U.S. Sen. Angus King on Tuesday night criticized President Donald Trump’s repeated accusations that the whistleblower whose complaint is at the heart of an impeachment inquiry and other critics are treasonous.
King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, made his remarks during an interview on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“The problem is the president feels that he is the state, you know, like Louis the XIV, I am the state. So, criticism of him is treason against the United States. That’s not true. That’s just not the way it works,” King said during the television interview.
Treason is very narrowly defined in the U.S. Constitution as consisting “only in levying War against them [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
The junior senator defended the whistleblower, who has not been publicly identified, saying he or she did a “public service” and that is “exactly what people are supposed to do.”
“If they see what they believe is abuse of power in the federal government, they are supposed to report it. That’s what this whistleblower did. And now we have a chance to get to the bottom of what those allegations were,” King told host Anderson Cooper.
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The nine-page whistleblower complaint, made public last Thursday, alleged that Trump abused the power of his office to “solicit interference from a foreign country” in the 2020 election and then the White House then tried to “lock down” the information to cover it up.
At the heart of the complaint was Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who won an April election after a career as a television comedian, in which Trump asked Zelensky to assist with digging up dirt on his potential 2020 opponent, Democrat Joe Biden, and his son. Zelensky said his new prosecutor “will look into the situation,” according to a rough transcript of that call released last week.
But King told Cooper that the rough transcript of the 30-minute conversation raises additional questions.
“I had two staff members of my office the other day read it aloud. And we timed it. They read it in normal speaking pace. It took 10 minutes and 40 seconds. The phone call was 30 minutes. … Now, we don’t know what’s missing. It may be there was a translator involved and that made it go much longer. But the president of Ukraine speaks English,” King said.
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In connection with the July 25 phone call, Trump has faced accusations that he withheld millions of dollars in military aid from Ukraine as leverage to pressure Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who at one point sat on the board of the gas company Burisma, whose owner came under scrutiny by prosecutors for alleged abuse of power and unlawful enrichment, according to the Washington Post. Hunter Biden was not accused of wrongdoing.
The White House has denied Trump sought an investigation into Biden in exchange for military aid, the Washington Post reports. Office of Management and Budget staff said aid was delayed while Trump consulted with his national security team about it, but Zelensky told reporters Tuesday no one ever explained the rationale for the delay to him, according to the Associated Press.
King said that the decision to initially withhold the aid came despite objections from officials in the State and Defense departments, saying “there has to be an inquiry to get to the facts surrounding this — what looks like at least an attempted transaction.”
When asked if Congress can protect the whistleblower’s identity, King said he hoped so given Trump last week likened the whistleblower to a spy with a veiled reference to execution. “That’s a threat,” King said.
King told Cooper that whistleblowers have played an important role in the U.S. government since July 30, 1778, when the Continental Congress unanimously established the first law protecting those who come forward to report any government “misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors.”
“And we’ve got continuity for 240 years on that principle that certainly coming into important play right now,” King said.