By Dan Novak and Gabrielle Wanneh
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump abused his power by withholding military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting to get that nation to probe political rival Joe Biden and 2016 election meddling, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee said in a report released on Dec. 3, outlining the case for possible articles of impeachment against the president.
Following two weeks of testimony from individuals with firsthand roles in the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy, including career public servants and administration appointees, the committee Democrats concluded that Trump “undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign.”
The report also contends that the president obstructed the impeachment inquiry by preventing Congress from obtaining key evidence and documents. Trump has ordered many of his top advisers not to testify, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
“No other President in history has issued an order categorically directing the entire Executive Branch not to testify before Congress, including in the context of an impeachment inquiry,” the report said. “These witnesses were warned explicitly that their refusal to obey lawful orders to testify ‘shall constitute evidence that may be used against you in a contempt proceeding’ and could also result in adverse inferences being drawn against both them and the President.”
The report argues that the seeds of Trump’s scheme to withhold vital military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations were planted long before the infamous July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump asks for a “favor.”
Two conspiracy theories emerged earlier this year that were apparently aimed at diverting attention from Russian interference in the 2016 election. The theories were embraced by Trump and many of his GOP allies and conservative media and led directly to the phone call.
In March, a story began to circulate in the right-wing media that former Vice President Joe Biden shielded the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma from corruption charges because his son Hunter accepted a position on the company’s board in 2014. No evidence has emerged that the vice president’s anti-corruption policies toward Ukraine were influenced by that connection.
There was also a conspiracy theory being pushed that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to benefit former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But, as Ukraine and Russia expert on the National Security Council Fiona Hill testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 21, any suggestion of Ukraine interference in the presidential election is a “fictional narrative” that mimics Russian propaganda.
Trump insisted on these two false narratives, however, leading him to demand that Ukraine open investigations in exchange for military aid and an Oval Office meeting with Zelensky. Trump has said repeatedly he was merely fighting corruption in Ukraine when he asked Zelensky for investigations and did nothing wrong.
Republicans said in their own impeachment report on Dec. 3 that Trump’s actions challenged the traditional foreign policy establishment and went outside traditional norms of diplomacy.
“(The Democrats) are trying to impeach president Donald Trump because some unelected bureaucrats chafed at an elected president’s ‘outside the beltway’ approach to diplomacy,” said the report’s authors, Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
In a surprise revelation in the Democrats’ report, Nunes is mentioned numerous times in subpoenaed telephone records detailing calls with Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who was involved in the Ukraine dealings. Nunes also spoke with Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who has since been indicted on campaign finance law violations, according to the phone records.
The two reports were released as the impeachment inquiry enters its next phase and moves to the House Judiciary Committee. House members could vote on impeachment articles before the end of the year.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters he was confident the judiciary panel would “make a proper determination about whether articles of impeachment are warranted.”
But, Schiff said, “this kind of conduct by a president of the United States, putting his own personal and political interest above the interests of the American people, is exactly why (the Founders) prescribed a remedy as extraordinary as the remedy of impeachment.”
The White House dismissed the report.
“At the end of a one-sided sham process, Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “This report reflects nothing more than their frustrations. Chairman Schiff’s report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”
Democrats are also considering whether to expand articles of impeachment beyond Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Also on the table are potential obstruction of justice offenses left unanswered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.