House Democrats issued a scathing report Tuesday that laid out their case for impeaching President Trump for abusing his power, setting up the next phase in the drive to oust him.
Democrats on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence passed the report on a party-line vote, sending it to the House Judiciary Committee that is charged with drafting articles of impeachment. The committee will begin its work Wednesday with a public hearing where a panel of legal scholars is expected to agree with Democrats that Mr. Trump’s actions warrant impeachment.
The 300-page report accused Mr. Trump of abusing his office for personal political gain, inviting foreign interference in the 2020 elections, and “an unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry.”
The committee concluded Mr. Trump used the promise of a prized White House visit and $391 million of military aid to coerce the Ukrainian president to investigate political rival Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.
“The evidence is clear that President Trump used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election. These investigations were designed to benefit his 2020 presidential reelection campaign,” said House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, in releasing the report.
The report also accused the president of obstructing Congress’ impeachment inquiry, citing White House instructions for witnesses not to comply with subpoenas and Mr. Trump’s tweets critical of several witnesses at the public hearings, which the report described as witness intimidation.
“The damage to our system of checks and balances, and to the balance of power within our three branches of government, will be long-lasting and potentially irrevocable if the president’s ability to stonewall Congress goes unchecked,” the report said. “Any future president will feel empowered to resist an investigation into their own wrongdoing, malfeasance or corruption, and the result will be a nation at far greater risk of all three.”
Mr. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
While attending a NATO summit in London, the president called the impeachment effort “a disgrace.”
“This is what you’re going to impeach the president of the United States on?” he told reporters during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “The Republicans have never been stronger, never been more unified. The Democrats have gone crazy.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the report highlighted the lack of evidence against the president.
“This report reflects nothing more than their frustrations. Chairman Schiff’s report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing,” she said.
The impeachment inquiry stems from a July 25 phone call during which Mr. Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” in investigating Mr. Biden and the conspiracy theory. A whistleblower, who is believed to be a CIA official assigned to the White House, accused the president of abusing his power for personal gain on the call, including withholding nearly $400 million of U.S. military aid from Ukraine as leverage.
A rough transcript of the call the White House released in late September did not show the president presenting a quid pro quo deal for the investigations, but Democrats have argued the threat was understood and part of an ongoing pressure campaign of “shadow” foreign policy conducted by Mr. Trump’s private lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
The quid pro quo, a Latin term meaning a transaction of “this for that,” is the crux of the Democrats’ case that Mr. Trump engaged in a bribery or extortion scheme that warrants impeachment.
The report covered familiar ground. It detailed allegations that have been repeated since the launch of the inquiry in September. However, the report does not directly accuse Mr. Trump of engaging in bribery or extortion, which have been the mainstay of the Democrats’ allegations for weeks.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Judiciary Committee members will be looking to lay out for the American public the legal issues that merit impeachment and how Mr. Trump’s actions do or do not meet those standards.
Rep. Ben Cline, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said he expects the hearings to be more of the same “circus” and accused Democrats from veering away from the norms on impeachment by diverting so much authority to the intelligence committee.
“It’s disappointing because the rules for impeachment have a tradition,” the Virginia Republican told The Washington Times. “In my mind, I have yet to see a way for Democrats to redeem this process and put it on the right track.”
The lineup is full of Trump critics, with Democrats selecting three of the witnesses and Republicans picking one. Each of the three scholars selected by the Democrats has promoted impeachment in their writings.
One witness, Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, wrote as far back as 2017 that Mr. Trump could be impeached without evidence of “high crime and misdemeanors,” which is constitutionally required for removing a president.
Mr. Feldman, among the first to call for Mr. Trump’s impeachment over the Ukraine matter, has said a new special counsel should investigate Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.
Another witness, Stanford University law professor Pamela Karlan, is a former official from President Obama’s Department of Justice. Described as “a star of the liberal legal world,” Ms. Karlan was among dozens of legal scholars who signed a letter to Mr. Trump before he took office that demanded he change his rhetoric and his views or face political and legal consequences.
“We feel a responsibility to challenge you in the court of public opinion, and we hope that those directly aggrieved by your administration will challenge you in the courts of law,” they wrote.
Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, wrote a piece in the Atlantic defending the impeachment inquiry as “fully legitimate.” In a Washington Post op-ed, he said Mr. Trump’s actions with Ukraine were “as impeachable as it comes” and implored Democrats not to wait for the 2020 election.
George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley is the lone GOP witness. A self-described liberal, he has nevertheless repeatedly criticized the Democrats’ impeachment push.
Mr. Trump has acknowledged that he wanted an investigation into the Bidens, particularly Hunter, who landed a high-paying position on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings in 2014. At the time, his father was the point man for Obama White House policy in Ukraine, which is notorious for corruption, especially in the energy industry.
The elder Mr. Biden boasted of forcing Ukraine leaders to fire the country’s chief prosecutor in spring 2016 by threatening to block a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee. The prosecutor was widely viewed as not doing enough to combat corruption. But the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, also had looked into corruption allegations against Burisma and Mykola Zlochevsky, the Ukraine oligarch running the company.
Mr. Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into a missing Democratic National Committee server that was hacked by Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. A U.S. cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike examined the server to probe the hack but the server disappeared before it reached the FBI.
Mr. Trump subscribes to an unsubstantiated claim that the server ended up in Ukraine.
• Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.
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