President Trump’s scheme subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign. The President demanded that the newly-elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr 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. To compel the Ukrainian President to do his political bidding, President Trump conditioned two official acts on the public announcement of the investigations: a coveted White House visit and critical U.S. military assistance Ukraine needed to fight its Russian adversary.
Those facts have yet to be contradicted. We have Trump’s own words on the July 25 rough transcript (“do us a favor though”), diplomat David Holmes’s account of the president pressing Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about “investigations," the hold on nearly $400 million in aid, Trump’s public statements inviting China and Ukraine to weigh into the election and the testimony of multiple career civil services that Trump outsourced his scheme primarily to Rudolph W. Giuliani, who publicly bragged that he was talking about Biden with Ukrainians.
What is new are the call records showing ongoing communications between Giuliani and the Office of Management and Budget (which ordered the hold on aid) and, stunningly, between the ranking Republican member of the Intelligence Committee (and conspiracy monger) Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.) and indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. Nunes therefore becomes a fact witness, and his efforts to disrupt the hearings and toss out one red herring after another begin to reek of self-interested obstruction of the committees work.
Constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe comments, “The evidence of those suspicious Giuliani phone calls with [Vladimir] Putin-linked thugs reinforces the overwhelming case that the American president was directing a criminal conspiracy to conscript US military aid and the august powers of his office to benefit himself and his own reelection at the expense of the national security.” He adds, “If this isn’t impeachable and removable conduct, we’re done as a constitutional republic.”
The report also makes clear that Trump’s scheme “was undertaken with the knowledge and approval of senior Administration officials, including the President’s Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.” The report reminds us, “In fact, at a press conference weeks after public revelations about the scheme, Mr. Mulvaney publicly acknowledged that the President directly tied the hold on military aid to his desire to get Ukraine to conduct a political investigation, telling Americans to ‘get over it.’”
Aside from the near-airtight factual case against Trump for having engaged in what amounts to bribery and extortion for political gain, the report makes crystal clear the necessity of obtaining testimony from other witnesses. “The call records the committee obtained make clear there is a treasure trove of evidence lying just beyond their grasp,” says former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller. “Had the White House not obstructed this investigation, they could have obtained testimony about what these people discussed and almost certainly produced even more damning evidence than they already have.” Miller adds, “It also seems to show that Nunes was in the middle of this plot from the beginning, which might explain why he was so mad throughout the hearings.”
For starters, Nunes needs to appear and provide testimony under oath. None of his calls or actions implicate any privilege; he is not immune from subpoenas as a fact witness. Moreover, given the direct communication with the OMB, its senior political appointees must appear and answer questions about their contacts with Giuliani.
Moreover, in view of the conclusion that senior officials knew of the scheme, their testimony becomes all the more vital. As luck would have it, a federal district court just denied a stay on the order former White House counsel Donald McGahn must testify and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit just affirmed a lower-court ruling that Deutsche Bank and Capital One must turn over financial records to the House. Both obliterate Trump’s claims of “absolute immunity." The report underscores that it is worth a brief pause to pursue witnesses hiding behind bogus immunity claims. The courts now seem to be moving with speed, providing some chance that vital witnesses could be corralled.
“There’s a real difference in hearing the story witness by witness and seeing it all laid out on a timeline,” observes former prosecutor Joyce White Vance. “It’s like watching the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. As Schiff says, the country now has to decide whether what happened is impeachable or whether the country has to ‘get over it’ as Trump’s chief of staff said, and let presidents use the power of their office to cheat in elections.”
The Intelligence Committee’s report is a triumph of clarity and thoroughness. Now to make the best possible case, the House should press to hear from newly revealed witnesses who have knowledge of Trump’s action and potentially participated in wrongdoing. If current Cabinet members such as Pompeo do not appear, the House should consider impeaching them as well. The stonewalling must end.