to Secretary of State Pompeo. We're not sure if Pompeo pushed this around the State Department or not.

    But for Raskin, it speaks to this idea that someone is putting out theories against the ambassador within the Trump administration.

    But to speak to how strange this was, Judy, here's a picture of the cover page of these documents that Representative Raskin showed me. Look at that. It's in calligraphy. It looks like it could be from 1780.

    It really is strange. I want to mention it just because we have been reporting on it. And it shows that some of these things are very substantive. Some of these things, it's really not clear what they mean.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's not clear where this came from to Secretary Pompeo.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes. It's a major question mark. Did it come, in fact, from the White House? There were also folders involved that came from the Trump Hotel. Was this some sort of false flag?

    I don't know. There's going to be conspiracy theories about this. But Representative Raskin said he thinks this is actually a distraction. He's not paying attention to it. Who knows? It was odd.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, covering all the developments today at the Capitol.

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you. Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

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