WASHINGTON (CN) – Detailing their case for impeaching President Donald Trump, House Democrats published a turn-by-turn narrative Tuesday of an unconstitutional political campaign of foreign election interference they say was orchestrated by the 45th president of the United States and enabled by some of his closest confidants.
Wielding newly disclosed phone records obtained in their investigation, the Democrats linked another prominent Republican to the list of Trump’s suspected accomplices in this scheme: Representative Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.
“The evidence of the president’s misconduct is overwhelming, and so too is the evidence of his obstruction of Congress,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff wrote in the report’s preface. “Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a stronger or more complete case of obstruction than that demonstrated by the president since the inquiry began.”
At a hefty 300 pages, the report is expected to serve as a touchstone for the development of articles of impeachment, recapping more than 100 hours of deposition testimony from 17 witnesses following a whistleblower complaint about a July 25 call between Trump and Volodomyr Zelensky after the latter was elected as leader of Ukraine.
The committee’s Ukraine report highlights new phone records featuring Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, his now-indicted associated Lev Parnas, The Hill editorialist John Solomon and Nunes, the leader of the committee’s Republican minority. There is also a mysterious number described in the report only as “-1.”
Those records showed the men in frequent contact around the time Solomon published a series of op-eds in The Hill, characterized by top diplomats national security officers during congressional testimony as a mix of smears and Russian disinformation.
“The committees uncovered evidence of close ties and frequent contacts between Mr. Solomon and Mr. Parnas, who was assisting Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of the President,” the report states. “Phone records show that in the 48 hours before publication of The Hill opinion piece, Mr. Parnas spoke with Mr. Solomon at least six times.”
The Hill published its first of an opinion series that would loom large in the impeachment inquiry with its April 1 article, “Joe Biden’s 2020 Ukrainian Nightmare: A Closed Probe Is Revived.”
Solomon exchanged frequent phone calls with Giuliani and Parnas over the next week.
“Between April 1 and April 7, Mr. Parnas exchanged approximately 16 calls with Mr. Giuliani (longest duration approximately seven minutes) and approximately 10 calls with Mr. Solomon (longest duration approximately nine minutes),” the report states.
In a follow-up editorial on April 7, Solomon smeared then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
At a press conference Tuesday, Chairman Schiff told reporters that Nunes merits further investigation.
“I think deeply concerning that at a time when the president of the United States was using the power of his office to dig up dirt on a political rival that there may be evidence that there were members of Congress complicit in that activity,” Schiff said. “Now, there is a lot more to learn about that and I don’t mean to state that that is an unequivocal fact. But the allegations are deeply concerning.”
Structurally reminiscent of the report published months earlier by special counsel Robert Mueller, the impeachment report consists of one section on “The President’s Misconduct” and another on Trump’s alleged efforts to obstruct the House inquiry.
The section on misconduct details the hold placed on military aid earmarked by Congress for Ukraine on the same day of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. The report says Trump offered to release it on the condition that “Zelensky publicly announce investigations into a political rival that he, apparently feared the most, former Vice President Joe Biden, and into a discredited theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”
Democrats say Trump “placed personal and political interests ahead of the United States” and effectively “undermined the U.S. presidential election process,” with help from his closest subordinates and advisers including acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
The sting from remarks delivered by Mulvaney at an Oct. 17 press conference left its mark on the Democrats’ report. “Get over it,” Mulvaney had said, after publicly admitting that the president had tied military aid to the political investigations.
“President Trump and his senior officials may see nothing wrong with using the power of the Office of the President to pressure a foreign country to help the President’s reelection campaign,” the report states. “Indeed, President Trump continues to encourage Ukraine and other foreign countries to engage in the same kind of election interference today. However, the Founding Fathers prescribed a remedy for a chief executive who places his personal interests above those of the country: impeachment.”
Leaving open the possibility of supplemental reports in the future, Schiff revealed that the timeline of the alleged misconduct could widen as the committee probes whether the pressure campaign began before Zelensky ever took office.
“Was the scheme in fact put in place to try to pressure the last president of Ukraine, [Petro] Poroshenko, and his corrupt Prosecutor General [Yuriy] Lutsenko into conducting these same investigations?” Schiff asked.
The obstruction section of the report details Trump’s refusal to provide subpoenaed documents and intimidation of witnesses, in a dramatic departure of historical precedent.
Unlike former Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, Trump has refused to acknowledge congressional authority for the impeachment inquiry, a fact that caught the attention of Representative Peter Welch.
“If we’re going to have a system of checks and balances then the Executive branch has to accept the authority of the Legislative branch to do oversight,” said Welch, a Vermont Democrat who sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence. “Nixon did, Johnson did, and Clinton did. They all made witnesses available and documents available. The president has repudiated the authority of the Constitution and broader, Congress, to do oversight, including an impeachment inquiry.”
Johnson had angered the Republicans of his day for trampling over what legislators saw as their powers, but historic evidence suggests that even he did not prevent oversight of his presidency.
As for former President Bill Clinton, the Democrat submitted 81 written responses to questions from House committees conducting his impeachment. Famously, several members of Nixon’s own staff testified before Congress including the White House counsel John Dean and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. Nixon also forked over records, notes and other documents — even though they were incomplete.
Even former Republican President Ronald Reagan, a man Trump has frequently idolized in public, produced relevant excerpts of diaries to Congress during the Iran-Contra inquiry. Former President Barack Obama, a favorite target of comparison for President Trump, also complied during the Republican-led Benghazi investigation: the Obama administration submitted 75,000 pages of documents that included more than 1,400 pages of White House emails containing correspondence among his most senior National Security Council officials.
“Donald Trump is the first and only president in American history to openly and indiscriminately defy all aspects of the constitutional impeachment process, ordering all federal agencies and officials categorically not to comply with voluntary requests or compulsory demands or testimony,” the report states.
If Trump’s defiance is allowed to stand, the Democratic lawmakers said in the report, then he solidifies the “existential threat” to the nation’s constitutional checks and balances, its separation of powers, and the very rule of law.”
Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican on the House Oversight Committee, downplayed the significance of the report even as he said he was still working his way through it.
“It doesn’t change the facts, and the facts remain the top five officials in the U.S. government and Ukrainian government say that there was no leverage and no pressure,” Meadows told reporters at the Capitol. “And certainly, the last five contacts between the United States and Ukraine would indicate there was no linkage between aid and any deliverable.”
Multiple witnesses testified that they understood that Trump conditioned aid in return for the announcement of investigations, though no witness stated an explicit directive to that effect.
Lawmakers also pointed to at least 20 specific examples where Trump challenged the legitimacy of the investigation in his word and deed — acts that they say rise to the level of obstruction. Among his many characterizations of the inquiry and Congress, Trump referred to proceedings as a “coup,” “a total witch hunt,” and “a con being perpetrated against the United States public and even the world.”
That rhetoric cast baseless doubt and impugned the integrity and fundamental authority of Congress, the Democrats argued.
Beyond just colorful descriptors, it was also the president’s spread of bald disinformation about his own authority that supports an obstruction article, lawmakers argue. The report specifically quotes Trump’s remarks at the Turning Point USA Teen Student Action Summit in Washington, D.C.
“I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” Trump told the auditorium full of young students on July 23.
Rather than imbuing the president with absolute power, Article II limits it by vesting Congress with the authority to impeach and remove the executive for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.