COLUMBUS - Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said Monday it's wrong for President Donald Trump to ask Ukraine or China or another foreign entity to investigate Democratic rival and former vice president Joe Biden.
But Portman, a Republican from Terrace Park near Cincinnati, said he doesn't see it as "an impeachable offense" and said Democrats are rushing to impeachment.
"It's not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government with an investigation with a political opponent," Portman told reporters Monday outside the annual Ohio Defense Forum.
House Democrats have called for an impeachment inquiry against Trump following a July phone call in which Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden's involvement in the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Shokin had investigated Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma between 2010 and 2012. Biden's son Hunter became a board member of the company in 2014.
The call prompted a whistleblower complaint alleging Trump asked a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. Democrats had already launched an investigation into whether Trump's decision to withhold $250 million in military assistance was tied to efforts for a Ukrainian investigation of Biden's actions.
Trump has claimed that Biden, as vice president, forced out Shokin to protect his son.
But Portman, a co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Ukraine Caucus, said Monday that Shokin's office wasn't doing enough to fight corruption. Portman and other senators sent a letter in February 2016 to then-Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, urging him to tackle corruption.
"The prosecutor's office was not ferreting out corruption and part of it was they needed to reform their office and how they operated," Portman said.
Portman told reporters Monday that he did not know Trump was seeking an investigation into the Bidens until Sept. 11, soon after House Democrats announced they were examining a connection between a requested investigation and the hold-up in distributing aid to Ukraine. Portman said he talked to Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and officials at the U.S. Department of State but hadn't received an answer for why military aid was on hold.
On Sept. 12, the Trump administration lifted the hold. Trump said last week he released the aid "because Rob Portman and others called me and asked."
He said House Democrats said there would be a clear quid pro quo, but that wasn't borne out by the summary of the Trump-Zelensky phone call and whistleblower complaint.
"They moved a little too quickly and I think impeachment has to be taken really seriously because it overturns the results of a democratically-held election," said Portman, who voted to impeach then-President Clinton.
Portman said the incident should be investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee and others. Meanwhile, he said, an impeachment inquiry will make it harder to pass legislation such as the six bipartisan bills he's been working on.
"It's sad to me as hard as it is to get things done in Washington, now it's going to be even harder," Portman said. "And as divided as our country already is, we are going to be even more polarized."
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Impeachment inquiry: Rob Portman says Donald Trump wrong to ask Ukraine about Joe Biden