WASHINGTON – House Republicans drafted a report to counter Democratic arguments for the impeachment of President Donald Trump for his dealings with Ukraine.
Democrats who control the Intelligence Committee built a case during weeks of closed-door depositions and then two weeks of public hearings that Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his rival in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden.
But Republicans wrote in a 123-page draft report that the evidence doesn’t support accusations of pressure or that Trump tried to cover up his conversation with Zelensky. Trump released a summary of the July 25 call on Sept. 25 and has argued that he was justified in encouraging an investigation because of widespread corruption in Ukraine.
“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,” said the draft report from Republican Reps. Devin Nunes of California on the Intelligence Committee, Jim Jordan of Ohio on the Oversight and Reform Committee and Michael McCaul of Texas on the Foreign Affairs Committee. "The fundamental disagreement apparent in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is a difference of world views and a discomfort with President Trump’s policy decisions."
Republicans argued that Trump had a genuine and “reasonable skepticism” of Ukraine due to history of corruption and his concerns about Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, were “valid” because the Obama administration also noted “concerns” about the vice president's son’s relationship with Burisma.
The report noted that Trump has a right to block witnesses and documents from being provided because the inquiry has been “an unfair, abusive, and partisan process, and does not constitute obstruction of a legitimate impeachment inquiry.”
Trump commended the report in a tweet Monday as a "Great job!" in response to "the Impeachment Hoax."
But Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., dismissed the rebuttal document for ignoring the president's efforts "outside the law and Constitution."
“The Minority’s rebuttal document, intended for an audience of one, 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," Schiff said in a statement. "In so doing, the President undermined our national security and the integrity of our elections."
The Intelligence Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday to vote on its report, which will be provided to the Judiciary Committee, to draft potential articles of impeachment. The Republican minority report aims to counter the Democratic majority report and would accompany it.
The Judiciary Committee meets Wednesday for the first of its public hearings, dealing with the constitutional background for impeachment. Trump chose not to have his lawyers participate in that hearing and he faces a Friday deadline for whether to participate in the House inquiry at all.
The Intelligence Committee's public hearings featured witnesses from the State Department and national security officials describing the president as urging an investigation of the Bidens, first as a condition for a meeting between Trump and Zelensky and then to release nearly $400 million in security aid.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified that the investigation was a "quid pro quo" for a meeting. He told Ukraine officials Sept. 1 that he presumed that military aid wouldn't be released until Ukraine announced an investigation.
Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council expert on Europe and Russia, called concerns about Ukraine meddling in the 2016 election rather than Russia a "fictional narrative."
Schiff has summarized the testimony as describing Trump's abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in ways that he said were worse than former President Richard Nixon.
But Republicans said no witnesses heard Trump directly demanding an investigation in exchange for the military aid. Trump met with Zelensky and released the aid without any announced investigation.
"The Democrats are alleging guilt on the basis of hearsay, presumptions, and speculation—all of which are reflected in the anonymous whistleblower complaint that sparked this inquiry," the draft Republican report said. "The Democrats’ narrative is so dependent on speculation that one Democrat publicly justified hearsay as 'better' than direct evidence."
The GOP draft report lists points that Democrats are expected to make and then offers rebuttals. The Republican report notes that Zelensky said he felt no pressure to begin an investigation, despite Trump's request during the July 25 call. The report noted the history of corruption in Ukraine and argued there was nothing wrong with Trump urging an investigation of Hunter Biden.
“Even despite the Democrats’ partisan rhetoric and unfair process, President Trump has been transparent about his interactions with Ukrainian President Zelensky. President Trump has released to the public documents directly relevant the subject matter and he has spoken publicly about the issues. Democrats cannot justly condemn President Trump for declining to submit to their abusive and fundamentally unfair process.”
Democrats have said the summary of the call revealed Trump urged an investigation of the Bidens, and Ukrainians were aware of the suspension of aid before it was released. The funding was released Sept. 11 – two days after Congress was notified of a whistleblower's complaint about the call.
Republicans also argued that Trump shouldn't be punished for refusing to participate in the Democratic investigation because he contends it's a partisan "witch hunt."
“Under any fair assessment of the facts, however, President Trump has not obstructed Congress,” the GOP draft report said. “Democrats cannot and should not impeach President Trump for declining to submit himself to an abusive and unfair process.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House GOP draft report defends President Trump in impeachment inquiry