Members of Virginia’s congressional delegation have placed themselves in separate trenches as House Democrats launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
“It seems like Groundhog Day in Washington,” said Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday a decision to begin the impeachment inquiry following allegations that came to light last week that Trump improperly pressured the government of Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Trump released an unredacted summary of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. In the call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the U.S. attorney general, William Barr, to “look into” his political rival, Joe Biden.
Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Westmoreland, criticized Democrats for launching a formal impeachment inquiry before a transcript had been released.
Riggleman said he’s read the call summary three times and concluded there was no evidence of an impeachable offense.
“It’s a nothing-burger,” Riggleman said. “The fact impeachment calls came before the transcript was released shows this is political.”
Trump mentioned Biden several times during the call as he described allegations that, as vice president, Biden pushed to remove Ukraine’s top prosecutor to help a company his son was working for. These claims have been discredited.
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said he read the call summary and that Trump’s request to investigate the allegations was “valid.”
“As the leader of the United States, it is right and proper for President Trump to request a reexamination after a previous high-ranking government official publicly admitted to inappropriate and possibly illegal behavior,” Griffith said in a statement. “If the Democrats are willing to investigate the allegations regarding Mr. Biden, then my hat is off to them, but I would be surprised.”
Riggleman said he thinks it was in the purview of Trump to ask Ukraine to look into the allegations about Trump. But he also said he thinks it’s time for the country to move on.
“We’re having this tit for tat with political in-fighting, and we’re not considering serious legislation and issues before us,” Riggleman said.
Pelosi said there are six key committees already investigating the president that will continue to investigate Trump “under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.” If the investigations conclude there are reasons for impeachment, the Judiciary Committee will draw up articles of impeachment, and the Judiciary Committee and then the full House will vote on it.
Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, the only member of Virginia’s delegation to sit on the Judiciary Committee, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
In an interview with CSPAN Wednesday morning, Cline said he’s “grown tired” of judiciary hearings on the issue of trying to remove Trump. He said there is “flimsy evidence” right now and he’d wait for additional evidence, including a report from the whistleblower who had come forward with concerns about the Ukraine matter. Cline said Trump has been doing a good job as president and supports him.
It’s up to the House to vote to impeach a president for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The Senate — which is controlled by Republicans — can hold a trial to remove the president from office. Two presidents in American history have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither was removed from office. Richard Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., backed the informal impeachment inquiry.
“The time for stonewalling is over, and the public deserves to see the President held accountable for his actions,” Kaine said in a statement Wednesday.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has not publicly reacted to the impeachment inquiry. He’s been focusing his efforts in Congress on shoring up security from foreign elections influence. Democrats have pressed the White House to release the whistleblower complaint to the House and Senate intelligence committees and for the whistleblower to be allowed to testify and for Barr to recuse himself until the matter is resolved.
Reps. Don Beyer, D-Alexandria; Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun; and Gerald Connolly, D-Fairfax, have expressed support for an impeachment inquiry since May, shortly after Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his redacted report on Russian election interference and Trump.
By Tuesday night, the remaining members joined the ranks. Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News, said Trump has “now admitted to sacrificing national security for his own political gain.” In his statement Tuesday night, Scott became the final Democrat in Virginia’s delegation to call for impeachment.
“It is the only appropriate course of action given the severity of recent events,” he wrote.
As news broke about Trump’s communications with Ukraine, Reps. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, and Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, joined five fellow freshman lawmakers with backgrounds in national security to write an op-ed in The Washington Post to announce their support for impeachment. The op-ed was published late Monday.
Luria and Spanberger won races in red districts that previously voted for Trump, part of a wave of moderate Democrats who helped flip the House last year. The op-ed marked a major step forward for moderate Democrats who had resisted earlier calls for impeachment by more progressive Democrats.
“During my 20 years in the Navy and as a member of Congress, I swore an oath to protect our Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic,” Luria wrote in a statement. “I swore to serve my constituents and the American people. We owe it to the American people to hold the President accountable for his actions.”
On Tuesday morning, Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, issued a call for impeachment, saying if the reports about Ukraine are true, they show Trump “continues to place self-interest ahead of national interests, putting his desire to win re-election above our rule of law and national security.”
“To look the other way is an abrogation of my oath, my duty, and my responsibility,” McEachin said.