WASHINGTON - The Democratic-led U.S. House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearings Wednesday on the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump, when four legal scholars appear before the panel to discuss the constitutional grounds of impeachment.
The 300-page report accused Trump of "misconduct" in seeking Ukrainian political interference in the 2020 presidential election and then relentlessly trying to "obstruct" Congress as it carried out an inquiry into his dealings.
The nearly three-month impeachment inquiry "has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection," the report stated.
"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 U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security," the report declared.
At the heart of the Democrats' case for impeachment is a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump asked Zelenskiy for a "favor." He suggested that the Ukrainian leader order an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company that had hired Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden's son, as a highly paid board member. Trump also suggested Zelenskiy investigate a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Trump made the demand at a time he had frozen nearly $400 million of military aid to Ukraine and the newly elected Zelenskiy coveted an Oval Office meeting with Trump to enhance his stature.
The phone call led an unidentified member of the intelligence community to file a whistleblower complaint that Trump was "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election." The complaint prompted House Democrats in late September to announce a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump.
The report said the scheme to get Ukraine to carry out political investigations extended well beyond the July 25 phone call. It involved a smear campaign by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to oust Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was not considered a team player. Working with two business associates and a trio of U.S. officials, Giuliani tried to force Trump's demands for investigations on Ukrainian officials.
"Our investigation determined that this telephone call was neither the start nor the end of President Trump's efforts to bend U.S. foreign policy for his personal gain," it said. "Rather, it was a dramatic crescendo within a months-long campaign driven by President Trump in which senior U.S. officials, including the Vice President (Mike Pence), the Secretary of State (Mike Pompeo), the Acting Chief of Staff (Mick Mulvaney), the Secretary of Energy (Rick Perry), and others were either knowledgeable of or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the President."
The report also included several phone records obtained from AT&T of calls between Guiliani and two associates, Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas, who is under federal indictment for illegally using foreign money to fund U.S. political campaigns, as well as phone calls between Parnas and California Representative Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee who has pushed the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
In an interview with the U.S. cable network Fox News Tuesday, Nunes said he did not specifically recall talking with Parnas, but acknowledged he may have. "I remember that name now because he has been indicted," Nunes said.
Parnas, who was indicted along with Belarus-born Igor Fruman, another Guiliani associate, is seeking immunity to testify to the House Intelligence Committee.
While congressional Democrats for months have accused the president of "abuse of power" in connection with pressuring Ukraine, the report conspicuously stopped short of leveling that charge. Instead, it accused Trump of "misconduct," alleging that he conditioned military aid and a White House meeting for Zelenskiy on a public pledge by Ukraine to carry out the investigations of both Bidens.
"In pressuring President Zelenskiy to carry out his demand, President Trump withheld a White House meeting desperately sought by the Ukrainian President, and critical U.S. military assistance to fight Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine," the report said. "The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation's upcoming presidential election to his advantage."
The Intelligence Committee's report also accused President Trump of carrying out an "unprecedented obstruction" of the impeachment inquiry by "instructing witnesses and agencies to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony" demanded by congressional investigative committees.
On orders from the White House, 12 current or former administration officials refused to testify in the impeachment inquiry, ten of them in defiance of congressional subpoenas, according to the report. Ultimately, this sweeping effort to stonewall the investigation failed as other "witnesses courageously came forward and testified in response to lawful process," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff wrote in a preface to the report.
The report cited Trump's "unprecedented effort" to obstruct the congressional inquiry by refusing to produce "a single document" and attempting to prevent key administration officials from testifying or attempting to intimidate them. Yet other current and former officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Acting Ambassador William Taylor, National Security Council aide Alexander Vindman and Yovanovitch testified about their knowledge of the Ukraine scheme.
"These officials not only served their nation honorably, but they fulfilled their oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States," the report stated.
"Donald Trump is the first president in the history of the United States to seek to completely obstruct an impeachment inquiry undertaken by the House of Representatives under Article I of the Constitution, which vests the House with the "sole Power of Impeachment," the report continued.
Based on weeks of testimony by current and former officials, as well as other evidence, the report is intended to provide members of the Judiciary Committee -and ultimately the full House - with evidence and legal arguments as they consider whether to vote on articles of impeachment against Trump. If the House does so, it would be only the third time in history that a president faced such charges.
While the report doesn't recommend any formal charges, it implicitly makes the case for at least two - abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
Under the U.S. Constitution, a president may be impeached and removed from office for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Many constitutional scholars believe abuse of office and obstruction of justice are impeachable offenses.
In a report released on Monday, the opposition Republicans on the House Intelligence, Government Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees rebutted the Democrats' impeachment case, accusing the party in control of the House of carrying out "an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system."
"House Democrats have been trying to undo the results of President Trump's historic election since before he was sworn in," House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said, adding that Democrats have not found "a single legitimate reason" for impeachment.
"Instead, Democrats have relied on smears, hearsay, and presumption to build their false narrative," he said.