House Republicans defend Trump’s actions in new report responding to impeachment inquiry

Republicans have given a full-throated defense of President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine in a report published Monday that rejects the Democratic allegations that the President abused his office or committed any other impeachable offense.

House Republicans prepared the 123-page report defending the President ahead of the release of a Democratic committee report that’s expected to lay out charges likely to form the basis for potential articles of impeachment and will be released on Tuesday.

“The evidence presented does not prove any of these Democrat allegations and none of the Democrats’ witnesses testified to having evidence of bribery, extortion, or any high crime or misdemeanor,” according to a copy of the report reviewed by CNN.

The Republican report does not acknowledge any wrongdoing surrounding the central allegations in the impeachment inquiry, putting forward a narrative that’s likely to be used by congressional Republicans and the White House in their fight against the Democratic impeachment push. The report largely ignores or downplays testimony from career officials who raised serious questions and concerns about the conduct of the President and some of his top aides.

The Republicans argue that Trump’s concerns about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter were valid, that Trump withheld a meeting and US security aid as he sought proof that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was a “true reformer,” and there was no quid pro quo as Trump did not pressure Zelensky on the July call between the two Presidents, despite Trump asking for a favor.

“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,” the Republicans wrote. “Ultimately, President Zelensky took decisive action demonstrating his commitment to promoting reform … President Trump then released security assistance to Ukraine and met with President Zelensky in September 2019 — all without Ukraine taking any action to investigate President Trump’s political rival.”

The Democratic report, which will be voted on Tuesday, is all but sure to have a conclusion 180-degrees apart from their Republican counterparts.

The Republican report was compiled by the staff of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, which took part in the 17 depositions of witnesses during the impeachment inquiry. The Democratic report was made available Monday evening for House Intelligence members to review ahead of a Tuesday committee vote to approve it and send to the Judiciary Committee.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, slammed the Republican report, accusing them of writing it for an “audience of one.” Schiff said the GOP report “ignores voluminous evidence that the president used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rival by withholding military aid and a White House meeting the President of Ukraine desperately sought.”

“Tellingly, the Minority dismisses this as just part of the President’s ‘outside the beltway’ thinking,” Schiff said. “It is more accurately, outside the law and constitution, and a violation of his oath of office.”

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Trump’s Ukraine skepticism

Republicans argue that Trump’s skepticism toward Ukraine is legitimate given Kiev’s “history of pervasive corruption.”

The report emphasizes what it calls important context for understanding Trump’s actions in temporarily pausing the aide to Ukraine: the President does not just have a skepticism of Ukraine, but that he is skeptical of all foreign assistance. Going back to his first speech as a candidate for President in June 2015, Trump expressed this skepticism.

But the Republicans’ analysis avoids contending with what witnesses testified was different about the specific holdup of security aid to Ukraine: no one was ever clear about the reasoning for the hold. US diplomat Bill Taylor testified that there was “no good policy reason, no good substantive reason, no good national security reason” to holding up the assistance. US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that he did not know why the aid was held up and struggled to get an answer.

Trump also failed to mention corruption in the call with Zelensky on July 25 or in his initial April call with Zelensky, according to the White House rough transcripts.

The Republican report gives a best possible reading into Trump’s call with Zelensky, claiming he wasn’t pressuring Zelensky or even asking for an investigation into the Bidens. The call summary, Republicans write, “shows that President Trump referenced the Bidens only in passing and that the presidents did not discuss the topic substantively.”

“The summary of their July 25, 2019, telephone conversation shows no quid pro quo or indication of conditionality, threats, or pressure — much less evidence of bribery or extortion,” they write.

Why a meeting and aid were withheld

The GOP report also pushes back on the allegation that Trump withheld an official meeting from Zelensky or US security aid to pressure Kiev into investigating Biden.

The best evidence against the idea Trump withheld a meeting, Republicans say, is the simple fact that Trump ultimately met with Zelensky in September without any preconditions. They blame the delay on scheduling difficulties and say Trump had concerns about corruption, not about the Bidens.

