House Democrats' New Report: Top Trump Officials Knew Of Ukraine Scheme

Dec 3, 2019
Originally published on December 3, 2019 7:42 pm

Updated at 7:02 p.m. ET

The White House pursued a "months-long effort" involving top officials to extract concessions from Ukraine's government aimed at helping President Trump's reelection in 2020, House Democrats charged in a new report.

The final report from their impeachment inquiry summarized their view of the Ukraine affair on Tuesday after Republicans opened the bidding with a salvo of their own on Monday defending Trump.

Read the Democrats' impeachment report here.

Tuesday's document completes what House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called the fact-finding phase of the impeachment inquiry and now could clear the way for the House Judiciary Committee to draft articles of impeachment — if that's what Democrats decide.

As expected, the committee voted to adopt the report on a party-line vote Tuesday evening. The committee has two days to incorporate any "minority views" submitted by the Republicans on the panel and then it will transmit the report to the House Judiciary Committee.

Schiff restated complaints that Trump has frustrated his efforts to find out all the facts about the Ukraine affair, including by withholding documents and witnesses, but Schiff told NPR on Tuesday the "grave risk to the country" posed by Trump's presidency means the House can't wait for every last fact.

Democrats' report also includes new details about the way Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee and a key ally of Trump, may have been involved at an early stage in the saga.

Investigators uncovered records showing phone calls from Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani to Nunes at a time when Giuliani was trying to spread a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

Records also showed phone calls from Giuliani to the White House and with Lev Parnas, a business associate facing federal charges in connection with alleged campaign finance violations in New York City.

Schiff didn't address a question from NPR on Tuesday about whether he thought Nunes should have recused himself from the Ukraine matter but said he thought the discoveries about Nunes' contacts with Giuliani were troubling.

"It is deeply concerning that at a time when the president of the United States was using the power of his office to dig up dirt on a political rival, that there may be evidence that there may be members of Congress complicit in that activity," Schiff said.

The report

Democrats' report is divided into two sections — one on what the report calls the "scheme" of the Ukraine affair and one on obstruction.

The report argues that the "scheme" was conducted with the "knowledge and approval" of senior administration figures including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

No specific articles of impeachment or impeachable offenses are named in the report; responsibility for the legislation of impeachment rests with the House Judiciary Committee. Its chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., has convened an open hearing on Wednesday.

Democrats' report describes how Trump set into motion a plan to squeeze President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, conditioning engagement with him and about $391 million in U.S. assistance on commitments by Zelenskiy to launch investigations that Trump wanted.

The White House froze the assistance for a time this year but ultimately released it; Zelenskiy didn't commit to the investigations that he had discussed with Trump and intermediaries.

Democrats say the story is an abuse of power that should put Trump in peril of losing his office. The White House mocked the report and Democrats.

"Chairman Schiff's report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing," said press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

Republican defenders argue that the full picture shows there was no improper exchange in the Ukraine matter and the president shouldn't be impeached.

The minority report

Nunes detailed that case in a minority report released on Monday evening — the latest example of dueling documents between Republicans and Democrats on the intelligence panel.

Nunes' new report summarized Republicans' arguments that Trump was within his authority to act in the way he did; that Democrats haven't proved that Trump committed "bribery" or any other impeachable crime, as charged; and that Democrats are simply acting out of partisan animus.

"The fundamental disagreement apparent in the Democrats' impeachment inquiry is a difference of world views and a discomfort with President Trump's policy decisions," Nunes' report said.

Nunes and his colleagues also underscored during Schiff's open impeachment hearings that aid for Ukraine, although frozen, was never cut off and Zelenskiy never committed to any investigations.

Uneasiness in Kyiv

Zelenskiy explained to interviewers this week the difficult position in which he found himself.

The Ukrainian president said he wanted to accommodate Trump, but do so appropriately, while continuing the military and other assistance Ukraine needs to continue to fight Russian and Russian-backed forces after their invasion of 2014.

"Look, I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo," Zelenskiy told Time magazine and other news organizations.

He continued: "That's not my thing. ... I don't want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We're at war. If you're our strategic partner, then you can't go blocking anything for us. I think that's just about fairness. It's not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying."

Trump called Zelenskiy's remarks a vindication, and Republicans also have cited Zelenskiy's earlier comments — including that he never felt "pressured" by Trump — because they say it's evidence that nothing improper occurred.

Impeachment train keeps rolling

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and majority Democrats in the House say Trump was, in effect, caught in the act of using his official powers to benefit himself politically. That's inappropriate, they argue, and Congress had no recourse but to launch the impeachment inquiry given the gravity of the acts.

Nadler announced a panel of law school witnesses that he said will help lawmakers understand the historic and constitutional grounds for impeachment.

Democrats invited Trump to participate, but White House counsel Pat Cipollone made clear that the administration still considers the process baseless and unfair.

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., also faulted Nadler on Monday for how late Democrats had announced their witnesses and how recklessly Collins said the majority was moving — at once speeding along but also not affording fairness or clarity to Republicans.

Republicans and the public get only about one day to review Schiff's report before the Nadler hearing is scheduled to convene on Wednesday.

"For the first time in history, this committee will weigh impeachment without any evidence for us to review. Any discussion with the yet-to-be identified witnesses will, therefore, be in the abstract," Collins wrote to Nadler.

Republicans continued to plan their defense on Tuesday.

A coterie of top Trump Republican allies in the House — including Collins, Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, John Ratcliffe of Texas and others — met with Vice President Pence at Pence's office in the Senate.

The White House is pleased with what it has seen and it wants more, Ratcliffe said.

"Just going to keep doing the things we have been doing," he said of Pence's message.

Democrats at another crossroads

Pelosi and her lieutenants have said impeachment isn't a foregone conclusion but must be the result of the ongoing process in Congress.

That's one reason they have declined to give a timetable by which they hope their work would be complete, because they argue that although they want to work as quickly as possible, the job must be done right.

Impeachment is the equivalent of a grand jury indictment — a statement by the House that it believes there's sufficient evidence for a trial in the Senate over whether Trump keeps his office.

Republicans control the Senate, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he thinks it is "inconceivable" that the sufficient 20 Republicans would side with Democrats to remove the president.

Schiff and others have argued that all they can do is what's within their power in the House and that if impeachment serves to deter a future president from the kind of activity in which Trump has engaged, it was worth doing.

Nadler also asked — in response to Cipollone's letter — why an administration that says it has done nothing wrong isn't taking part or cooperating with lawmakers' requests for information about the Ukraine affair.

"The American people deserve transparency," Nadler said.

The chairman continued: "If the president thinks [his call with Zelenskiy] was 'perfect' and there is nothing to hide, then he would turn over the thousands of pages of documents requested by Congress, allow witnesses to testify instead of blocking testimony with baseless privilege claims, and provide any exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power."

NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales and Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep contributed to this report.

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