WASHINGTON — House Democrats prepared on Wednesday to force the Trump administration anew to answer questions in their impeachment investigation, one day after President Trump and the White House declared that they would defy Congress in one of the most extraordinary assertions of executive authority in modern times.
House chairmen leading the impeachment inquiry planned to issue additional subpoenas for witness testimony and records related to Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine as soon as Thursday, lawmakers and aides said, after a pause for the Jewish High Holy Days.
They want to force executive branch officials to answer to their demands, generating a detailed record of refusals that could shape an impeachment article charging Mr. Trump with obstructing Congress. Democrats also still see other meaningful avenues for gathering evidence that go around the Trump administration’s defiance, including questioning private citizens, career diplomats near retirement and the whistle-blowers whose revelations fueled the inquiry.
“There is more we want to do,” said Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, the second-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He called the White House’s stonewalling “a brazen political move to try to align what has been a fragmented and uncertain strategy to defend the president.”
The Democrats’ investigation earned a prominent endorsement as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a leading presidential candidate, said in a speech on Wednesday in New Hampshire that Mr. Trump should be impeached for “shooting holes in the Constitution.” Mr. Biden set aside months of restraint complicated by the president’s unsubstantiated allegations about Mr. Biden’s own dealings with Ukraine.
But the White House’s promise to put a “full halt” on cooperating with the impeachment inquiry was likely to force Democrats to more quickly confront questions about how long and how extensively to investigate Mr. Trump when ample evidence of his actions is already in the open.
So far, the Democrats have secured public support for their inquiry. Polls show that a majority of the public backs it, but if the White House successfully stanches the flow of evidence and lawmakers extend their investigation without delivering significant new findings, that support could erode.
“Every new piece of information has corroborated the basic facts, which are devastating for the president,” said Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York and a member of the Intelligence Committee. “How many smoking guns are we going to get? The president’s own words incriminate him. Every supporting document we have seen further supports the devastating facts we are learning more about every day.”
But moving too quickly toward drafting articles of impeachment could expose Democrats to charges that their inquiry was a rush to tarnish the Trump presidency rather than a pursuit of the truth.
Mr. Trump and other top administration officials, as well as his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, embarked in recent months on a campaign to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to open investigations that could benefit Mr. Trump politically. A whistle-blower complaint helped bring the scandal more fully into public view and prompted the impeachment inquiry, and Democrats say they want to ensure that they are fully scrutinizing the facts before they move forward.
“There is another risk, which is you don’t get to the bottom of the story,” Mr. Himes said. “Was Rudy Giuliani running his own State Department? What other people were pressured to go along with this?”
The White House’s charged assertion late Tuesday that it would try to stymie the inquiry came in a letter from Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, but the document read more like a political argument than a legal one.
“Put simply, you seek to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the president they have freely chosen,” Mr. Cipollone wrote. “Many Democrats now apparently view impeachment not only as a means to undo the democratic results of the last election, but as a strategy to influence the next election, which is barely more than a year away.”
[As the White House counsel, Mr. Cipollone is building a case for defiance on impeachment.]
Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that he was ready for a long fight with the Democrats but implied that he might reconsider if the House were to hold a vote authorizing the inquiry and granting Republicans and the White House new powers to call and cross-examine witnesses in the inquiry.
“We would if they give us our rights,” he said of Democrats.
And Mr. Trump’s congressional allies continued to try to undercut the impeachment case. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would invite Kurt D. Volker, the former United States special envoy to Ukraine, to testify in public if the House did not release of a transcript of its private interview with him.
Mr. Volker helped try to secure commitments from Mr. Zelensky’s government to investigate corruption, serving as an intermediary between the Ukrainians, Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani.
House Democrats released damaging text messages that Mr. Volker shared showing his conversations with other American diplomats and a top Ukrainian aide. But Republicans argued that Democrats were trying to cover up the fact that he told investigators behind closed doors that he saw nothing untoward between the Trump administration and the Ukrainian government.
Democratic leaders have made clear that they view Mr. Cipollone’s letter as an invalid legal document and warned Mr. Trump and other potential witnesses that ignoring subpoenas would carry consequences. Speaker Nancy Pelosi retorted to Mr. Trump late Tuesday that he was not “above the law” and hinted that any efforts to undercut Congress’s investigation would only fuel her impeachment case.
“The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction,” she said.
Other Democrats more explicitly pointed to one of the three articles of impeachment the House Judiciary Committee approved in 1974 charging Richard M. Nixon with failing to provide information to House inquirers.
House leaders have signaled that they are highly unlikely to take any of the Ukraine-related disputes over information into court, as they did when the White House blocked earlier requests from congressional Democrats seeking to conduct oversight. Though the House continues to litigate those earlier cases in the courts, new lawsuits would take far longer to resolve than the amount of time that Democrats believe they have to decide on impeachment.
Two key State Department figures will face choices in the coming days about whether to step down and testify to Congress or remain in the administration and keep quiet, according to current and former diplomats.
William B. Taylor Jr., America’s top diplomat in Ukraine, has already retired twice from the State Department and was called back into service most recently to go to Kiev. He has already threatened to quit once in protest over Mr. Trump’s Ukraine policy, according to the text messages that Mr. Volker shared with congressional investigators.
Marie L. Yovanovitch, who was forced out by the Trump administration as ambassador to Ukraine, is teaching at Georgetown University and nearing the end of her foreign service career. If she wants to tell her story to Congress, she will have no choice but to quit, the current and former officials said.
But even if they do resign, both Mr. Taylor and Ms. Yovanovitch could face hurdles to testifying in the impeachment inquiry. Mr. Trump could seek to tie up both officials’ eyewitness accounts in court by threatening legal action.
Congressional investigators also believe they can glean important information from private citizens whom the White House cannot claim executive privilege over and would also have a more difficult time evading subpoenas.
Most prominent among them is Mr. Giuliani, who appears to have orchestrated the monthslong effort to secure Ukrainian government support for investigations into Mr. Biden and his son and another unfounded theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election. Investigators have subpoenaed Mr. Giuliani for a vast set of records, to be delivered early next week.
The House is prepared to issue subpoenas to two associates of Mr. Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who helped him try to stir up investigations in Ukraine, if they do not show up for scheduled depositions this week.
The men worked to gather information in Kiev about the Bidens and matters related to the 2016 election. Mr. Parnas also helped connect Mr. Giuliani and Ukrainian prosecutors.
And then there are the whistle-blowers whose accounts have provided a road map to investigators. Lawmakers are finalizing arrangements to talk to the first whistle-blower, who may be able to provide additional information or investigative leads.
The whistle-blower’s lawyers have confirmed that they are also representing a second official who had more direct knowledge of the effort to pressure Ukraine. Lawmakers are also likely to want to speak to that official.
Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.
Nicholas Fandos is a national reporter based in the Washington bureau. He has covered Congress since 2017 and is part of a team of reporters who have chronicled investigations by the Justice Department and Congress into President Trump and his administration. @npfandos
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