Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and former Republican presidential nominee, and several other GOP lawmakers have become the first members of the party to raise concerns about the telephone call between Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart that has sparked an impeachment inquiry into the US president.
“My reaction was the same as I had a few days ago which is that this remains deeply troubling,” said Mr Romney, who did not say whether he would go so far as to support impeachment. “We’ll see where it leads.”
Ben McAdams, another Utah Republican, said the notes on the call released by the White House suggested that Mr Trump “was improperly using his influence with a foreign power to damage a political opponent”.
The Utah politicians were joined by Ben Sasse, a Nebraska senator who at one point was one of the few vocal GOP critics of Mr Trump and has read the report. He urged Republicans not to rush to defend the president until they had more information.
“Republicans ought not to be rushing to circle the wagons and say there’s no there there when there’s obviously a lot that’s very troubling,” said Mr Sasse, who had significantly toned down criticisms of Mr Trump in recent months as he prepares to run for re-election.
Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative and Republican congressional staffer who ran for president in 2016 as an independent, said Mr Sasse’s comment was “a pretty good indication of just how bad the whistleblower complaint is”.
Patrick Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican senator, said the comments in the call — in which Mr Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden and the local business activities of his son Hunter — were “inappropriate” but that they did not warrant the push for impeachment.
While there were signs that some Republicans might be willing to break with the president, most members of the party stuck with Mr Trump and accused the Democrats of making another attempt to overturn the 2016 election.
More than 200 of the 235 Democrats in the House have backed the decision to open impeachment proceedings, suggesting that the party would have little trouble passing articles of impeachment against Mr Trump if the Democratic leadership chooses that path. The party is expected to do so.
But the Democrats would need at least 20 Republican senators to abandon Mr Trump to meet the two-thirds threshold to convict him in the Senate.
The trickle of GOP criticism came as the White House gave Congress the whistleblower complaint that sparked the latest crisis. Democrats are hoping that the complaint will provide further ammunition that might cause more Republicans to reconsider their support for the president.
Joaquin Castro, a Texas congressman, said after reading the complaint that the scandal was more serious than he had realised.
“This thing is bigger than I thought,” Mr Castro tweeted.
At a news conference in New York on Wednesday, Mr Trump insisted that he favoured transparency in impeachment proceedings, setting the stage for investigators to hear from the intelligence official who raised concerns about Mr Trump’s effort to seek Ukraine’s help digging dirt on Mr Biden.
Even as he tried to show he had nothing to hide, he tried to turn the spotlight on to the Bidens, repeating widely disputed allegations that the former vice-president sought to squelch an inquiry into his son’s dealings.
Despite the release of a White House summary of a July phone call between Mr Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky showing the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to look into Hunter Biden’s business dealings, Mr Trump insisted at a news conference he did not apply pressure on Kiev to do his bidding.
“I didn’t threaten anybody. No push, no pressure, I didn’t do anything . . . You take a look at that call, it was perfect. There was no quid pro quo,” the president said.
Mr Trump said he would also release a transcript of the first telephone call he held with Mr Zelensky when the former comedian was elected.
“It’s all a hoax . . . And this is just a continuation of the witch hunts,” he said.
Mr Trump arrived at the UN General Assembly on Monday hoping to spend the week making the case for nations to take tougher action against Iran following its alleged attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities last week.
But he has found himself engulfed in a scandal that has resulted in his becoming only the fourth US president — after Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton — to face impeachment proceedings in the House.
At the news conference, Mr Trump said Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had capitulated to “radical far-left socialists” in her party and said that the effort could help him politically as he campaigns for re-election.
But Ms Pelosi, who launched the impeachment inquiry, said the transcript of the July phone call proved Mr Trump had abused his office.
“I respect the responsibility of the president to engage with foreign leaders as part of his job. It is not part of his job to use taxpayer money to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign,” Ms Pelosi said.
The unfolding controversy is expected to take another turn on Thursday when Joseph Maguire, the acting head of the US intelligence community, testifies before the House intelligence committee.
Mr Maguire angered Democrats by refusing to hand over the complaint despite a legal obligation. The Washington Post said Mr Maguire had threatened to resign if the White House tried to block him from testifying in full, but Mr Maguire later denied he had ever considered quitting.