But there are some flaws with the Republicans’ methodology. Multiple witnesses testified that the alleged quid pro quo revolved around an invitation to the White House, not just a photo-op on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Text messages uncovered during the inquiry also show that the White House invitation was explicitly linked to the “investigations” that Trump desired, not general issues of corruption.

This section of the GOP report omits the phrase “White House” and only focuses on the accusation that Trump “withheld a meeting.” The fact that Trump met with Zelensky at the UN does not invalidate evidence that Trump’s aides placed conditions on the White House visit. Zelensky was inaugurated in May, and even though Trump told him in his July call that he should come to the White House, it still hasn’t happened.

The Republican report places great emphasis on the idea that there was never any established link between the aid being held or withheld and the pursuit by Ukraine of the investigations Trump desired.

This is based largely on the assertions by witnesses — contrary to evidence suggested by the July 25 phone call and concerns raised by other witnesses like Taylor — that there simply was no link. Former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, for instance, testified that he told Taylor “there is no linkage here” and that he was not aware of a quid pro quo.

Sondland also testified that he was “never” aware of preconditions for the lifting of the security aid delay. The Republican report downplays the import of Sondland’s supplemental testimony that “in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement.”

They argue that Ukraine ultimately received the aid in September, without announcing or undertaking a new investigation into the President’s political rivals. Any claim of a quid pro quo, the report says, is meaningless because the terms of a supposed improper arrangement never came to be.

Of course, there are questions about whether the release of the aid was prompted by the possibility of scrutiny around its hold — including the President’s knowledge of the whistleblower complaint ahead of the release.

The Republican report relies heavily on denials of a quid pro quo by people who did not testify in the impeachment inquiry, including Trump, noting that on multiple occasions Trump has “vehemently denied any connection” between the military aid and the investigations he sought.

‘Nothing inherently improper’ with Giuliani role

In the report, Republicans took aim at what they said were unelected bureaucrats who “chafed at an elected President’s ‘outside the beltway’ approach to diplomacy.”

“In the absence of real evidence, the Democrats appeal to emotion — evaluating how unelected bureaucrats felt about the events in question,” the Republicans wrote.

The Republicans disputed one of the central claims coming from multiple witnesses — that the role of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani led to a “shadow diplomacy” that was at odds with US foreign policy. The Republicans, however, wrote there was “nothing inherently improper” with Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine, because the Ukrainians knew Giuliani was “a conduit to convince President Trump that President Zelensky was serious about reform.”

The report also claims there is “indisputable evidence that senior Ukrainian government officials opposed President Trump in the 2016 election and did so publicly,” despite multiple witness testimony disputing the legitimacy of the allegations that Ukraine meddled in the election.

And the Republicans argue that Trump was well within his rights to oust former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and she didn’t really suffer from the recall earlier this year.

“Ambassador Yovanovitch testified that her removal from Kyiv had little effect on her career with the State Department,” Republicans wrote. “Her post was scheduled to end only a matter of weeks after her recall.”

During her testimony, Yovanovitch talked directly about how she was planning to stay longer in her post and that she was struggling behind the scenes to hold onto her job, trying to get her superiors at the State Department to draft a letter of support for her because she cared so much about keeping her position.

In anticipation of the Democratic report, the Republican zeroed in on some of the inconsistencies among the witnesses, to drive home the point that Trump did nothing wrong and the witnesses who said he did might not be all that reliable. They also weaved in some direct critiques of the whistleblower.

The report focused on a July 10 meeting at the White House between US national security officials and a group of Ukrainian officials. Some, like National Security Council officials Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Fiona Hill, said the meeting ended abruptly because the issue of “investigations” was improperly brought up, which led to a verbal dispute. But others, including US diplomats Volker and Sondland, recalled that the meeting was ordinary and said they don’t remember anyone raising any concerns after the fact.

As proof that the meeting was amicable, Republicans pointed to a photo of the group that was posted on Twitter after the meeting.

“The picture in the tweet of the US and Ukrainian officials — taken immediately after the meeting in Ambassador (John) Bolton’s office — shows smiling faces and no indication of hostility or discord between Ambassador Bolton and Ambassador Sondland,” the report said.

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