WASHINGTON — The impeachment of President Donald Trump hit a milestone Monday as the House Intelligence Committee released a report that found "overwhelming" evidence of misconduct and concluded that the president "ordered the suspension" of congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to try to benefit himself politically.
After weeks of closed-door depositions followed by public hearings, the committee has concluded there is definitive evidence that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine, as well as a visit for Ukraine's president to the White House, while demanding the country publicly launch an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his family in order to benefit Trump's 2020 campaign.
While the report doesn't explicitly state that the House should impeach Trump — that decision will be up to the House Judiciary Committee — it found "significant misconduct on the part of the President of the United States" and concluded that "President Trump compromised national security to advance his personal political interests.”
“Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States—acting personally and through his agents within and outside of the U.S. government—solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 U.S. presidential election," the report released Tuesday reads. "The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage. In so doing, the President placed his personal political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”
In addition to witness testimony and documents, the report relies on the White House’s own record of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In that call, Trump asked Zelensky for a “favor” and requested that the country look into both the origins of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and also Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that had Biden’s son Hunter on its board.
Hunter Biden has since resigned from Burisma and, while his involvement in the company raised red flags in the Obama administration, there’s no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. Trump’s other request, to look into the beginnings of the Mueller investigation, rests on a variety of conspiracy theories, particularly what the report calls “a baseless theory promoted by Russia alleging that Ukraine—rather than Russia—interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.” Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump, had pushed those theories and worked to help pressure Ukraine to investigate.
“These investigations were intended to harm a potential political opponent of President Trump and benefit the President’s domestic political standing,” the report concluded.
While Trump has repeatedly pointed to the record of his call with Zelensky as “perfect” and said it absolves him, Democrats wrote that “the call record alone is stark evidence of misconduct.” But, they added, the call “was neither the start nor the end of President Trump’s efforts to bend U.S. foreign policy for his personal gain.” Trump guided that campaign, Democrats concluded, but other U.S. officials including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, were also “either knowledgeable of or active participants” in the effort.
The report also focuses on the Trump administration’s efforts to block testimony before Congress and try to obstruct the investigation. “Donald Trump is the first and only President in American history to openly and indiscriminately defy all aspects of the Constitutional impeachment process, ordering all federal agencies and officials categorically not to comply with voluntary requests or compulsory demands for documents or testimony,” it reads.
“The evidence of the President’s misconduct is overwhelming, and so too is the evidence of his obstruction of Congress. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a stronger or more complete case of obstruction than that demonstrated by the President since the inquiry began.”
Democrats referenced Trump’s Oct. 3 comments to reporters, after the House had begun investigating him, in which he suggested that both China and Ukraine open investigations into the Bidens. “This continued solicitation of foreign interference in a U.S. election presents a clear and present danger that the President will continue to use the power of his office for his personal political gain,” they wrote in the report.
Democrats went on to say those concerns were the reason they have been moving so quickly in the impeachment investigation. “Given the proximate threat of further presidential attempts to solicit foreign interference in our next election, we cannot wait to make a referral until our efforts to obtain additional testimony and documents wind their way through the courts,” they wrote.
In a press conference after the report was released, Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff argued that Americans should "care deeply" about the president's conduct because "this is not about Ukraine. This is about our democracy."
"Americans should care deeply whether or not the president of the United States is betraying their trust in him, betraying that oath that he took to the Constitution to protect our country and defend its institutions," Schiff said. "So we should care about this, we must care about this. And if we don't care about this we can darn well be assured the president will be back at it doing this all over again. Because, indeed, he already has. ... I, for one, don't think we should get over this. I don't think we should get used to this. I don't think that's what the founders of this country had in mind."
Schiff said he wouldn't publicly comment on whether Trump deserved to be impeached, but he added, "This kind of conduct by a president of the United States putting his own personal political interests above the interests of the American people was exactly why [the founders] prescribed a remedy as extraordinary as the remedy of impeachment."
The Republican Report
Republicans released their own report saying that "the evidence does not support" that Trump pressured Zelensky to initiate investigations to benefit the president politically and that there is also insufficient evidence that Trump obstructed the impeachment investigation.
The Republican report argues that Trump did nothing wrong, blaming Democrats’ dislike of Trump and arguing they’ve been trying to remove the president from office since his election.
Republicans suggest that Trump withheld military aid and US support for Zelensky’s administration, including a White House meeting, not for his political gain but because of his “deep[-]seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption.”
“Understood in this proper context, the President’s initial hesitation to meet with President Zelensky or to provide U.S. taxpayer-funded security assistance to Ukraine without thoughtful review is entirely prudent,” Republicans wrote, saying that Trump released the military aid after Zelensky proved himself and “all without Ukraine taking any action” to launch the investigations Trump asked for.
The military aid was released on Sept. 11, a few days after the House announced it was investigating the freeze and Trump and Giuliani’s role in it. By that time, Trump had been briefed on a whistleblower complaint that accused him of withholding the money for his own political benefit, which would kick off the impeachment inquiry later that month.
Republicans also wrote in their report that “there is nothing inherently improper” with Giuliani’s role in the saga “because the Ukrainians knew that he was a conduit to convince President Trump that President Zelensky was serious about reform.” And they argue that “there is also nothing wrong with asking serious questions about the presence of Vice President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, on the board of directors of Burisma, a corrupt Ukrainian company, or about Ukraine’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.”
Intelligence Committee members voted to approve the Democratic report on Tuesday evening on a party-line vote. Now it will head to the House Judiciary Committee, who will take over the impeachment process.
The first Judiciary Committee hearing is already scheduled for Wednesday morning to hear from legal and constitutional scholars. Judiciary will be tasked with drafting articles of impeachment against President Trump, which would go to a vote on the House floor.
If the House does vote to impeach the president, it would then go to a trial in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. Two-thirds of senators would then need to vote to remove Trump from office.
The White House was invited to attend Wednesday's Judiciary hearing, but on Sunday the administration sent Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler a letter refusing to take part and attacking the impeachment process.
While the hearings so far have featured first-person accounts from witnesses who believed Trump was demanding a quid pro quo from Ukraine, the Judiciary hearings will be more academic. Wednesday’s session is focused on what constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor worthy of impeachment.