Congress

Impeachment news roundup: Nov. 12

GOP outlines Trump defense for public hearings, Mulvaney reverses course

Republicans plan to drive home the point that both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and President Donald Trump have said there was no pressure on the Ukrainian leader to launch an investigation into Trump’s political rivals to free up a stalled U.S. military aid package for Ukraine. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images file photo)

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter Tuesday to panel Chairman Jerrold Nadler expressing concern that Democrats have moved at such a “breakneck speed” to conduct the impeachment inquiry, members and the American people won’t have the information needed to properly consider removing President Donald Trump from office.

The GOP members requested Nadler make up for “procedural shortfalls” in the House Intelligence Committee-led inquiry by ensuring that Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff transmits all evidence obtained in the inquiry to Judiciary and that the panels have an open line of communication.

“We are hopeful that Chairman Schiff will agree to testify before the committee as to the contents of his report and the methodology of his investigation, just as Ken Starr did in 1998,” the Republicans wrote.

The GOP members also urged Nadler to conduct as many hearings as necessary to consider the underlying evidence, including accommodating witness requests from the president.

Here is the latest on the impeachment inquiry:

‘Aha Moment’:Mike Conaway, a Republican on House Intelligence said Tuesday that Democrats have a much bigger risk factor at Wednesday’s hearing than Republicans.

Conaway said Tuesday in an interview Democrats are under pressure to produce an “aha moment” for the American public.

He said he didn’t want to address his personal view of the credibility of tomorrow's two witnesses.

“I’ve been asked 14 times today about their credibility, but the truth of the matter is the American people get to decide for themselves tomorrow,” Conaway said.

“My Democrat colleagues have got to prove that this president did something that’s worthy of impeachment, and they’ve got a long way to go from where they are now,” Conaway said.

Minority Whip Steve Scalise did question the validity of the witnesses’ claims ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.

“They didn’t get their information first hand, they heard something from somebody else that turned out not to be true,” Scalise said.

Schiff responds: Schiff, in an interview with NPR, shot down several GOP arguments defending Trump’s conduct, saying that he believes the evidence gathered in the course of the impeachment inquiry shows that Trump directed U.S. security assistance and a White House meeting to be withheld from Ukraine to leverage investigations into his political rivals.

The fact that the aid was eventually released without such an investigation being launched is irrelevant, the Intelligence chairman said.

“In terms of whether the president has committed an impeachable offense, the fact that the scheme was discovered, the fact that the scheme was unsuccessful, doesn’t make it any less odious or any less impeachable,” he said.

Democrats have yet to decide whether to bring articles of impeachment, Schiff emphasized, noting that investigators “continue to learn new information all the time” and that a discussion about whether to pursue articles will be held “when we get to the point where it would take a long time to get any further substantive evidence.”

 

Senate trial: Asked how long an impeachment trial in the Senate should last, Sen. Charles E. Grassley said, "Until justice is done."

The Senate trial of Bill Clinton lasted more than a month. The pretrial presentation of charges began Jan. 7, 1999, and the chamber reached its verdict on both articles of impeachment Feb. 12, 1999.

Grassley, an Iowa Republican, is the chairman and co-founder of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus and author of many of the nation’s whistleblower protection laws.

The Trump impeachment inquiry was launched in the House after a whistleblower filed a complaint alleging the president abused his position as president for his own political benefit.

Grassley has sided against Trump and other Republicans who have called for the whistleblower to testify publicly so Trump can face his original accuser. House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff indicated he will not call on the whistleblower to testify in order to protect their identity and because other witnesses have already corroborated the original complaint and expanded on its claims.

Careers on the line: Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter Tuesday to key State Department officials urging them to prevent any retaliation against the three State Department employees scheduled to testify in this week’s public impeachment hearings.

“We call on you to emphatically and unequivocally support and protect these employees to your fullest abilities, including by issuing statements of support and ensuring they are not subject to any act of reprisal,” ranking member Robert Menendez of New Jersey wrote, along with nine other Democratic senators.

“We are writing you, and not Secretary Pompeo, because his silence to date speaks volumes. He has failed to stand up for his Department’s own people, despite their steadfast service to our country, despite their dedication to public service without regard to party, president, or politics.”

The senators requested an update within three business days of the steps taken in support of agency personnel.

“They are putting their careers on the line, paying for their own attorneys, and being subjected to attacks — all to testify publicly on behalf of their country,” the lawmakers wrote.

GOP Unity: House Republicans have so far struggled to present a unified defense against the substance of Democrats’ claims against Trump, but a GOP impeachment memo disseminated Tuesday signals how the party plans to combat Democrats as the impeachment inquiry begins its public hearings phase.

