During a Facebook Live tele-town hall Wednesday, Sen. Mike Lee said he doesn’t think a newly released rough transcript of a phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s leader is “a problem” and argued it “certainly doesn’t serve as the basis for impeaching and removing” him.
In his comments, Lee struck a different tone from other members of Utah’s federal congressional delegation and sought to dismiss as partisan concerns over the call that have bubbled into the launch of an impeachment inquiry.
“There are those who don’t like this president who have been trying to have him impeached and removed since the day he took office,” Lee said. “And for those people, perhaps they see this as an opportunity. It’s a fleeting one and it’s one that they might try to exercise but if they try to exercise it, it will be unwise. It will backfire and I think it would also be unfair to President Trump.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, in contrast, said Wednesday that he found reports “deeply troubling” that Trump had requested that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, work with his personal lawyer and Attorney General William Barr to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden and his dealings with a Ukrainian oligarch. He shied away, however, from saying whether it rose to the level of impeachment.
A declassified rough transcript from the White House of a phone call between Trump and Zelensky showed the president made no explicit promise of anything for Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden but that Trump wanted the new president to do him a “favor.” At the time, the president was withholding millions in U.S. aid to Ukraine.
During his town hall, Lee argued the call simply showed the president seeking cooperation in the enforcement of U.S. domestic law around Russian hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s database in the 2016 presidential election. He said Trump mentioned Biden only after Zelensky brought “up the topic,” which Lee’s office says was not a reference to Biden, who Zelensky never mentioned, but generally a reference to investigations.
“Contrary to the media reports and all the hype that’s been surrounding this, President Trump did not ask his counterpart in Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political rival,” he said. “What President Trump did do was to ask President Zelensky for his cooperation with U.S. domestic law enforcement and the enforcement of U.S. domestic law. Asking a foreign government to do that is not grounds for impeachment.”
He compared the situation to Senate Democrats’ request in 2018 that Ukraine’s chief prosecutor cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“If that’s somehow an impeachable offense, then Senate Democrats have somehow violated the law by encouraging cooperation with Robert Mueller,” he said. “This doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make sense.”
Lee also said he thinks the whistleblower who brought forward the information about Trump’s call may have done so for partisan reasons and committed a criminal offense and worried that opening up transcripts of phone calls between a president and a foreign leader is “going to change our president’s abilities to interact with foreign leaders.”
“I don’t think that’s where we should go,” he said.
Lee noted that he hasn’t read the whistleblower’s complaint yet and hopes it will be made available to him in the next day or two.
Clarification: 9:55 a.m. • This article has been updated to clarify what Sen. Mike Lee said about when President Donald Trump first mentioned Democratic rival Joe Biden to the Ukrainian president according to the reconstructed transcript released by the White House.