House GOP Defend Trump as Blameless in Impeachment Report

WASHINGTON (CN) – Ahead of the much-anticipated report on the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump by House Democrats, House Republicans released a report of their own late Monday that ignores evidence from weeks of investigation and damning testimony by senior administration officials who undercut the White House’s claim of a “perfect” interaction with Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky.

President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The House Republicans’ 123-page report is a total defense of the president’s engagement with Ukraine, including the July 25 call in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate his likely 2020 election opponent Joe Biden. Trump made his request even as he was actively withholding roughly $400 million in U.S. military aid from Ukraine.

According to the House GOP’s report, Trump’s request was little more than echoes of sentiments widely shared by the president’s most staunch defenders – sentiments regularly debunked by the U.S. intelligence community. Trump’s request for the investigation into his political opponent, according to the report, was born from a “deep-seated, genuine and reasonable skepticism” regarding what he perceived as “pervasive corruption” embroiling Ukraine.

Trump’s concerns over Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm, Burisma Energy, were “valid,” the Republicans said in their report.

Additionally, Trump was testing Zelensky’s mettle to determine if he was a “true reformer,” the report states.

The compilation largely ignores the testimony of dozens of administration officials who questioned the propriety of Trump’s conduct with Zelensky and Trump’s decision to freeze the military aid despite Pentagon certification weeks before affirming Ukraine had met the necessary anticorruption requirements to receive funding.

House Republicans also dismissed the sworn testimony of administration officials repeatedly – including sworn statements from members of the president’s own National Security Council: Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, Tim Morrison and Fiona Hill.

“The Democrats are trying to impeach a duly elected president based on the accusations and assumptions of unelected bureaucrats who disagreed with President Trump’s policy initiatives and processes,” the Republican report states. “They are trying to impeach President Trump because some unelected bureaucrats are discomforted by an elected president’s telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky. They are trying to impeach President Trump because some unelected bureaucrats chafed at an elected president’s ‘outside the beltway’ approach to diplomacy.”

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff called out the criticism with a sharp rebuke on Monday night.

“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. In so doing, the president undermined our national security and the integrity of our elections,” Schiff said in a statement. ‘Tellingly, the minority dismisses this as just part of the president’s ‘outside the beltway’ thinking. It is more accurately, outside the law and Constitution, and a violation of his oath of office.”

Looking at the report, Paul Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College, said the Republicans’ initial strategy to combat the impeachment proceedings appears to be to “create a lot of noise and confusion.”

“The apparent position of the Republicans in the House is going to be, ‘There’s nothing to see here,’ and ‘Move along,’” Gronke said in a phone interview Monday.

Gronke said Democrats appear to want a vote to impeach the president before the Christmas break. But while the rush seems to feed into Republican noise and distraction from the substance of the report, the GOP faces an uphill battle to discredit each statement from career civil servants and foreign policy experts, he said.

Additionally, Gronke said the report could have consequences on public perception of the inquiry, by disseminating false information as fact. Specifically, claims that Trump wanted to investigate the Ukrainian corruption are especially damaging, and Gronke noted a lack of credibility to claims that Ukraine wanted to meddle in U.S. elections at all.

“There’s been fairly extensive work done by scholars of different fields about how in the current information environment, the public can be led or misled to believe conspiracy theories. The proliferation of news has had positive and negative connotations,” Gronke said. “I’m not so sure the American public won’t believe in the validity of the process; rather, they’ll end up believing a Russian talking point because their elected officials are promoting that.”

Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University, said the report’s use of the word ‘evidence’ was interesting.

“The word evidence or even admissible evidence is a bit misleading to a non-lawyer. They’re not using the federal rules of evidence as you would in a courtroom, but the principles are very similar,” Kalt said. “Basically, it means that if it’s relevant and doesn’t meet another exemption, it’s considered evidence. The question is, ‘What do you infer from that evidence?’ Anything that could lead you to infer a conclusion that they want you to infer is technically evidence.”

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