Suozzi supports impeachment inquiry in wake of Ukraine controversy

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U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D)

U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi, a moderate Democrat who initially was reluctant to support impeachment efforts against President Donald Trump, announced his support for an impeachment inquiry on Tuesday morning in a post on Facebook.

His announcement came hours before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would begin a formal impeachment inquiry, accusing Trump of betraying his oath of office by seeking help from a foreign leader to try to dig up dirt on a political opponent.

The congressman’s change of heart came in the wake of Trump’s admission that in a conversation with the Ukrainian president he mentioned former Vice President Joe Biden and his son when discussing corruption. At the time, the president had ordered a freeze in security aid to the eastern European country that had been allocated by Congress.

This raised concern that Trump was manipulating the use of aid money to further his political interests.

The Washington Post has reported that during the July 25 call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump repeatedly urged him to dig up damaging information on Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election.

Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company headed by Ukraine’s former environment minister.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that the Ukrainian president said he did not feel pressured during the “nice” call and early Wednesday released a rough transcript of the call.

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” the president said, according to the transcript. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … it sounds horrible to me.”

The issue of Trump’s actions involving Ukraine emerged after a whistleblower in the intelligence community filed a complaint. Its substance has not been publicly disclosed, but The Post has reported that it involved Trump and his efforts to press Zelensky to dig up information potentially damaging to Biden.

According to multiple news reports, the inspector general of the intelligence community notified the acting director of national intelligence of a “credible” and “urgent” whistleblower claim. According to law, the director had seven days to pass the complaint on to congressional intelligence committees, which did not happen.

“Now, despite federal law requiring the disclosure of a whistleblower complaint to Congress, the administration has blocked its release to Congress,” Suozzi, of Glen Cove, said in the Facebook post. “This refusal is in outright contravention of the law and is again similar to the President’s and his administration’s refusal to comply with other mandates. I cannot ignore this flagrant disregard for the law.”

Suozzi joined the ranks of 206 Democratic Congress members who have endorsed an impeachment inquiry, according to a count by The New York Times, including Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) who announced support for an inquiry after Robert Mueller, former special counsel to the Justice Department, testified before Congress in July about Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump and the president’s efforts to curb an inquiry.

She tweeted Wednesday after the White House’s release of the transcripts: “If Donald Trump was willing to release this transcript, can you imagine what’s in his tax returns?”

She also took to Twitter on Tuesday to say that she has received “hundreds of phone calls” from constituents saying that they support impeachment “because they’re worried about the precedent we’d set for our country if Trump isn’t held accountable.”

“They’re completely right,” she said. “We need to begin impeachment proceedings immediately.”

Melanie D’Arrigo, a Democrat who announced she is running against Suozzi for the party nomination, said in a statement that Suozzi’s “last-minute flip” symbolizes that when it comes to Democratic priorities, he is last to the table.

“Long Island deserves a leader who fights for Democratic values — not a follower who waits until the absolute last second, and safest possible political moment, to join calls for impeachment,” she said.

She said when it comes to his own priorities “like supporting GOP allies in the Problem Solvers Caucus,” he stands front and center, “but when it comes to Democratic priorities like impeaching Trump, Suozzi is last to the table.”

Suozzi is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of Democratic and Republican House members.

Great Neck lawyer Michael Weinstock, who also launched a primary campaign against Suozzi, said in a statement on Suozzi’s support of an impeachment inquiry that the congressman thinks voters are “knuckleheads.”

“He’s pretending to be a Democrat because he has a progressive challenger in the primary,” he said. “New York voters are a smart bunch – and we will remember that Tom Suozzi opposed impeachment, opposed the Green New Deal and staunchly opposed gay marriage.”

Suozzi announced his support for the Green New Deal in February, when he signed on as a sponsor for the legislation.

Weinstock recalled Suozzi’s staunch opposition to gay marriage when he was running for governor, a move that Weinstock said made him feel “terribly conflicted” about being gay and partly led to his campaign against Suozzi.

While Suozzi did not support gay marriage during the 2006 gubernatorial election, he announced his support for same-sex marriage in a 2009 op-ed he penned for the New York Times. 

Suozzi said his reluctance to endorse impeachment efforts was based upon the belief that impeachment would further divide the country.

“The President will use impeachment proceedings to try and solidify his base, arguing that his opponents are more interested in stopping him than solving the country’s problems,” he said.

He said that “less than a majority of American voters support impeachment” and that the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate is unlikely to support impeachment.

But in this case, he said “inaction would give this president (and future presidents) assurances that their misdeeds are immune from punishment. Inaction also would seriously diminish the role of the Congress as a co-equal branch of government determined to utilize its Article I powers.”

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