WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Amber Phillips Democrats' road map for impeaching President Donald Trump is here.
The House Intelligence Committee, which with the committees on Oversight and Foreign Affairs has been investigating Trump over allegations he politicised US-Ukraine relations for his political benefit, released its report on Tuesday (Dec 3) on the wrongdoing they found.
They'll vote on it Tuesday night, and the House Judiciary Committee will take over from there.
They're planning to write articles of impeachment against Trump within a week or so, and the House is expected to vote to impeach Trump by Christmas. Republicans involved in the impeachment inquiry released their own report, which fails to rebut the facts as we know them.
Here are five takeaways from the report:
1. DEMOCRATS THINK TRUMP SHOULD BE IMPEACHED
"The impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, 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," the executive summary of their report reads.
How Democrats pieced together that allegation gives us clues as to what they think some of the articles of impeachment should be. Like:
Abuse of power: This is described throughout the report, such as here: "President Trump used the power of the Office of the President and exercised his authority over the executive branch, including his control of the instruments of the federal government, to apply increasing pressure on the President of Ukraine and the Ukrainian government to announce politically investigations desired by President Trump."
And later, they write that asking Ukraine to investigate Democrats "was the act of a president who viewed himself as unaccountable and determined to use his vast official powers to secure his reelection."
Obstruction of Congress: This allegation is an entire section of the report, encompassing more than 50 pages. Democrats point out that an article of impeachment drawn up against Richard Nixon was for his failure to comply with subpoenas.
Here's their central allegation: "President Trump ordered and implemented a campaign to conceal his conduct from the public and frustrate and obstruct the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry by refusing to produce to the impeachment inquiry's investigating Committees information and records in the possession of the White House, in defiance of a lawful subpoena; directing executive branch agencies to defy lawful subpoenas and withhold the production of all documents and records from the investigating Committees; directing current and former executive branch officials not to cooperate with the Committees, including in defiance of lawful subpoenas for testimony; and intimidating, threatening, and tampering with prospective and actual witnesses in the impeachment inquiry in an effort to prevent, delay, or influence the testimony of those witnesses."
Compromising national security: "By withholding vital military assistance and diplomatic support from a strategic foreign partner government engaged in an ongoing military conflict illegally instigated by Russia, President Trump compromised national security to advance his personal political interests.
"Faced with the revelation of his actions, President Trump publicly and repeatedly persisted in urging foreign governments, including Ukraine and China, to investigate his political opponent. This continued solicitation of foreign interference in a US election presents a clear and present danger that the President will continue to use the power of his office for his personal political gain".
This report touches on the fact that the Ukraine allegations stemmed from an effort to undercut the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, but it doesn't solve the internal debate among Democrats about whether to fold in the Mueller report's findings that Trump tried to undermine the special counsel into the impeachment articles.
2. TRUMP'S WHITE HOUSE GAVE DEMOCRATS THEIR MOST SOLID EVIDENCE
Democrats weren't able to pin down that Trump himself explicitly laid out a quid pro quo with Ukraine when he held up Ukraine's military aid and an Oval Office meeting. Because top Trump aides wouldn't comply with subpoenas, the inquiry relied on people who hadn't directly communicated with the president to paint a picture of what he wanted.
Diplomat Gordon Sondland testified he heard this through Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others implicated Mick Mulvaney, Trump's acting chief of staff, in the quid pro quo.
So Democrats' most solid evidence pinning the quid pro quos to Trump came from things the Trump White House did and said. Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy features heavily in their summary of why Trump should be impeached, taking up 10 pages.
A key line: "During a July 25, 2019, call between President Trump and President Zelenskiy, President Zelensky expressed gratitude for US military assistance. President Trump immediately responded by asking President Zelenskiy to 'do us a favour though' and openly pressed for Ukraine to investigate former vice-president Biden and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
In turn, President Zelenskiy assured President Trump that he would pursue the investigation and reiterated his interest in the White House meeting."
As Democrats note in their report, they aren't alone in this analysis of the call being damaging for Trump. It was also referenced in many witnesses' testimony as the moment it clicked that Trump had held up the military aid to Ukraine so that he had leverage to demand investigations.
