SYRACUSE — U.S. Rep. John Katko believes there isn't evidence of an impeachment offense committed by President Donald Trump, but he told reporters Friday that he hasn't reached a conclusion on whether the president should be impeached.
Katko, R-Camillus, answered several questions about impeachment during a press conference at his Syracuse office. He admitted that he hasn't watched a lot of the testimony — some snippets "here or there," he said — but has been briefed by his staff about the hearings.
The case, Katko says, is about the July call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In that call, U.S. military aid to Ukraine is mentioned by Zelensky before Trump changes the topic of conversation to CrowdStrike, a U.S. cybersecurity firm tapped by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the hacking of a DNC server in 2016, and Joe Biden. Biden's son, Hunter, served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
The House launched an impeachment inquiry after a whistleblower submitted a complaint to the Intelligence Community's inspector general. The complaint was eventually forwarded to Congress. The complaint raises concerns about Trump withholding military aid to Ukraine to force the country to investigate the Bidens.
The aid was eventually released, but several witnesses have told the House Intelligence Committee that it was withheld for political reasons — that Trump wanted to press Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
When asked if he believes the witness are credible, Katko responded: "I don't have any reason to doubt their veracity, but what's not being reported is how many people have firsthand knowledge. Very little. The real focus of this has always been the phone call."
This week, a few of the witnesses who testified have firsthand knowledge of the call. Two of those officials were Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukrainian expert on the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence. Both were on the call between Trump and Zelensky. Williams described it as "unusual." Vindman said he "couldn't believe what I was hearing" as he listened to the call.
"It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent," Vindman added.
But the testimony hasn't changed Katko's view on impeachment. In a nearly 10-minute exchange with reporters, he repeated many of the same comments he made about impeachment in late September and early October when the inquiry began. He believes there is a "very high bar" for impeachment, but insists he hasn't reached a final conclusion.
No date has been set for the House vote on impeachment. Reports indicate it could be held in December.
Katko does believe Trump's actions on the call with Zelensky were inappropriate. As he said nearly two months ago, he "would've avoided that call if I was in his position."
But his main concern with the inquiry is that it's distracting from work on other — and, in his view, more pressing — matters.
"We don't have a budget. The Lake Ontario shoreline is still a mess. We have people dying on the street every day of opioids," he said. "We have a lot of things in this country that are being pushed aside to try and deal with the impeachment issue. I'm very concerned about all those things. I want us to get back to work. Until this is over, we're not going to be able to. I'm looking forward to getting it over, one way or another."
Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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