Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, said she would “make sure” President Trump does not “intimidate” the whistleblower who first sparked an impeachment inquiry as public hearings launch into their second week.
Mr Trump has focused on the identity of the anonymous whistleblower who brought to light the president’s dealings with Ukraine which are behind the inquiry, asking why he is not “entitled to interview” the person, saying: “I deserve to meet my accuser.”
Speaking on CBS, Ms Pelosi said Mr Trump was welcome to appear before the impeachment inquiry. “The president could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants,” she said.
“I will make sure he does not intimidate the whistleblower. I was there. I told the President you’re in my wheelhouse when you come after the whistleblower.”
Ms Pelosi joined other Democrats in criticising Mr Trump for tweeting “insults” about the former US ambassador to Ukraine while she testified before lawmakers during the first week of public hearings.
Mr Trump was accused of witness intimidation after he lashed out at Marie Yovanovitch, a longstanding career foreign service official, tweeting that “everywhere” she had gone “turned bad”.
Ms Yovanovitch said that she had previously felt threatened and intimidated by Mr Trump, who told Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky on a call that she would “go through some things”.
On Friday, Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee, said the president’s tweeting was “part of a pattern to intimidate witnesses, and it’s also part of a pattern to obstruct the investigation.”
Ms Pelosi declined to say whether she thought Mr Trump’s tweets constituted witness intimidation, but said that his attack was “totally wrong and inappropriate and typical of the president”.
The question of whether Mr Trump’s attacks amount to witness intimidation is likely to intensify over the coming week during a heavy schedule of public hearings which will feature first-hand witnesses.
The appearance of Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, on Wednesday is highly anticipated as he has become a central figure in the inquiry since House Democrats published text messages showing his involvement in pressing Mr Zelensky to bend to Mr Trump’s demands.
A hotelier and Trump donor, Mr Sondland has already dramatically revised the testimony he initially gave to Congress after belatedly recalling a September conversation with Andrey Yermak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky, in which he told him that the “resumption of US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks”.
Mr Sondland was referring to Mr Trump’s apparent demands for Mr Zelensky to publicly announce investigations into Mr Biden, the former US vice-president, as well as his son, Hunter Biden.
The line-up of key witnesses includes Alexander Vindman, a top White House official who listened in to the July 25 phone call between Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.
Mr Vindman, who will appear on Tuesday, has already told Congress in a closed-door hearing that he was “concerned” about the exchange he heard and reported his unease to a National Security Council lawyer.
US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Tim Morrison, the top White House aide on Russia policy, will also both appear in open hearings on Tuesday afternoon, as will Mr Morrison’s predecessor, Fiona Hill, who is scheduled to testify on Thursday.
Various Republican lawmakers appeared on the US Sunday morning television shows to defend Mr Trump. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the committee conducting the impeachment inquiry, said that Mr Sondland had said in one of the already released text messages that there was “no quid pro quo”. He added: “We have the transcript, there was no linkage of any type for security assistance dollars for an investigation on the call.”
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican member of the senate foreign relations committee, told NBC News that the public impeachment inquiry would “weaken” the US relationship with Ukraine and the issue of military funding would have been better resolved “behind the scenes”.
Mr Trump was dealt a political blow on Saturday when Democratic governor John Bel Edwards was narrowly re-elected in Louisiana, despite multiple visits to the state by Mr Trump as he sought to help Mr Edwards’ Republican rival.