WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence is among the top officials culpable in President Donald Trump’s efforts to bend U.S. foreign policy for personal gain, according to a report released Tuesday from House Democrats investigating the potential impeachment of Trump.
Pence and other senior officials “were either knowledgeable of or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the president,” according to the 300-page report prepared by three House committees and based on weeks of public and private testimony from officials.
The report also faults Pence for not producing “a single document” requested by the panels and for blocking release of part of a transcript of his Sept. 18 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Republicans on the investigating committees say the evidence doesn’t support Democrats’ conclusions, including those about Pence.
How much did Mike Pence know: Testimony suggests effort to flag concerns
The three panels – Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform – spent weeks taking sworn testimony from 17 witnesses from the State Department and national security officials. The witnesses described Trump withholding a White House meeting and then military aid from Zelensky unless he announced investigations of Trump's political rival, Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. The Intelligence Committee then held five days of public hearings with 12 of the witnesses.
The most damning testimony against Pence was diplomat Gordon Sondland’s account that he shared with Pence his concern that the military assistance was being delayed as leverage to get the investigations Trump wanted. Sondland said he delivered that message shortly before Pence met with Zelensky in Warsaw on Sept. 1.
Republicans’ counter report points out that Pence has disputed Sondland’s testimony.
Democrats’ say Pence’s denial was “carefully worded.”
A statement issued by Pence’s chief of staff last month said Pence “never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations.” The statement also said that “Ambassador Gordon Sondland was never alone with the Vice President on the September 1 trip to Poland.”
Sondland did not testify that he was alone with Pence and did not say that he “specifically mentioned the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine,” Democrats wrote in their report.
Sondland said he doesn’t remember specifically mentioning the Bidens in that conversation but may have mentioned Burisma, the energy company on whose board Hunter Biden served.
“I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations,” Sondland told lawmakers last month.
“Vice President Pence nodded in response,” Democrats wrote in their description of Sondland’s testimony, “apparently expressing neither surprise nor dismay at the linkage between the two.”
In response to the report, Pence's top aide called Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, a "proven liar."
"And this allegation further solidifies that well earned reputation,” Marc Short added.
Democrats' impeachment report: Trump solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election
Democrats also highlighted testimony from Jennifer Williams, a national security adviser to Pence, that corroborates one of the concerns raised in the whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry. Williams said Pence’s office was in the preliminary planning stages to send the vice president to Zelensky’s May inauguration when she was told by an assistant to Pence’s chief of staff that Trump didn’t want Pence to go.
Republicans counter that Williams “had no firsthand knowledge of any such direction or the reasons given for any such direction.”
None of the witnesses said they knew the reason behind that direction. Democrats say the timing is suspicious because it occurred shortly after Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, claimed people around Zelensky were antagonistic to Trump.
Both Williams and retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, Pence’s national security adviser, listened in on the July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Zelensky to “do us a favor” by investigating a theory that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 presidential election and asked for help investigating the Bidens.
Democrats note that Williams found the call “unusual and inappropriate.” She included a copy of the transcript in Pence’s daily briefing book.
Republicans counter that Williams never raised concerns about the call with Kellogg, her supervisor.
Williams testified that she hadn’t, because Kellogg had also listened to the call.
When Pence met with Zelensky in September, he couldn’t promise that the nearly $400 million in military assistance would be released, Democrats wrote in their report.
Williams testified that Pence promised to relay to Trump the progress Ukraine was making on reforms and assured Zelensky there had been no change in the United States’ “full-throated support for Ukraine.”
“The reassurance proved to be ineffective,” Democrats wrote. Although Pence spoke with Trump that evening, the aid wasn’t released until Sept. 11, two days after Democrats had launched an investigation into its delay.
Democrats note that numerous witnesses, including Williams, said they were not told why the aid was lifted.
Republicans argue that “Democrats cannot show conclusively that the Trump Administration lifted the pause on security assistance only as a result of their impeachment inquiry.”
Democrats say Pence is withholding multiple documents from the investigation, including notes Williams and Kellogg took while listening to the July 25 call, materials that were placed in Pence’s briefing book after the call and before his Sept. 1 meeting with Zelensky, and a full transcript of Pence’s Sept. 18 phone conservation with Zelenksy.
Pence’s office maintains parts of the call are classified, according to Democrats’ report, which also notes that Pence previously said publicly he has no objection to releasing records of his calls with Zelensky.
In a Tuesday interview with Fox Business Network, Pence called Democrats’ investigation a disgrace.
“It’s time for the Democrats in Congress to set aside this relentless effort to impeach the president and overturn the results of the 2016 election,” Pence said, “and do their job and make progress for the people of this country.”
What happens next: Impeachment moves to House Judiciary
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democrats' impeachment report: Vice President Mike Pence was in loop