Congressman Talks About Trump Kidnapping Ukrainian Leader’s Daughter, White House Responds

December 13, 2019 Updated: December 13, 2019
FONT BFONT SText size

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) evoked unusual imagery during the House Judiciary Committee’s debate on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump when he attempted to downplay Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s several claims that he felt no pressure and added there was no quid pro quo in his dealings with Trump.

Johnson, as well as other Democrats on the committee, tried to push back after Zelensky and several other top Ukrainian officials disputed Democrats’ allegations that Trump withheld military aid in exchange for investigations. Trump and Republicans have frequently touted a recent Zelensky interview, where he said there was no quid pro quo and didn’t “understand at all” what the Democrats were talking about.

During the hearing, Johnson argued that Zelensky was lying under duress and attempted to make an analogy about Trump and Zelensky’s 15-year-old daughter.

“A big chair for President Trump, little chair for President Zelensky. Big, six-foot-four President Trump, five-foot-eleven Mr. Zelensky, President Zelensky. And they’re standing there, President Trump is holding court. And he says, ‘Oh, by the way, no pressure.’ And you saw President Zelensky shaking his head as if his daughter was downstairs in the basement, duct-taped,” Johnson said.

He added: “I mean, there’s an imbalance of power in that relationship. It always has been. And there’s no way that the nation of Ukraine can stand up to the power, the power of the United States of America. And President Trump used that unequal bargaining position. He leveraged his power in that relationship, not for the benefit of the United States of America, but for his own benefit.”

After Johnson made the comment, the White House responded that “Democrats want to impeach the President for [checks notes] being too tall.”

The White House also tweeted a photo of Trump and Zelensky shaking hands, showing that both leaders’ chairs are the same size.

On social media, conservative commentators seized on Johnson’s comments about Zelensky’s daughter and criticized him.

Late on Thursday night, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced that his panel would recess until Friday morning before voting on articles of impeachment, which drew immediate criticism from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking Republican, and other GOP members of the committee.

“That was the most egregious violation of trust between a committee chairman and ranking member I think I’ve ever seen,” said Collins before adding that “there was no discussion” about the abrupt change. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who has served 12 terms in the House, said that he’s “never seen anything like that.”

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to return on Friday at 10 a.m. to hold the vote, Nadler said.

Zelensky’s Comments

“Look, I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing,” Zelensky told several news outlets earlier this week, including Time magazine. He said he doesn’t “understand at all” the allegations made against Trump during the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings.

Zelensky also said in September: “I don’t want to be involved to democratic open elections of USA (sic). You heard that we had good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. I think, and you read it, and nobody pushed me.”

Several days ago, Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to the President of Ukraine, also pushed back against the claims that Trump waged a pressure campaign to get investigations into a potential political rival.

“We never had that feeling,” he told Time magazine. “We had a clear understanding that the aid has been frozen. We honestly said, ‘Okay, that’s bad, what’s going on here.’ We were told that they would figure it out. And after a certain amount of time the aid was unfrozen. We did not have the feeling that this aid was connected to any one specific issue,” Yermak told the magazine.