Amid falling support for impeachment and worries that it will backfire against Democrats, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff released a 300-page report he says proves that President Donald Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors worthy of removing him from office.
And if you read only the summary, you might think they’ve got the goods.
The House impeachment report claims to have “uncovered a months-long effort by President Trump to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election.” (You can read the report here.)
It says that the “scheme subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign.”
And it argues that “To compel the Ukrainian president to do his political bidding, President Trump conditioned two official acts on the public announcement of the investigations: a coveted White House visit and critical U.S. military assistance Ukraine needed to fight its Russian adversary.”
So the Democrats’ entire impeachment case rests on two pillars. First, that Trump threatened national security by withholding an aid package to Ukraine. And, second, that he did so in order to get Ukraine’s new president to publicly announce investigations into two supposedly bogus scandals – Joe Biden’s son, and Ukraine’s efforts to keep Trump out of the White House – simply to wound Biden politically.
But read into the report, and then look through the Republican response, and you come to realize that the Democrats fail to support either claim. In fact, in some ways, they make Trump’s case for him.
The report never actually accuses Trump of engaging in bribery.
Despite all the foreboding tones and dark insinuation, the impeachment report never actually accuses Trump of bribery. In fact, the word “bribery” appears only four times in the entire 300-page document: once when it quotes the impeachment clause of the Constitution, twice in reference to accusations of bribery against Biden, and once in defending the impeachment inquiry itself.
Trump’s actual crime apparently was not following the “script.”
Despite its attempt to paint a picture of Trump as a corrupt leader, the report actually showcases that at the heart of the impeachment are the hurt feelings of career bureaucrats.
The report says that, in advance of Trump’s call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, “NSC staff had prepared a standard package of talking points for the president based on official U.S. policy. The talking points included recommendations to encourage President Zelensky to continue to promote anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, a pillar of American foreign policy in the country as far back as its independence in the 1990s when Ukraine first rid itself of Kremlin control.
“This call would deviate significantly from that script.”
Removing a president from office for not sticking to a set of bureaucratic talking points would set an interesting precedent.
The hold on aid wasn’t mysterious after all.
The impeachment report repeatedly claims that the reason for holding back the aid package was a big mystery. But the report itself inadvertently solves that puzzle.
It notes that soon after the Defense Department put out a press release announcing military aid in 2018, Trump started asking questions, including one “related to international contributions.” It quotes one official saying that it was “relatively unusual” to receive such questions from the president.
So Trump appears to be guilty of asking tough questions about an aid package, and expressing concerns that other countries aren’t ponying up – an objection Trump has raised repeatedly when it comes to Europe’s free-riding off the U.S., and a complaint he specifically brought up during the call with Zelensky.
The report also manages to make it clear that, apart from anything having to do with Biden or the 2016 elections, Trump didn’t think much of Ukraine, even after it elected a reformist president.
Schiff’s report recounts how after the Ukrainian elections, Ambassadors Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson visited the country and came back impressed with the new president. They “’took turns’ making their case ‘that this is a new crowd, it’s a new president’ in Ukraine who was ‘committed to doing the right things,’ including fighting corruption.”
The impeachment report goes on to say, however, that “President Trump reacted negatively to the positive assessment of Ukraine. Ambassador Volker recalled that President Trump said Ukraine is ‘a terrible place, all corrupt, terrible people’ and was ‘just dumping on Ukraine.’”
Trump’s take might have been wrong, but being wrong about the political situation in another country can’t be grounds for impeachment.
So it appears Trump had two reasons to put the aid package on hold.
Trump’s open disdain for Ukraine also helps explain why Zelensky, in the call with Trump, was emphatic that he plans to “drain the swamp” and that “We brought in many, many new people. Not the old politicians, not the typical politicians, because we want to have a new format and a new type of government.”
Schiff ignores relevant context whenever it conflicts with the narrative.
While Democrats act as though the delay in the military aid package is extremely suspicious, such holds are, in fact, relatively common. There had even been a prior hold on Ukraine aid under Trump. As the Republican report explains, “Catherine Croft, a former NSC director, offered an example in her deposition, explaining that OMB paused the sale of Javelin missiles to Ukraine in November or December 2017. This pause, too, was eventually lifted and Ukraine received the missiles.” (You can read the Republican report here.)
And while the Democrats insist that “The allegations about Vice President Biden were without evidence, and the U.S. Intelligence Community had unanimously determined that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 election to help the candidacy of Donald Trump,” Trump was well within his rights to raise these issues.
After all, there really was something sleazy going on with the fact that Hunter Biden had taken an extremely lucrative position on the board of a corrupt Ukrainian energy company while his father was Obama’s point man on Ukraine.
And despite the Democrats’ insistence that there is no evidence Ukraine tried to derail Trump’s election, there is ample evidence that it did. As the Republican response correctly points out, “Democrats have posited a false choice: that influence in the 2016 election is binary – it could have been conducted by Russia or by Ukraine, but not both. This is nonsense.”
The report buries Ambassador Volker’s impeachment-damning statement to the committee.
From the Republican report, we learn that Volker, “the key American interlocutor trusted by the Ukrainian government,” told investigators that the Ukrainians “never raised concerns to him” about the hold on military aid “until after the pause became public in late August.” In other words, after Trump’s supposed quid-pro-quo call with Zelensky.
When Schiff tried to get Volker to testify in his closed-door deposition that the Ukrainian government must have felt pressure to investigate Biden once it learned that the security assistance was delayed, Volker hit back.
Here’s what he said in response:
But, Congressman, this is why I’m trying to say the context is different, because at the time they learned that, if we assume it’s August 29th, they had just had a visit from the National Security Advisor, John Bolton. That’s a high level meeting already. He was recommending and working on scheduling the visit of President Zelensky to Washington. We were also working on a bilateral meeting to take place in Warsaw on the margins of a commemoration on the beginning of World War II. And in that context, I think the Ukrainians felt like things are going the right direction, and they had not done anything on – they had not done anything on an investigation, they had not done anything on a statement, and things were ramping up in terms of their engagement with the administration. So I think they were actually feeling pretty good by then.
We could go on with other examples of how this report falls far short of justifying Trump’s removal.
Suffice it say that even Democrats must realize that Schiff and company have only dug their impeachment hole deeper with this remarkably thin and tendentious report.
– Written by the Issues & Insights editorial board.
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