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Republicans release strategy memo outlining response to the impeachment inquiry

U.S. split on impeachment of President Trump
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Washington — House Republicans released a memorandum on Tuesday outlining the strategy for responding to the impeachment inquiry. The memo, which was written by Republican staff and meant for Republican representatives on the three committees conducting the impeachment inquiry, argues that "the evidence gathered to date" does not support House Democrats' concern that President Trump pursued a quid pro quo arrangement with the Ukrainian president.

The impeachment inquiry stems from a whistleblower complaint that raised concerns about a July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During the call, Mr. Trump urged Zelensky to investigate political rival Joe Biden, as well as a conspiracy theory that Ukraine has a server related to the 2016 hacking of Democratic National Committee emails

The U.S. also withheld military aid to Ukraine until September, and some U.S. diplomatic officials have told Congress that the release of the aid was conditioned on a public announcement by Ukraine that it would open the requested investigations. The committees conducting the impeachment inquiry have held several closed hearings with current and former administration officials, including some who participated in the July 25 call. Mr. Trump has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and the White House released a summary of the call in September.

The Republican memo argues that "four key pieces of evidence are fatal to the Democrats' allegations" of a quid pro quo: 

  • The call summary released by the White House contains no evidence of conditionality;
  • Mr. Trump and Zelensky have said publicly that there was no pressure on the call;
  • The Ukrainian government was not aware of the U.S. hold on assistance at the time of the July 25 call; and
  • Aid to Ukraine was restored in September without Zelensky opening any investigations.

The memo defends Mr. Trump's request to Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, and his time on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas firm. Mr. Trump has alleged that Joe Biden, when he was vice president, supported the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor general because he was investigating Burisma. There is no evidence to support this claim, though it is true that Biden did advocate for the removal the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was widely considered corrupt by the West. 

"President Trump has a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine and U.S. taxpayer-funded foreign aid, independent of and preceding any mention of potential investigations of Ukraine's interference in the 2016 elections or Hunter Biden's involvement with Burisma, a notoriously corrupt company," the memo says.

The memo also raises concerns about potential Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election, a conspiracy theory promoted by Mr. Trump. The memo notes Ukrainian officials' distrust of Mr. Trump prior to his election, and refers to efforts by Ukraine to help the Clinton campaign conduct opposition research. Mr. Trump has also suggested that he believes that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked into the Democratic National Committee server in 2016. 

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Moreover, National Security Council official Alexander Vindman and Mr. Trump's former Russia adviser Fiona Hill testified that there is no evidence that Ukraine intervened in the 2016 election.

"It is a fiction that the Ukrainian Government was launching an effort to upend our election to mess with our democratic systems," Hill told lawmakers in her testimony, according to a transcript of the closed hearing released last week. "If you're also trying to peddle an alternative variation of whether the Ukrainians subverted our election, I don't want to be part of that."

The memo also notes that several officials testified in closed hearings that the Ukrainians were not aware of the hold on security assistance at the time of the July 25 call, arguing that this means there couldn't possibly have been a quid pro quo.

However, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, revised sworn testimony to the impeachment committees to say he now remembers telling a top Ukrainian official that the release of delayed military aid was "likely" dependent on the country announcing investigations that would benefit Mr. Trump politically in early September.

The memo concludes by condemning the upcoming open hearings in the impeachment inquiry, arguing that Republicans will not have equal power to call witnesses. Although Republicans may request witnesses to appear before the House Intelligence Committee in open hearings, Democrats on the committee may overrule these requests.

"Now as the Democrats move their proceedings into open hearings, their process is still one-sided, partisan, and fundamentally unfair," the memo says.

In a letter to Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff on Saturdayranking member Devin Nunes requested testimony from several witnesses in open hearings in the impeachment inquiry, including from Hunter Biden and the whistleblower who first reported concerns about the July 25 call.

In a statement responding to the Republicans' request, Schiff indicated that the Democrats would not approve some of the long-shot witness requests, like Hunter Biden.

"The Committee is evaluating the Minority's witness requests and will give due consideration to witnesses within the scope of the impeachment inquiry, as voted on by the House," Schiff said. "This inquiry is not, and will not serve, however, as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit, or to facilitate the President's effort to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm."

Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to formulate a more robust defense of Mr. Trump. On Friday, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that congressman Jim Jordan would be moved to the House Intelligence Committee. Jordan is one of Mr. Trump's strongest defenders and is expected to ask hardball questions in the open hearings next week. The hearings will be the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry. 

On Wednesday, Americans will hear from Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine; and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. On Friday, they will hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

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