Nov 12, 2019

Scoop: GOP outlines theory of impeachment defense in memo to members

Reps. Mark Meadows (L) and Jim Jordan (R). Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Republicans on the three House committees conducting the Trump-Ukraine investigation have settled on "four key pieces of evidence" that they claim will undermine Democrats' arguments for why the president should be impeached, according to a staff memo circulated to committee members Monday night.

Why it matters: The first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry will take place this week. The Republican memo previews how committee members plan to defend Trump on the substance of the Ukraine allegations, in addition to the "process" attacks on the Democratic-led inquiry that have defined much of the GOP's defense strategy thus far.

Details: The Republicans claim these four pieces of evidence are "fatal" to the allegations that Trump used military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.

"The July 25 call summary — the best evidence of the conversation — shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure;
President Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call;
The Ukrainian government was not aware of a hold on U.S. security assistance at the time of the July 25 call; and
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 in the media for weeks.

  • For example, it cites witnesses like Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, to bolster the argument that Ukraine was not aware of the hold on military aid. It does not, however, address the core claims at the heart of several explosive testimonies.
  • 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.

The claim that there was nothing improper about Trump's phone with Zelensky — one that the president has parroted and urged allies to adopt — also fails to reflect the body of evidence that there was a coordinated, months-long campaign to push Ukraine to announce investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.

  • Multiple witnesses have corroborated that this is the case, testifying they were disturbed that Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani was leading a shadow foreign policy outside the normal channels of government.

The big picture: The memo also provides a section titled "Background" that delves into the context of why Trump has held a "deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine and U.S. taxpayer-funded foreign aid." As the New York Times and others have reported, Trump's fixation with Ukraine has been driven in part by unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about its involvement in the 2016 election.

Read the memo

Go deeper: Inside Democrats' preparations for the public impeachment battle

Go deeper

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The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to fewer than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

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