"I guess for me it shed some light on possible other motivations behind a security assistance hold," testified Jennifer Williams, a Russia adviser to Vice-President Mike Pence.
"There was no doubt," Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Vindman, the White House's top Ukraine expert, testified when asked if he heard a political quid pro quo in that call.
Mulvaney did not comply with a subpoena to testify, but his own public comments make their way to the top lines in the report: "At a press conference weeks after public revelations about the scheme, Mr Mulvaney publicly acknowledged that the President directly tied the hold on military aid to his desire to get Ukraine to conduct a political investigation, telling Americans to 'get over it.'" (Mulvaney tried to walk those comments back later the same day.)
The report also tries to counteract any attempts by Trump to push Giuliani under the bus, by using Giuliani's own words. Here's the tweet they held up: "The Amb. nominee doesn't know what he's talking about and shouldn't be incorrectly speculating. This is an orchestrated attempt to harass and hinder me in my role as @realDonaldTrump's attorney.
"All of the information I obtained came from interviews conducted as private defense counsel to POTUS, to defend him against false allegations. I began obtaining this information while Mueller was still investigating his witch hunt and a full 5 months before Biden even announced his run for Pres.
"It won't work!"
3. DEMOCRATS DESCRIBE BROAD COMPLICITY IN THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Pence. Mulvaney. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Senior White House aides. They're all implicated in this report. They "had knowledge of, in some cases facilitated and furthered the President's scheme, and withheld information about the scheme from the Congress and the American public," Democrats write.
They rely heavily on the testimony from Sondland, who was the closest Trump ally Democrats got to testify. Sondland testified that as he negotiated political quid pro quos with Ukraine, he looped in all of these senior officials. He brought emails and text messages to his public hearing to try to prove it.
In particular, Sondland stated his belief in a meeting with Pence that Ukraine aid and a meeting were tied to launching political investigations, and that Pence didn't express his objections. The report's authors include as evidence Pence was in on Trump's efforts the fact Pence spoke to Zelenskiy in September, after Sondland told Ukrainians there were conditions on getting their military aid - and the fact that Pence won't share the transcript of his call.
4. DEVIN NUNES IS ALL OVER IN THIS REPORT
Republican representative Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, is mentioned in the report dozens of times, and not just in his role as a counterpart to the leadership of the investigation.
A former Nunes staff member is on the National Security Council, and the report says this staffer, Kash Patel, talked with Giuliani at a key moment in the pressure campaign and may have found a way to talk to the president about Ukraine, despite the fact it wasn't in his portfolio.
The report also shows records of several phone exchanges between Giuliani and Nunes in April, as the campaign to dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine and oust the American ambassador there was ramping up.
The report doesn't fill out Nunes' role, but it provides some records that are consistent with the allegation by an indicted Ukrainian American, Lev Parnas, that Nunes was involved in this. (Nunes has said stories reporting this are "demonstrably false" but did not issue a direct denial when asked about his involvement with Ukrainians.)
5. THE NEED TO IMPEACH FAST
Democrats are pursuing impeachment into Trump without hearing from top former aides, some of whom may have spoken directly to Trump about this and seem willing to testify. (We're specifically thinking here of former national security adviser John Bolton, who has said he'll abide by the results of an ongoing lawsuit from another NSC official about what carries more weight, a subpoena from Congress or a White House ban on complying with that subpoena.)
The Democrats have faced some criticism for that, both inside and outside Congress. If they waited a few more months, could they connect the political quid pro quos to Trump without a shred of doubt? Instead, Democrats are rushing to impeach Trump before it's officially a presidential election year. To defend that rushed timing, they made an interesting argument in this report: That Trump might do this again if he's not impeached ASAP.
Given the proximate threat of further presidential attempts to solicit foreign interference in our next election, we cannot wait to make a referral until our efforts to obtain additional testimony and documents wind their way through the courts. The evidence of the President's misconduct is overwhelming, and so too is the evidence of his obstruction of Congress.
Of course, that argument ignores the fact that barring any major defections from Senate Republicans in a trial, Trump could be impeached by the House and remain president, free to negotiate with other countries as he sees fit.