Trump allies in disarray as Democrats push impeachment

FILE - In this May 5, 2018, file photo, Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump, speaks in Washington. Giuliani says he'd only cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry if his client agreed. Central to the investigation is the effort by Giuliani to have Ukraine conduct a corruption probe into Joe Biden and his son's dealings with a Ukrainian energy company. Trump echoed that request in a July 2019 call with Ukraine's president. The House Intelligence Committee is leading the inquiry, and Chairman Adam Schiff hasn't decided if he wants to hear from Giuliani. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Trump allies push denials, conspiracy theory as Democrats drive impeachment inquiry

WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that he expects the whistleblower at the heart of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump to testify "very soon."

"All that needs to be done, at this point, is to make sure that the attorneys that represent the whistleblower get the clearances that they need to be able to accompany the whistleblower to testimony," said Schiff, D-Calif., "and that we figure out the logistics to make sure that we protect the identity of the whistleblower."

As Democrats and the director of national intelligence worked out key arrangements, Trump's allies erupted in a surge of second-guessing and conspiracy theorizing across the Sunday talk shows, suggesting the White House strategy is unclear against the stiffest challenge to his presidency. One former adviser urged Trump to confront the crisis at hand and get past his fury over the probe of Russian election interference.

"I honestly believe this president has not gotten his pound of flesh yet from past grievances on the 2016 investigation," said Tom Bossert, Trump's former homeland security adviser. "If he continues to focus on that white whale," Bossert added, "it's going to bring him down."

The Ukraine investigation produced what the Russian probe did not: formal House impeachment proceedings based on the president's own words and actions.

The White House last week released a rough transcript of Trump's July 25 call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as well as the whistleblower's complaint alleging the U.S. president pressured his counterpart to investigate the family of Joe Biden, the former vice president who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump's reelection next year.

The House forged ahead, with Schiff's committee leading the investigation. Democrats are planning a rapid start to their push for impeachment, with hearings and depositions starting this coming week.

Schiff has said the whistleblower has agreed to testify. His committee has been negotiating to interview the whistleblower, who reported to the inspector general for the intelligence community that Trump had urged Zelenskiy to investigate Biden. The whistleblower also said that White House officials then moved to "lock down" the details by putting all the records of it on a separate computer system.

One of the whistleblower's lawyers tweeted Sunday that talks were ongoing.

"We continue to work w/both parties in House & Senate and we understand all agree that protecting whistleblower's identity is paramount," posted Mark Zaid. "Discussions continue to occur to coordinate & finalize logistics but no date/time has yet been set."

Trump's allies fanned out across the Sunday talk shows with myriad responses.

Stephen Miller, the president's senior policy adviser, called the whole inquiry a "partisan hit job" orchestrated by "a deep state operative" who is also "a saboteur."

"The president of the United States is the whistleblower," Miller said.

Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, promoted a debunked conspiracy theory, insisting that Ukraine had spread disinformation during the 2016 election.

Bossert advised that Trump drop that defense.

"I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again," said Bossert, who also was an adviser to President George W. Bush. "That conspiracy theory has got to go, they have to stop with that, it cannot continue to be repeated."

Giuliani not only repeated it but also brandished what he said were affidavits that support them and claimed that Trump "was framed by the Democrats."

He also at one point said he would not cooperate with Schiff, but then acknowledged he would do what Trump tells him. The White House did not provide an official response on whether the president would allow Giuliani to cooperate.

"If they're going to obstruct," Schiff warned, "then they're going to increase the likelihood that Congress may feel it necessary to move forward with an article on obstruction."

Giuliani appeared on ABC's "This Week" and CBS' "Face the Nation," while Schiff was interviewed on ABC and NBC's "Meet the Press." Bossert spoke on ABC and Miller on "Fox News Sunday."

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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