Leaked Republican memo reveals party's plan for defending Donald Trump in impeachment hearings

Ben Riley-Smith
Public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin on Wednesday, starting a crucial new phase in the process of removing Donald Trump - AFP

Republicans plan to defend Donald Trump against impeachment during the public hearings which begin on Wednesday by focusing on four facts they claim are “fatal” to the Democrats’ case for removing the US president.

An 18-page memo circulated to Republicans who sit on the committee holding the session reveals in detail how they hope to wave away the sandal. 

The blueprint, which was obtained by the political website Axios, was circulated ahead of a historic day in Washington DC as millions of Americans were expected to tune in to the first impeachment hearings to be held publicly for two decades. 

Many of the Republican defence points revolve around the July 25 phone call which Mr Trump had with the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a rough transcript of which has since been released.

In the call Mr Trump urged Mr Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden, the former US vice president seeking the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination, and his son Hunter Biden, who was once on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, meets Donald Trump in New York in September at the United Nations Credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP

The demand triggered the impeachment inquiry, with Democrats arguing that, coupled with the holding back of almost $400 million in US military aid to Ukraine, Mr Trump had abused his presidential powers for personal gain.

But in the leaked memo, Republicans point to the call transcript to argue their claim that the president never pressured Mr Zelenskiy to launch the investigations.

They argue that, firstly, the transcript of the call shows “no evidence of conditionality”. In other words, that Mr Trump did not explicitly tell Mr Zelenskiy the aid money would only be released if he announced the probes.

Secondly, they note that both Mr Trump and Mr Zelenskiy have said there was “no pressure” on the call. This reference comments both leaders have made since the scandal erupted.

Thirdly, the Republicans say that the Ukrainian government was not aware that the military aid was being held at the time of the call, suggesting that this undermines the idea of a “quid pro quo" of investigations for aid. 

And fourthly, they note that the aid to Ukraine was eventually released – though they do not point out that this only happened after the press got wind of the hold-up and Democratic congressmen launched investigations.

The memo marks the most detailed case for the Trump defence to date, coming after weeks of Republican dismissals of the inquiry on grounds of flawed process rather than substance. 

Democrats will attempt to counter that narrative by pointing to US officials who have testified they believed Mr Trump was holding back the aid money in order to get the investigations he desired.

That political battle will play out before an audience of millions on Wednesday when the inquiry, now a month-and-a-half old, finally goes public with hearings on Capitol Hill.

The testimony of Bill Taylor, the US chargé d'affaires for Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary for European affairs at the State Department, will be televised live by many US broadcasters.

A second day of hearings is scheduled for Friday, with more witnesses expected to appear next week.  Mr Trump has always denied any wrongdoing, as have the Bidens.