Obstruction, obstruction, obstruction The House panel sent a strong signal that Trump can expect an impeachment article not just for the Ukraine pressure campaign. He’s also in trouble over his efforts to obstruct the lawmakers’ investigation, including for blocking access to witnesses, documents and testimony. In all, Schiff’s report counted a dozen current or former…
Obstruction, obstruction, obstruction
The House panel sent a strong signal that Trump can expect an impeachment article not just for the Ukraine pressure campaign. He’s also in trouble over his efforts to obstruct the lawmakers’ investigation, including for blocking access to witnesses, documents and testimony.
In all, Schiff’s report counted a dozen current or former administration officials who declined to testify to his investigators, with 10 of them refusing despite getting subpoenas. Also called out: the White House, Office of Management and Budget and the State, Defense and Energy departments. All failed to produce any documents to the Intelligence panel even under subpoena.
Dems accuse Trump of attacking witnesses
Democrats say Trump also may have broken federal criminal laws by attacking and intimidating witnesses. They cite four specific examples where the president turned to Twitter to go after people who were called to testify before the House committee, as well as the whistleblower who was the subject to more than 100 public statements during a two-month period.
While Trump is unlikely to be prosecuted for any such crime while he’s in office, the House report doesn’t hold back in setting up the stakes should he lose re-election and become a private citizen again in 2021. Violations of the law on witness intimidation, the Democrats note, carry prison sentences of up to 20 years.
Nunes plays big role
Notably, the panel’s ranking member, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), plays a role in the report: phone records obtained by the committee show that he spoke several times to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani earlier this year, around the same time that Giuliani was publicly attacking Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the time, and arranging a trip to Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.
The records also show that in April, Nunes spoke to Giuliani’s recently-indicted associate Lev Parnas, whose lawyer has claimed he was explicitly tasked by Trump to investigate the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine. And a former Nunes staffer-turned NSC official who remains close with the ranking member, Kash Patel, spoke with Giuliani for 25 minutes on May 10 — just after Giuliani briefed former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker on his upcoming trip to Ukraine, the records show.
Nunes has railed against the impeachment inquiry and repeatedly accused Schiff of lacking transparency throughout the six-week investigation leading up to the report. Nunes never disclosed his calls with Giuliani or Parnas, despite the pair featuring prominently in the impeachment proceedings.
Trump makes history
The report is dripping with a history lesson on impeachment, with more than 100 references to the Constitution and the rationale for why the country’s founders included a mechanism to remove a sitting president.
Trump, the report notes, breaks ground in American history too. House Democrats dub him the first president ever “to seek to completely obstruct an impeachment inquiry undertaken by the House.” And they award him with this distinction when describing his assertions of presidential authority to block congressional oversight: “Even President Richard Nixon — who obstructed Congress by refusing to turn over key evidence — accepted the authority of Congress to conduct an impeachment inquiry and permitted his aides and advisors to produce documents and testify to Congressional committees.”
Questioning Sondland’s Sept. 9 call
The report casts doubt on testimony from Ambassador Gordon Sondland about a Sept. 9 phone call he said he had with the president, in which Trump allegedly said he did not want a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine. Trump has used Sondland’s testimony about that phone call as evidence that he did not try to extort Ukraine, but that testimony is “at odds with the weight of the evidence and not backed up by any records the White House was willing to provide Ambassador Sondland,” the report says.
Several outlets, including The Washington Post and Just Security, began raising questions about the veracity of the Sept. 9 call when it was revealed that the White House had no record of it. Sondland hedged his testimony in the later public hearing, noting that he may have been mistaken about when the call occurred. An analysis by Just Security posits that the call actually took place on Sept. 7, and is the same call in which Trump demanded to Sondland that Zelensky publicly announce investigations into the Bidens and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
“Both Ambassador [William] Taylor and Mr. [Tim] Morrison, relying on their contemporaneous notes, testified that the call between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump occurred on September 7,” the report says, “which is further confirmed by Ambassador Sondland’s own text message on September 8 in which he wrote that he had ‘multiple convos’ with President Zelensky and President Trump.”
Mueller mentioned more than a dozen times
Robert Mueller’s name appears more than a dozen times including the footnotes, starting with the fact that the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky came the day after the special counsel testified to the House about the findings from his investigation into Moscow meddling in the 2016 campaign.
“With this backdrop, the solicitation of new foreign intervention was the act of a president unbound, not one chastened by experience,” the House report said. “It was the act of a president who viewed himself as unaccountable and determined to use his vast official powers to secure his reelection.”
Later Mueller mentions address Giuliani’s efforts to undercut the special counsel probe by circulating the conspiracy theory that Ukraine — and not Russia — had been responsible for the 2016 election interference as well as Victoria Toensing’s brief role with her husband as members of the Trump personal legal team.
The Trump echo chamber — revealed
Tracking the Trump presidency — with its constant social media presence and support from conservative allies — has tested even the most seasoned professionals. But the House report pulls back at least some of that curtain when describing the smear campaign orchestrated against Yovanovitch, who was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until May of this year.
It cites phone records showing calls between John Solomon, an opinion writer at The Hill, and Parnas, the indicted Giuliani associate who helped spearhead the campaign against Yovanovitch. It cites a Solomon column from May 2018 that references a letter then-Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) sent to Pompeo accusing Yovanovitch of disparaging the Trump administration. And it cites a series of Trump, Giuliani and Donald Trump Jr. tweets and comments that came in the days after the publication of the Solomon article — comments that only amplified the controversial allegations he made and tacked on new “conspiracy theories” related to both Biden and Ukrainian interference in 2016.
Lutsenko’s new lawyers
Giuliani says he passed on representing the former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, but the Trump-aligned husband-and-wife legal team, Toensing and Joe diGenova, agreed to take Lutsenko on as a client, the report found.
Giuliani told the Wall Street Journal that he declined to represent Lutsenko on certain “personal matters” in January because of a potential conflict of interest stemming from Giuliani’s work digging up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine, which he has said he was doing for another client — Donald Trump. Three months later, Lutsenko found new representation in Toensing and diGenova, who also represent Solomon, the Hill journalist whose opinion pieces on the Bidens, Yovanovitch and Ukraine have mirrored Giuliani’s talking points.
The retainer agreement obtained by the committee stipulated that Toensing and diGenova would help Lutsenko “discuss with U.S. government officials the evidence of illegal conduct in Ukraine regarding the United States, for example, interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.”
So many phone calls
Schiff and his top aide on the Intelligence panel, Daniel Goldman, are former federal prosecutors. So it makes some sense that they’d ask for phone records from AT&T and Verizon in their Ukraine investigation.
And by the looks of their report, they hit the jackpot. Call logs cited by the House reference numerous contacts among the many players in this saga, down to the minute and second. There are 16 calls, for example, between Giuliani and Parnas between April 1 and April 7 as the Trump associates worked to undermine Yovanovitch. In the same time period, Parnas and Solomon have 10 calls. The House report also describes multiple calls between Toensing, Giuliani and Parnas; Giuliani and Nunes; Giuliani and the White House (followed by one that came soon after, lasting 8 minutes and 28 seconds, with an unidentified number); Giuliani and OMB; and even a 48-second call between Giuliani and a number associated with then-national security adviser John Bolton.