According to the memo, obtained by multiple news outlets, Republicans plan to hammer home four interpretations of evidence to viewers of the impeachment hearings that they believe will exonerate Trump in the court of public opinion:

  • The summary of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “shows no conditionality” between military aid to Ukraine and investigations into the Bidens or “evidence of pressure.”
  • Zelenskiy and Trump “have both said there was no pressure on the call.”
  • Zelenskiy’s administration “was not aware” that the U.S. had placed a hold on the military aid before the July 25 call.
  • Trump eventually met with Zelenskiy and the military aid was unfrozen in September despite Ukraine never announcing the requested probes into Trump’s political opponents.

Democrats, of course, have a much different interpretation of the July 25 phone call, and will highlight that Ukrainian officials subsequently expressed alarm on multiple occasions to high-ranking U.S. officials about the military aid freeze as some Trump officials, chiefly Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, continued throughout August and early September to apply pressure about the requested investigations.

Republicans will also rely on evidence that Trump “holds a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption,” according to the memo. They will argue that his general concerns about corruption in Ukraine, as well as his more narrow ones about the Bidens and 2016 Ukrainian election meddling, had merit.

While there is no evidence Ukraine undertook an effort to hack U.S. election systems and organizations and launch a covert social media influence campaign during the 2016 elections — as Russia did, according to former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — Republicans will nevertheless highlight public comments by Ukrainian officials ahead of the 2016 election disparaging Trump and seeming to favor Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Republicans will also persist in the narrative that Democrats are seeking to impeach Trump because “unelected and anonymous bureaucrats” disagreed with the president’s Ukraine policy and felt unease about his conversation with Zelenskiy.

Bona fides: As Democrats accuse him of violating his constitutional oath of office by requesting a foreign government interfere with an American election, Trump told the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday “we must always uphold the constitutional rule of law.”

He then touted the number of conservative judges he has placed on federal courts.

Mulvaney changes his mind: Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney will not file suit regarding his potential need to provide testimony to the House impeachment inquiry.

Mulvaney had been planning to file litigation, but in a new court filing Tuesday morning his lawyers said that Mulvaney, who is also the OMB director, will rely on White House guidance and not appear.

“After further consideration, Mr. Mulvaney does not intend to pursue litigation regarding the deposition subpoena issued to him by the U.S. House of Representatives. Rather, he will rely on the direction of the President, as supported by an opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, in not appearing for the relevant deposition,” the filing in federal district court in Washington said.

Ground rules: Schiff, the Intelligence Committee chairman who is leading the impeachment probe, sent a “Dear Colleague” letter and accompanying memo Tuesday reminding members of the procedures for the upcoming impeachment hearings.

In the memo, Schiff warned members that are not on the Intelligence Committee that they cannot participate in the hearing or sit on the dais but said they’re welcome to observe from the audience and that seats will be saved for members who want to watch from the room.

The California Democrat also included a section in the memo to remind members of the whistleblower law that shields personnel who come forward with information from the threat of reprisal. Schiff warned members that ignoring that law and seeking to intimidate the whistleblower could be a House ethics violation.

Due process: Trump tweeted early Tuesday that both Bidens should be required to testify in “this No Due Process Scam.”

The president said that Hunter Biden’s taking “millions of dollars” from the Ukrainian energy company, “and more millions taken from China, and now reports of other companies and countries also giving him big money, are certainly looking very corrupt (to put it mildly!) to me.”

Trump again said that he intends to release a White House summary of a “more important” call with Zelenskiy that occurred earlier than the July 25 conversation that prompted House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

“Classic Trump”: Biden said Monday that there is “zero rationale” for his son Hunter to comply with House Republicans’ request to testify during impeachment hearings this week.

“Nobody has suggested that anything was done that was inappropriate,” Biden said during a live CNN town hall in Grinnell, Iowa. “This is all a diversion. This is classic Trump.”

Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president. Republicans have asked the House Intelligence Committee, which begins open impeachment hearings on Wednesday into whether Trump withheld military aid to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, to call the younger Biden to testify.

“This is Trump’s modus operandi, whenever it happens, whenever anything comes down, what's he do? He tries to find a scapegoat to avoid focus on him,” Biden said on CNN. “That’s what this is all about. And I’ll be darned if I’m going to let us take our eye off the ball. Did Trump commit impeachable offenses? He’s indicted himself on the White House lawn.”

Biden also pointed to Trump and the “people around him.” He called the president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, a “chump,” and referred to other “thugs” involved.

State Department officials have told House committees doing the impeachment investigation that Giuliani helped Trump pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden’s role in urging Ukraine’s president to dismiss a prosecutor widely seen as corrupt. Trump’s allies have tried to portray that as an effort to prevent scrutiny of the company paying his son.

Trump has said he was trying to pressure Ukraine to get tougher on corruption as well. Biden had an answer to that.

“If that is what this is all about, Mr. President,” he said, “release your tax returns.”

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