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 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
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.