On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee released its report on the results of the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. As might be expected following weeks of compelling, detailed, and convincing testimony, the report is … compelling, detailed, and convincing in presenting the case against Trump. The report indicts Trump “personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government” for soliciting interference from a foreign government to assist in his reelection. It makes an equally blunt case that Trump withheld both a White House meeting and military assistance from Ukraine as part of his effort to force that country’s participation in his scheme.
Donald Trump used his high office not just to benefit his own presidential campaign, but to harm political rivals; and he did so at a cost to this nation and to others. He put himself above the law, and above the best interests of the United States. This is the very definition of an impeachable offense.
The report, especially in the executive summary, takes the form of a narrative and does a masterful job of arranging the various elements of testimony into a cohesive set of events. For example, when Trump sat down to make his call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he did not do so “cold,” but only after first participating in a call with Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland. In that call, Sondland assured Trump that, after months of pressure, much of it directed by Rudy Giuliani, Zelensky was on board with the scheme to announce investigations that would cast doubt on Biden, suggest that Hillary Clinton faked the entire theft of materials from the DNC, and exonerate Russia of interference in the 2016 election.
In listening to the testimony of various witnesses, or seeing the daily reports on the impeachment hearings, it was sometimes difficult to see the relationship between these events. But in the Intelligence Committee report, the connections are drawn: Giuliani and others applied pressure to Ukrainian officials over a period of many months.
Setting up Trump’s July 25 request for a political favor was an effort that began at least as early as April, when Giuliani, Lev Parnas, and others directly conspired to remove U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from her position—with the knowledge and cooperation of Trump. Sondland then stepped in ahead of Trump’s call to confirm that Zelensky understood Giuliani’s demands. After that conversation, Sondland spoke with Trump to let him know that everything was arranged. By the time Trump called Zelensky, he felt comfortable demanding the announcements he wanted as a political favor—because he thought it was already in the bag.
If the effort to extort Zelensky into making announcements that Trump could use to his benefit began well before the July 25 phone call, it certainly did not end there. Giuliani met in person with Zelensky’s top assistant and repeated the insistence that Ukraine issue the announcement Trump wanted. Giuliani, Sondland, and Ambassador Kurt Volker then communicated through a series of texts and conversations to detail what they were demanding of Ukraine and make a clear report to Trump.
In what may be the ugliest moment of the whole affair, Ukraine offered up a draft statement that included mention of the country fighting against corruption, but did not include specific language on the two conspiracy theories Trump was supporting. At that point Volker, Sondland, and Giuliani actually rewrote the proposed statement to include Trump’s conspiracy theories and sent this revision back to Zelensky’s assistant. No other moment makes it more absolutely clear that this was not about fighting corruption. It was about giving Trump ammunition against political opponents.
Ukrainian officials expressed well-grounded concern over what Trump was asking, and even Volker—who drafted the proposed revisions to the Ukrainians’ statement—was forced to admit that they were stepping over the line. Even then Sondland continued to press for the announcements that Trump wanted, and continued to communicate his progress to Trump.
Meanwhile, it was clear that Ukrainian officials were aware of Trump’s hold on assistance almost from the moment it began. Defense Department official Laura Cooper reported that the Ukrainians asked about the hold on the same day that Trump spoke with Zelensky, and that there were multiple questions about why the assistance was not flowing over the following two months.
It was at that point, as the report puts it, that Trump’s scheme “unraveled.” Zelensky was prepared to make the public announcements that Trump was demanding, but three House committees had already announced an investigation specifically targeted at how Trump and Giuliani were acting to “improperly pressure the Ukrainian government.” That same day, the inspector general of the Intelligence Community sent Congress a letter informing it of the whistleblower report. Even Republican senators were demanding information on the hold on military assistance.
Trump had finally convinced Ukraine to play ball … but it was too late. Trump was forced to lift the hold on the aid to Ukraine in an effort to prevent further investigation. Even so, Zelensky was still going to go through the deal at his end until Ambassador William Taylor urged him to step back.
As might be expected, a large part of the report is dedicated to what the Intelligence Committee describes as Trump’s "unprecedented effort to obstruct an impeachment inquiry," which included withholding documents, ordering witnesses not to testify, and repeated attempts to threaten and intimidate those witnesses who did come forward. Those efforts included not just direct orders to ignore congressional subpoenas—orders that Trump knew put everyone in the White House in position for possible contempt charges—but going after even longtime military personnel, nonpartisan State Department officials, and members of the White House staff in the most personal, political, and threatening way. And it included Trump making over 100 public statements about the character of the whistleblower.
All of that was exactly what the public hearings and transcripts of closed-door hearings had already revealed. But it’s certainly not everything that’s in the report. For example, Mike Pence gets more attention than might be comfortable for anyone expecting him to fill a Trump-shaped hole. Pence, like Rick Perry and Mick Mulvaney, appears to have been aware of Trump’s extortion efforts over the whole course of events.
Also coming in for a good deal of scrutiny is handy tool and editor of The Hill John Solomon. Solomon’s efforts to assist Trump and Giuliani go back to at least March. His repeated editorials provided a direct outlet for Giuliani to present his conspiracy theories against Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, and he was also an active participant in the smear campaign against Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Everything that Solomon claimed about Yovanovitch, which was then used to justify the ambassador’s removal, was apparently cooked up between Solomon, Giuliani, and Parnas.
Trump was also directly connected to that effort.
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. … On March 20, 2019, the day The Hill opinion piece was published, Mr. Parnas again spoke with Mr. Solomon for 11 minutes. Shortly after that phone call, President Trump promoted Mr. Solomon’s article in a tweet.
And then there’s Devin Nunes. In what might be the most extraordinary fact to emerge from any report ever produced by a House Intelligence Committee, it’s made absolutely clear that while Nunes was sitting as the ranking member of the committee, he was also directly involved in all aspects of the scheme he was pretending to investigate. Nunes was involved in the scheme to smear Yovanovitch, working directly with Giuliani, Parnas, and Solomon in the effort—and it wasn’t just a chance encounter. Nunes talked with Giuliani four times in a single day prior to the publication of Solomon’s article. Nunes’ staff also got in on the act, dealing with both Giuliani and Parnas as the effort to remove Yovanovitch continued. Nunes’ next appearance at a committee hearing should be before the Ethics Committee.
At 300 pages, the House Intelligence Committee report on the impeachment of Donald Trump is going to be, like some earlier documents, subject to prolonged scrutiny before it coughs up every connection and trail of evidence. But even at first reading, it is damning as hell.
In his efforts to gain an incremental edge in 2020 by insisting that Ukraine back a pair of already long-disproven conspiracy theories, Trump damaged America’s ability to work with allies abroad, invited further aggression on the part of Russia, and placed global stability at risk. That’s not the end of it. In defense of those actions, Trump used his position both as executive and head of the Republican Party to further divide the nation, damage federal institutions, and engage in active obstruction of the investigation in violation of Congress’ oversight authority.
Though Trump has constantly tried to bring down the scope of the impeachment to a single phone call, the report makes clear that the effort to subvert the government of Ukraine into becoming an instrument in Trump’s ratf#cking of the 2020 election was lengthy, extensive, and definitive. In fact, the report does a good job of showing that the call was not an exception, but an integral piece of that scheme—one that was set up by events that came before, and that was followed up by an extended effort to extract the interference that Trump demanded.
That call was “perfect,” in a way. Because it perfectly shows that Trump was at the center of the scheme and cannot claim ignorance of anything that was being demanded of Ukraine.