Pre-emptive strike offers blueprint for GOP senators to acquit president, claiming a plot by Democrats
David Smith in Washington – The Guardian
The Republican lawmaker Devin Nunes, center, talks with the Republican legal counsel Steve Castor, right, during an intelligence committee hearing on 21 November. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA
Donald Trump’s actions towards Ukraine were “entirely prudent” and involved “no quid pro quo, bribery, extortion, or abuse of power”, according to a draft Republican report on last month’s impeachment inquiry hearings.
Designed as a pre-emptive strike on an imminent report from the Democratic majority, the GOP document underlines how evidence presented at the hearings failed to shatter Republicans’ united front.
It also provides a blueprint for House Republicans to defend the US president at Wednesday’s judiciary committee hearing and for their Senate counterparts to acquit him in a trial.
Democrats accuse Trump of attempting to bribe the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, by making a White House meeting and nearly $400m in military aid conditional on Ukraine announcing two investigations that would boost Trump politically.
The 123-page Republican report was prepared for Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan and Michael McCaul, the ranking members on the House intelligence, oversight and foreign affairs committees, respectively.
It directly contradicts the testimony of career diplomats and makes little attempt to get to grips with the devastating evidence of Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, who spoke about the existence of a quid pro quo, or Fiona Hill, former top Russia expert at the White House, who warned against falling for Moscow’s propaganda about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.
Instead it spins the affair as a Democratic plot. Its executive summary begins with the premise that nearly 63 million Americans from around the country elected Trump in 2016 but now 231 House Democrats in Washington are “trying to undo the will of the American people”. It accuses the party of seeking to impeach the president from day one.
“They are trying to impeach President Trump because some unelected bureaucrats chafed at an elected President’s ‘outside the beltway’ approach to diplomacy,” it says.
The evidence does not prove Democrats’ allegations about Trump leveraging a White House meeting and military aid for political self-interest, it states, nor that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and a “shadow” group of US officials conspired to benefit the president politically. (Hill testified that John Bolton, then Trump’s national security adviser, described Giuliani as a “hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up”.)
“None of the Democrats’ witnesses testified to having evidence of bribery, extortion, or any high crime or misdemeanor,” it argues, echoing a Republican talking point during the hearings that said the evidence against Trump is based on hearsay.
“At the heart of the matter, the impeachment inquiry involves the actions of only two people: President Trump and President Zelensky. The summary of their July 25, 2019, telephone conversation shows no quid pro quo or indication of conditionality, threats, or pressure – much less evidence of bribery or extortion.
“The summary reflects laughter, pleasantries, and cordiality. President Zelensky has said publicly and repeatedly that he felt no pressure. President Trump has said publicly and repeatedly that he exerted no pressure.”
Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the intelligence committee, dismissed the minority report as “intended for an audience of one” and ignoring “voluminous evidence that the president used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine”.
“Tellingly, the Minority dismisses this as just part of the President’s ‘outside the beltway’ thinking. It is more accurately, outside the law and constitution, and a violation of his oath of office,” he added.
Appearing on the Rachel Maddow Show on the MSNBC network later on Monday night, Schiff offered more details about the timeline for the committee’s report. “We’re putting the finishing touches on the report, which will be released publicly tomorrow,” he said. “Tomorrow night we’ll also have a vote to formally transmit the committee report to judiciary.
He added: “It’s a long document. Members started reading it today. They’ll be reading it throughout the day tomorrow and essentially it outlines in considerable detail a scheme that began, actually, well before the recall of Ambassador [Marie] Yovanovitch and was designed to further two political objectives of the president, which is an investigation into Joe Biden and an investigation into this debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine that interfered in the last election, not Russia.”
Trump has persistently told Democrats and other critics to read the call transcript. But they have pointed to 10 words, “I would like you to do us a favor, though”, as clear proof he expected a quid pro quo in the context of congressionally approved military funding being frozen. It was later released.
The report adds: “Even examining evidence beyond the presidential phone call shows no quid pro quo, bribery, extortion, or abuse of power. The evidence shows that President Trump holds a deepseated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption.”
Trump has also been vocal about his doubts over US foreign aid and the need for European allies to shoulder more of the financial burden for regional defence, it goes on. “Understood in this proper context, the President’s initial hesitation to meet with President Zelensky or to provide US taxpayer-funded security assistance to Ukraine without thoughtful review is entirely prudent.”
All members of the House intelligence committee can review a draft of Democrats’ report in classified spaces on Monday night. It will be adopted at meeting behind closed doors on Tuesday evening, then sent to the judiciary committee.