Facing almost-certain impeachment, President Donald Trump and his GOP allies are blasting the House inquiry into whether he abused his office as illegal and declaring him completely free of taint on Ukraine and in the Russia investigation.
Those claims are untrue.
When certain associates and acquaintances of Trump get into hot water, he also suddenly forgets he ever knew them. Various figures from the Ukraine matter as well as a British prince have fallen out of familiarity with the president in this way.
TRUMP: “No Due Process.” — tweet Sunday.
STEPHANIE GRISHAM, White House press secretary: “We’re not going to participate in a sham hearing that doesn’t give him any rights … I’ll also mention to people that the president was overseas when they invited him to be part of that silly hearing, so that timing was on purpose.” — interview Saturday on “Fox & Friends: Weekend.”
TRUMP: “For the hearings, we don’t get a lawyer.” — remarks Tuesday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
THE FACTS: Trump and his spokeswoman are wrong that he was deprived a chance to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee hearings. The committee invited Trump and his lawyers to appear if he wishes, but the White House refused.
In a letter last week to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., White House counsel Pat Cipollone declined the invitation for the president’s counsel to appear at the first hearing last Wednesday while Trump was at the NATO summit, insisting that the inquiry violates “basic due process rights.” The committee’s invitation was issued before Trump left on that trip, not during, as Grisham asserts.
For hearings this week, Trump had until Friday to decide whether he would take advantage of due process protections afforded to him under House rules adopted in October. He was offered an opportunity to ask for witness testimony and to cross-examine the witnesses called by the House. But he decided not to participate in that round, too.
If the House impeaches Trump, the Senate trial will look like a normal trial in some respects, with senators as the jury. Arguments would be heard from each side’s legal team for and against Trump’s removal from office.
The Intelligence Committee hearings, in contrast, were like the investigative phase of criminal cases, conducted without the participation of the person under investigation.
TRUMP: “The word ‘impeachment’ is a dirty word, and it’s a word that was only supposed to be used in special occasions: high crimes and misdemeanors. In this case, there was no crime whatsoever. Not even a little tiny crime. There was no crime whatsoever, and they know it. ” — remarks Wednesday with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
THE FACTS: That’s a misrepresentation of the conditions for impeaching a president. The constitutional grounds for impeachment do not require any crime to have been committed. In setting the conditions, treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors, the Founding Fathers said that a consequential abuse of office — crime or not — was subject to the impeachment process they laid out.
Months after the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Alexander Hamilton explained in the Federalist Papers that a commonly understood crime need not be the basis of impeachment. Offenses qualifying for that step “are of a nature … POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself,” he wrote.
As they draft articles of impeachment, though, Democrats are alleging crimes involving obstruction of justice as part of their case that Trump abused his office.
TRUMP, on his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy: “All you have to do is listen to the call or read the call. We had it transcribed perfectly. But he was — he said — no pressure, no nothing. There was no nothing.” — remarks Wednesday with Conte.
TRUMP: “Breaking News: The President of Ukraine has just again announced that President Trump has done nothing wrong with respect to Ukraine and our interactions or calls … case over!” — tweet on Dec. 2.
THE FACTS: Trump misleads in suggesting that Zelenskiy didn’t have any concerns about the call. Nor was the call “transcribed perfectly;” only a rough transcript was released by the White House.
Republican Congressman Mark Meadows went on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday and denied the contents of the transcript released by the White House when asked, “The President asked a leader of a foreign country to investigate his political rival. So one simple question to start — is that appropriate?” Meadows responded, “Well, one, he didn’t do that. I don’t agree with your premise.” The White House transcript clearly shows Trump asking for an investigation into the Biden family in Ukraine.
While Zelenskiy initially said there was no discussion of a quid pro quo, he said in an interview Monday with Time that Trump should not have blocked military aid to Ukraine. Zelenskiy also criticized Trump for casting the country as corrupt, saying it sends a concerning message to international allies.
On that call discussing military aid, Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Trump’s political rivals in the U.S.
“Look I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo,” Zelenskiy said. “But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness.”
On corruption, Zelenskiy said it unfairly undermines support for the country.
“Everyone hears that signal,” he said. “Investments, banks, stakeholders, companies, American, European, companies that have international capital in Ukraine, it’s a signal to them that says, ‘Be careful, don’t invest.’ Or, ‘Get out of there.’”
It’s true that in early October, Zelenskiy had told reporters “there was no pressure or blackmail from the U.S.” But he did not state Trump had done “nothing” wrong, even as he let his criticisms simmer before surfacing them.
In any event, Zelenskiy knew months before the call that much-needed U.S. military support might depend on whether he was willing to help Trump by investigating Democrats.
RONNA MCDANIEL, Republican National Committee chairwoman, on Democrats who said the Russia investigation should be part of the basis for impeaching Trump, not just his actions with Ukraine: “Are you kidding me? They lied for 2 years about collusion & POTUS was exonerated.” — tweet Thursday, using POTUS as an abbreviation of president of the U.S.
THE FACTS: She’s wrong to suggest that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report cleared the Trump campaign of collusion with Russia. Nor did the report exonerate Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice.
Instead, the report factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, leaving it open for Congress to take up the matter or for prosecutors to do so once Trump leaves office.
Mueller’s two-year investigation and other scrutiny revealed a multitude of meetings with Russians. Among them: Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Clinton.
On collusion, Mueller said he did not assess whether that occurred because it is not a legal term.
He looked into a potential criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and said the investigation did not collect sufficient evidence to establish criminal charges on that front.
Mueller noted some Trump campaign officials had declined to testify under the Fifth Amendment or had provided false or incomplete testimony, making it difficult to get a complete picture of what happened during the 2016 campaign. The special counsel wrote that he “cannot rule out the possibility” that unavailable information could have cast a different light on the investigation’s findings.
Mueller also did not reach a conclusion as to whether the president obstructed justice or broke any other law.
He said his team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge Trump, partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted.
TRUMP: “I don’t know Prince Andrew. … I don’t know him.” — remarks Tuesday with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
THE FACTS: Trump knows the British prince. Andrew hosted a breakfast for him in June, they toured Westminster Abbey together and photos spread over two decades capture some occasions when they’ve met. The prince stepped back from royal duties after his involvement with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was exposed.
Trump also recently declared, repeatedly, that he did not know Gordon Sondland, his ambassador to the EU, “very well” and “I have not spoken to him much.” Sondland provided some of the most damning testimony in the House impeachment inquiry about how he had tried to carry out Trump’s wishes to persuade Ukraine to investigate the president’s political rivals in the U.S.
Sondland testified that he’s had many conversations with Trump, who called the ambassador “a really good man and great American” before Sondland’s problematic testimony.
Several people in prominent positions in the Trump campaign or known as close advisers were similarly marginalized — as mere volunteers, hangers-on or low-level functionaries — when it became troublesome during the Russia investigation to acknowledge their stature.