Yesterday House Democrats released a report on President Trump’s activities with respect to the Ukraine that summarizes information obtained in hearings before the impeachment committees. Republicans seeking to minimize the damage preempted the release with a report of their own on Monday. Together, the two reports draw the battle lines for the upcoming senate trial of Donald Trump.
The Republican report (which can be read here) charges that “Democrats in the House of Representatives have been working to impeach President Trump since his election” and that the inquiry “is not the organic outgrowth of serious misconduct; it is an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system.”
“The evidence does not support the accusation that President Trump pressured President Zelensky to initiate investigations for the purpose of benefiting the President in the 2020 election,” the Republicans maintain, also denying that evidence supports charges of a coverup or obstruction.
Republicans continue to assert that President Trump’s skepticism about dealing with Zelensky was due to “a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption.” The report also calls the “president’s initial hesitation to meet with President Zelensky or to provide U.S. taxpayer-funded security assistance to Ukraine without thoughtful review… entirely prudent.”
Not surprisingly, the Democratic report (available to read in full here) on the hearings reaches entirely different conclusions. The Democrats list several overlapping counts of misconduct by President Trump with respect to his Administration’s policies toward Ukraine. These include “forcing out” the US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, putting “Giuliani and the Three Amigos in charge of Ukraine issues,” freezing military aid to Ukraine, conditioning a meeting with President Zelensky on announcing an investigation of the Bidens, and asking Ukraine to intervene in US elections by investigating the Bidens.
The next section of the 299-page report addresses alleged obstruction by the president. The counts of obstruction include a categorical refusal to comply with constitutional congressional oversight, a refusal to produce subpoenaed documents, refusal to allow top aides to testify, attempts to block key witnesses, and attempts to intimidate witnesses.
Not all of the allegations against President Trump involve criminal acts, but, as I have discussed in the past, the original intent of the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” does not require commission of a crime. As the Framers understood the phrase, it could mean a long list of abuses of power or acts that made an official unfit for his position. In fact, the House website maintains a list of officials impeached throughout US history and half do not cite crimes as the reason. Among the charges that were not crimes were many that could easily fit the allegations against President Trump such as “abuse of contempt power and other misuses of office” and “obstructing and impeding an official proceeding.”
Both sides agree that the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky is at the center of the matter. However, while Democrats argue that the “call record alone is stark evidence of misconduct; a demonstration of the President’s prioritization of his personal political benefit over the national interest” in which Trump linked Ukrainian weapons purchases to investigations of Crowdstrike and Burisma, the Republicans claim that the “summary does not evince any threats, coercion, intimidation, or indication of conditionality.” While Democrats focus on the position that Trump’s request for a “favor” involving the investigation of a political rival was improper on its face, Republicans hang their defense on their belief that President Trump did not apply “pressure” to Zelensky.
While the Democratic report focuses on the witness testimony and their understanding of a shadow diplomatic effort headed by Rudy Giuliani, Republicans point out that the witnesses had “no firsthand knowledge” of the quid pro quo for aid or President Trump’s direct orders to make the deal. However, this defense is undercut by the fact that the Trump Administration refused to comply with congressional requests for subpoenas and witnesses. In a now-famous clip from 1998, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued that failure to comply with congressional subpoenas was itself an impeachable act with a precedent that extended back to the impeachment inquiry of Richard Nixon.
The Republican failure to mount a defense that provides witnesses and evidence to refute the allegations by the whistleblower and congressional witnesses shows that the GOP has already accepted that President Trump will be impeached and are pinning their hopes on an acquittal in the Senate and vindication at the polls next year. The downside to the Republican strategy is that polling consistently shows a plurality in favor of impeaching the president. Worse, 70 percent of Americans believe that Trump’s actions were wrong. Neither statistic bodes well for a Republican electoral victory.
The problem for Democrats is that, while voters do prefer impeachment by a slim margin, if they hope to remove the president from office, it will require overwhelming public opinion against the president. The country is not there yet. If Democrats rush the impeachment vote and Donald Trump is acquitted in the Senate, it is possible that the strategy could backfire next November.
The best strategy for Democrats is to move forward slowly with the process. When every piece of information that comes out is damaging to the Trump Administration and makes Republicans look even more corrupt, there is no need to rush the process. House Democrats should subpoena the Trump Administration officials who refused to testify and charge them with contempt of Congress if they don’t show up. At the same time, they should keep digging and unearthing new revelations such as the fact that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the president’s erstwhile defender on the Intelligence Committee, was in contact with Giuliani and Lev Parnas, an indicted Republican fundraiser and Giuliani associate, while the Ukraine aid was being withheld last summer.
If Republicans don’t start to break with the president as evidence mounts, Democrats will at least build public support for impeachment and removing Donald Trump. At that point, if Senate Republicans refuse to remove him, voters will be prepared to finish the job.
Originally published on The Resurgent