WASHINGTON (AP) — The US House released a sweeping impeachment report Tuesday outlining “overwhelming” evidence of what it calls President Donald Trump’s wrongdoing toward Ukraine, findings that will serve as the foundation for debate over whether the 45th American president should be removed from office.
The 300-page report from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee makes the case that Trump misused the power of his office and, in the course of their investigation, obstructed Congress by stonewalling the proceedings. Based on two months of investigation, the report contains evidence and testimony from current and former US officials.
“The impeachment inquiry has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the US government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection,” said Chairman Adam Schiff in the report’s preface.
In doing so, “the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election process, and endangered US national security,” the report said.
“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,” it said.
The report does not render a judgment on whether Trump’s actions stemming from a July 25 phone call with Ukraine president rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” warranting impeachment, leaving that to Congress to decide.
Instead, “The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment inquiry Report” provides a detailed, if stunning, account of a shadow diplomacy run by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, resulting in layers of allegations, which can be distilled into specific acts like bribery, extortion or obstruction, and the more amorphous allegation that Trump abused his power by putting his interests above the nation.
The House intelligence panel will vote later Tuesday, in what is expected to be a party-line tally, to send the document to the Judiciary Committee ahead of a landmark impeachment hearing Wednesday.
“With the release of our report, the American people can review for themselves the evidence detailing President Trump’s betrayal of the public trust,” Schiff said in a joint statement with the chairmen of the Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committee, who drafted the report.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said “Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump.” She said the report “reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”
Ahead of the release, Republicans defended the president in a rebuttal claiming Trump never intended to pressure Ukraine when he asked for a “favor” — investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden. They say the military aid the White House was withholding was not being used as leverage, as Democrats claim, and besides the $400 million was ultimately released, although only after a congressional outcry.
Trump at the opening of a NATO leaders’ meeting in London on Tuesday criticized the impeachment push as “unpatriotic” and “a bad thing for our country.”
In prefacing the report, Schiff draws deeply from history, citing George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and other Founding Fathers, to explain grounds for impeachment.
“Rather than a mechanism to overturn an election, impeachment was explicitly contemplated as a remedy of last resort for a president who fails to faithfully execute his oath of office ‘to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’” he wrote.
The report will lay the foundation for the House Judiciary Committee to assess potential articles of impeachment starting Wednesday, presenting a history-making test of political judgment with a case that is dividing Congress and the country.
Trump said he will not watch the judiciary panel’s hearing, saying it’s “all nonsense, they’re just wasting their time.”
Democrats once hoped to sway Republicans to consider Trump’s removal, but they are now facing the prospect of an ever-hardening partisan split over the swift-moving proceedings on impeaching the president.
For Republicans offering an early rebuttal ahead of the report’s public release, the proceedings are simply a “hoax,” with Trump insisting he did nothing wrong and his GOP allies in line behind him.
Trump has criticized the House for pushing forward with the proceedings while he was overseas, a breach of political decorum that traditionally leaves partisan differences at the water’s edge.
He predicted Republicans would actually benefit from the impeachment effort against him.
For the Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a critical moment of her leadership as she steers the process ahead after resisting the impeachment inquiry through the summer, warning at the time that it was too divisive for the country and required bipartisan support.
Possible grounds for impeachment are focused on whether Trump abused his office as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to open investigations into Trump’s political rivals. At the time, Trump was withholding $400 million in military aid, jeopardizing key support as Ukraine faces an aggressive Russia at its border.
The report also accuses Trump of obstructing the House constitutional authority to conduct the impeachment inquiry, becoming the “first and only” president in US history to “openly and indiscriminately” defy the proceedings by instructing officials not to comply with subpoenas for documents and testimony.
The next step comes when the Judiciary Committee gavels open its own hearing with legal experts to assess the findings and consider potential articles of impeachment ahead of a possible vote by the full House by Christmas. That would presumably send it to the Senate for a trial in January.
For Democrats marching into what is now a largely partisan process, the political challenge if they proceed is to craft the impeachment articles in a way that will draw the most support from their ranks and not expose Pelosi’s majority to messy divisions, especially as Republicans stand lock-step with the president.
While liberal Democrats are pushing the party to go further and incorporate the findings from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and other actions by Trump, more centrist and moderate Democrats prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans understand.
Trump’s campaign is spending robustly to run ads against front-line freshmen lawmakers, many from districts Trump won in 2016 but that flipped in 2018 to give Democrats the majority and Pelosi will be protective of these lawmakers as the proceedings unfold.
House Republicans preempted the report’s public release with their own 123-page rebuttal.
In it, they claim there’s no evidence Trump pressured Zelensky. Instead, they say Democrats just want to undo the 2016 election. Republicans dismiss witness testimony of a shadow diplomacy being run Giuliani, and they rely on the president’s insistence that he was merely concerned about “corruption” in Ukraine — though the White House transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky never mentions the word.
“They are trying to impeach President Trump because some unelected bureaucrats chafed at an elected President’s ‘outside the beltway’ approach to diplomacy,” according to the report from Republican Reps. Devin Nunes of California, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Michael McCaul of Texas.
Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment against the president in a matter of days, with voting in the Judiciary Committee next week.
Republicans on the committee, led by Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, plan to use procedural moves to stall the process and portray the inquiry as unfair to the president.
The White House declined an invitation to participate in Wednesday’s hearing, with counsel Pat Cipollone denouncing the proceedings as a “baseless and highly partisan inquiry” in a letter to Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat.
Trump had previously suggested that he might be willing to offer written testimony under certain conditions, though aides suggested they did not anticipate Democrats would ever agree to them.
Cipollone demanded more information from Democrats before Trump would decide whether to participate in additional hearings.
Nadler said Monday if the president really thought his call with Ukraine was “perfect,” as he repeatedly says, he would “provide exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power.”
House rules provide the president and his attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses and review evidence before the committee, but little ability to bring forward witnesses of their own.