The House Republicans’ Shameless Impeachment Report
At this late stage in the transformation of the Party of Lincoln into an emotional- and political-support group for Donald Trump, we have grown accustomed to its elected representatives debasing themselves to protect the President. Even by current G.O.P. standards, though, the impeachment report that the House Republicans put out on Monday is an extraordinarily cynical and tendentious document.
It begins by dismissing the entire impeachment process as an effort to “undo the will of the American people” as expressed in the 2016 election result, and “an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system” that began “because some unelected bureaucrats chafed at an elected President’s ‘outside the beltway’ approach to diplomacy.” Ignoring the potential contradiction in these two descriptions, the report goes on to concede that there are some actual allegations here. “The sum and substance of the Democrats’ case for impeachment is that President Trump abused his authority to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, President Trump’s potential political rival, for President Trump’s benefit in the 2020 election,” it says. “Democrats say this pressure campaign encompassed leveraging a White House meeting and the release of U.S. security assistance to force the Ukrainian president”—Volodymyr Zelensky—“to succumb to President Trump’s political wishes. Democrats say that Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal attorney, and a ‘shadow’ group of U.S. officials conspired to benefit the President politically.”
Setting aside the effort to portray Giuliani as a mayor even though he left City Hall almost eighteen years ago, this is a pretty accurate précis of the case against Trump that the House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee will present in their report, which is expected to be released on Tuesday. However, the House Republicans’ report only raises the allegations against the President in order to dismiss them. “The evidence presented does not prove any of these Democratic allegations,” it says, “and none of the Democrats’ witnesses testified to having evidence of bribery, extortion, or any high crime or misdemeanor.”
So what does the evidence show? It demonstrates that “President Trump holds a 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.” Not only has Trump done nothing wrong, he’s an anti-corruption crusader.
Full marks for chutzpah. Of course, in the telephone conversation between Trump and Zelensky, on July 25th, the U.S. President didn’t refer to the broad issue of corruption at all. He said “I would like you to do us a favor.” He asked his Ukrainian counterpart to speak with Bill Barr, the Attorney General, and with Giuliani about the 2016 Presidential election. Then he brought up Biden and his son Hunter.
In two weeks of public hearings before Thanksgiving, a dozen witnesses provided a detailed account of how Trump, Giuliani, and Gordon Sondland, a hotelier and Trump donor turned diplomat, hijacked U.S. foreign policy to benefit the President politically. In his sworn testimony, Sondland, the Ambassador to the European Union, testified that Trump refused to speak with or meet with Zelensky unless he publicly announced that his government was starting a pair of investigations—one into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, and another into corruption at Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden. “I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo’?” Sondland told the committee. “With regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
Sondland also said he came to understand that the quid pro quo also applied to U.S. military aid to Ukraine, which the White House suspended in July, and he passed this message on to one of Zelensky’s aides. Since Sondland didn’t work in the White House, he couldn’t provide firsthand confirmation of who ordered the aid suspension or why. The two Administration officials who could perhaps have shed most light on this matter—Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and John Bolton, the former national-security adviser—refused to testify. But, in any case, the timetable was clear. The aid was placed on hold shortly before Trump spoke with Zelensky, and it wasn’t restored until early September, around the time the news broke that an anonymous intelligence-community whistle-blower had filed a complaint based on the conversation between Trump and Zelensky.
The Republican report runs to more than a hundred pages, most of which are spent trying to explain away what is obvious. It makes much of the fact that many of the witnesses didn’t have direct access to Trump, but it plays down the fact that the White House ordered many witnesses who did have access to him not to testify, claiming, “President Trump’s assertion of longstanding claims of executive privilege is a legitimate response to an unfair, abusive, and partisan process, and does not constitute obstruction of a legitimate impeachment inquiry.”
In at least this one respect, the Democrats are paying a price for their desire to get the whole thing over with before the 2020 primaries begin, in February. Just last week, in a case that involves Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, refusing to testify to the House Judiciary Committee about his role in events described in the Mueller report, a federal judge in Washington dismissed the White House’s absolutist claims of executive privilege as “fiction.” Ruling that McGahn and “other current and former senior-level White House officials” must do as they are ordered by the courts, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote, “Presidents are not kings. They do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.” If the President were a Democrat, the House Republicans would be the first to agree with Judge Jackson. But in this instance, they—and their allies in the White House—are cynically exploiting the Democrats’ reluctance to engage in a lengthy legal battle to force officials like McGahn, Mulvaney, and Bolton to testify.
In endorsing the White House’s blatant effort to delay and obstruct the impeachment process, the House Republicans are demonstrating that there are now virtually no ends to which they won’t go in order to protect Trump, and no arguments they won’t make. Of course, that no longer surprises us. But we shouldn’t lose sight of how shocking and outrageous it is.