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GOP to argue Trump's "state of mind" on impeachment

Photo: Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Confronted with a mountain of damaging facts heading into tomorrow's opening of the public phase of impeachment, House Republicans plan to argue that "the President's state of mind" was exculpatory.

The state of play: "To appropriately understand the events in question — and most importantly, assess the President's state of mind during his interaction with [Ukrainian] President Zelensky — context is necessary," says the 18-page staff memo, circulated to committee members last night.

  • "The evidence gathered does not establish an impeachable offense," the memo concludes.

Why it matters: By focusing their defense on intangibles like impeachability and President Trump's mindset, House Republicans don't depend on undercutting a narrative that has been bolstered by witness after witness.

  • Republican senators, who would vote on whether to remove President Trump if the House impeached him, are also thinking this way.
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told the WashPost 10 days ago: "To me, it all turns on intent, motive. ... Did the president have a culpable state of mind?"

The memo points to "four key pieces of evidence" to try to undermine Democrats' arguments for why the president should be impeached:

  1. "The July 25 call summary — the best evidence of the conversation — shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure."
  2. "President Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call."
  3. "The Ukrainian government was not aware of a hold on U.S. security assistance at the time of the July 25 call."
  4. "President Trump met with President Zelensky and U.S. security assistance flowed to Ukraine in September 2019 — both of which occurred without Ukraine investigating President Trump's political rivals."

Between the lines: The memo fails to consider counterarguments that Democratic members have been making for weeks.

  • It cites witnesses like Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, to argue that Ukraine was not aware of the hold on military aid. It doesn't, however, address the core claims at the heart of several explosive depositions.
  • Chief among them is the fact that top officials involved in Ukraine policy, including Taylor and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, were under the impression that there was a quid pro quo involving aid, and that they communicated that understanding to their Ukrainian counterparts.

🥊 What's next: Look for Democrats to begin using the phrase "cheating our democracy."

Go deeper: Read the memo.