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On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee released a report summarizing the results of its impeachment investigation. It is a devastating indictment of Trump.
This is the most important part:
Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States—acting personally and through his agents within and outside of the U.S. government—solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
That's all you need to know. This fact is not in dispute and is established by a call summary that was released by the White House. Using the power of the presidency to enlist a foreign government to help you win the next election is a quintessential impeachable offense.
Here is how the report describes that document:
At the center of this investigation is the memorandum prepared following President Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukraine’s President, which the White House declassified and released under significant public pressure. 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 response to President Zelensky’s appreciation for vital U.S. military assistance, which President Trump froze without explanation, President Trump asked for “a favor though”: two specific investigations designed to assist his reelection efforts.
The call summary also illustrates why the election is not a substitute for an impeachment inquiry. Trump is abusing his power to tilt the 2020 direction in his favor. Even after the impeachment inquiry had begun, Trump publicly urged China to investigate his political opponents. "China should start an investigation into the Bidens," Trump said.
That said, the report is 300 pages long and establishes that the misconduct by Trump and his subordinates was much broader. "[T]his telephone call was neither the start nor the end of President Trump’s efforts to bend U.S. foreign policy for his personal gain," the report states.
So let's dig into it.
The three amigos and Giuliani
It's bad enough for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponents. But Trump went beyond that. He Pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to launch the investigation by withholding two things Zelensky wanted: 1. A White House meeting, and 2. $391 million in aid. This has been shorthanded as a "quid pro quo."
Trump never explicitly said to Zelensky: "I am demanding a quid pro quo." (Although he came close when he asked Zelensky for "a favor though.") Here is how it worked. Trump ousted the respected ambassador to Ukraine and replaced her with the "Three Amigos" — Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, and Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Ambassador Kurt Volker.
The Three Amigos all attended Zelensky's inauguration and were impressed. They visited Trump in the White House and asked if they could set up a meeting between Trump and Zelensky in the White House. Trump had other ideas:
President Trump reacted poorly to the suggestion, claiming that Ukraine “tried to take me down” in 2016. In order to schedule a White House visit for President Zelensky, President Trump told the delegation that they would have to “talk to Rudy.” Ambassador Sondland testified that he understood the President’s instruction to be a directive to work with Mr. Giuliani if they hoped to advance relations with Ukraine. President Trump directed the three senior U.S. government officials to assist Mr. Giuliani’s efforts, which, it would soon become clear, were exclusively for the benefit of the President’s reelection campaign.
This isn't complicated. Trump said he would only give Zelensky what he wanted if Giuliani got what he wanted. And Giuliani, acting as Trump's personal attorney, was demanding Ukraine to open the investigations. That's the quid pro quo.
"Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew these investigations were important to the President," Sondland testified.
Two plus two equals four
Soon, Sondland had made an agreement with White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney "that the White House visit would come only after Ukraine announced the Burisma/Biden and 2016 Ukraine election interference investigations."
At the same time, the White House was withholding aid from Ukraine, which Sondland realized was also contingent on the announcement of the investigations because "two plus two equals four." No one offered an explanation for why the aid was being withheld, and Sondland knew that Trump wanted an announcement about the investigations.
Sondland testified that, after speaking directly with Trump, his understanding that the aid was conditioned on a public statement was reaffirmed. In an October 17 press conference, Mulvaney confirmed aid was withheld to pressure Ukraine to announced the investigations.
According to Mr. Mulvaney, President Trump “[a]bsolutely” mentioned “corruption related to the DNC server” in connection with the security assistance during his July 25 call. Mr. Mulvaney also stated that the server was part of “why we held up the money.” After a reporter attempted to clarify this explicit acknowledgment of a quid pro quo, Mr. Mulvaney replied: “We do that all the time with foreign policy.” He added, “I have news for everybody: get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
Ukranian officials were aware of Trump's demands, and that the demands were a prerequisite to a meeting because Sondland explicitly told them. Sondland stressed that Trump required a public announcement of the investigations by Ukraine, which would impose maximum political damage on Biden.
Volker and a Ukranian official traded drafts of a public statement to be made by Ukraine. But they couldn't agree on one that would appease Giuliani.
The scheme unravels
The scheme unraveled on September 9 when the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community informed Republicans and Democrats on the Intelligence Committee of a whistleblower complaint and Congress began an investigation. The aid was released two days later.
The (attempted) coverup
The investigation has uncovered detailed evidence of extraordinary misconduct. But the Trump administration also engaged in an unprecedented effort to withhold relevant information from Congress.
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.” He has publicly and repeatedly rejected the authority of Congress to conduct oversight of his actions and has directly challenged the authority of the House to conduct an impeachment inquiry into his actions regarding Ukraine.
In this respect, Trump's defiance has far exceeded Nixon, who permitted his aides to testify and produce documents.
Remarkably, "not a single document has been produced by the White House, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or the Department of Energy in response to 71 specific, individualized requests or demands for records in their possession, custody, or control."
In addition, "twelve current or former Administration officials refused to testify as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry, ten of whom did so in defiance of duly authorized subpoenas." Those refusing to testify include Mulvaney, Perry, and former National Security Adviser John Bolton.
The White House attempted to block any former or current administration official from testifying as part of the impeachment inquiry. But the inquiry was able to collect valuable information because several officials decided to testify anyway. Those that did were subject to public attacks by Trump before and after their testimony. The report describes Trump's attacks as "witness intimidation."
Nunes is neck-deep
The ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee is Devin Nunes (R-CA). He is supposed to be someone investigating Trump's scheme. But the report uncovered substantial evidence that Nunes was part of the scheme, including numerous communications with Giuliani at critical times.
These call logs, according to the report, were acquired not from Giuliani or Nunes, but from AT&T.
The report will be sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which is tasked with drafting the articles of impeachment.
Thanks for reading!