A version of this story appears in CNN’s Impeachment Watch newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
The day before the first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry, House Republicans published an 18-page memo arguing that the system focused on President Donald Trump is flawed, that he did nothing wrong and that there was no pressure applied to Ukraine.
The four basic points in the GOP argument:
- The July 25 call summary “shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure.”
- Ukrainian “President (Volodymyr) Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call.”
- “The Ukrainian government was not aware of the hold on U.S. assistance” during the July 25 call.
- The security assistance hold was lifted on September 11.
The argument is that Trump never explicitly tied funding to the investigations and that he didn’t pressure Zelensky even though he repeatedly brought up investigations.
Annotating the argument
I spent Tuesday going line-by-line through Republicans’ playbook. Read our annotated version here.
Protecting Trump and focusing on July 25
Republicans focus almost entirely on the July 25 call and what Trump said there, largely ignoring the incriminating testimony of Bill Taylor and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
It’s a document to protect Trump, in other words, and not a document to suggest nothing improper occurred. Their focus will be the call because that’s where Trump is exposed.
The talking points in action
House GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana would not answer directly when asked if he thinks Taylor, the current top US official in Ukraine, is a credible witness.
“The bottom line is the only two people who are at the heart of this are President Trump and President Zelensky – so what other people think about a conversation is really secondary to the fact the two men … in the conversation said it was a good call.”
The Democratic rebuttal
Democrats didn’t wait until Wednesday’s scheduled hearings to respond. They released their rebuttal late Tuesday; that’s here.
What to watch for at the hearings
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California wrote a memo to the public about what they’ll see when Bill Taylor, the current top US diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, who runs Eurasia policy at the State Department, kick off the impeachment hearings at 10 a.m. ET. Tune into CNN or go to CNN.com.
- Taylor and Kent will both appear at the witness table at the same time
- The hearing begins at 10 a.m. and is scheduled to end between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. ET.
- Schiff and ranking Republican Devin Nunes of California will each have 45 minutes to start the hearings off with opening statements and questions.
- They can ask staff attorneys to ask questions, but not defer to other members.
- After this initial period, each side gets five minutes per round of questions and other lawmakers will ask questions.
Schiff says more witnesses will be announced soon, which means the hearings will go into next week.
6 reasons to impeach Trump and 4 reasons not to impeach Trump
CNN’s Marshall Cohen wrote an extremely detailed examination of the arguments, which I’ve tried to distill as much as possible.
Reasons to impeach Trump
- Trump solicited election meddling from Ukraine
- There was a quid pro quo for a White House invite
- There was a quid pro quo for US military aid
- Trump’s directives to his lawyer Rudy Giuliani undercut US policy
- Trump improperly removed US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch
- The Trump administration obstructed the inquiry
Reasons not to impeach Trump
- The process of the inquiry was fatally flawed
- Presidents have vast foreign policy powers
- Limited insight into Trump’s state of mind
- Ukraine got the military assistance after all
Bolton says personal gain may guide Trump foreign policy
NBC News reports that former national security adviser John Bolton suggested in a closed-door speech in Miami that business interests could guide some of Trump’s foreign policy, particularly on Turkey.
Bolton has made clear he has information that could be of interest to impeachment investigators, but he’d like a court to weigh in and essentially absolve him of Trump’s presidential immunity first.
From NBC’s report: “The description was part of a broader portrait Bolton outlined of a president who lacks an understanding of the interconnected nature of relationships in foreign policy and the need for consistency, these people said.”
Giuliani is on defense too
Trump’s personal attorney was laying out his own defense. Rudy Giuliani, with a cold and on the phone from Chicago, talked to CNN’s Michael Warren and Pamela Brown.
“The narrative about me is fictitious,” Giuliani says. “It seems to be fed by a bunch of cackling hens around the watercooler.”
Numerous Trump officials have testified that Giuliani was essentially running a shadow foreign policy toward Ukraine that many feared ran counter to US national security interests.
Giuliani said he didn’t talk to Trump much about Ukraine, but some of his advocacy for an investigation of the Bidens may have filtered to Trump via Sean Hannity’s show.
So … a shadow foreign policy, filtered through Fox News?
10 Trump interactions with indicted Giuliani associates
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are the GOP fundraisers charged with violating election law who also happen to be Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine fixers. CNN’s KFile has identified at least 10 interactions they had directly with Trump, including:
“VIP photos at campaign events, attendance at high-dollar fundraisers and a retreat. They also include a pre-inauguration gala for high-dollar donors, an intimate dinner with the President and photos at the White House Hanukkah dinner with the President, Vice President and Giuliani.”
Impeachment witness torches Russia in op-ed
Bill Taylor, the top current US official in Ukraine and a former ambassador there, will be the first witness called during the public impeachment hearings starting Wednesday.
On his way out of Ukraine, he wrote an op-ed for a Ukrainian paper making clear the US would stand up to Russia.
“We will not allow Russia to dismantle the international order that was painstakingly built after World War II. The concepts of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and peaceful resolution of disputes benefit all nations. And Russia’s war against Ukraine shreds the international norms that kept peace and enabled prosperity for decades,” he wrote.
The question is whether Trump, who has been so deferential to Russia during his presidency, ultimately agrees.
Shadow foreign policy, media edition
Many of Trump’s shadow foreign policy maneuverings happened in plain sight, on the pages of The Hill website and in the prime-time hours of Fox News, writes CNN’s media team.
Names like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, both of Fox, and John Solomon, a Fox contributor formerly of The Hill, pepper the 2,677 pages of deposition transcripts that have come out of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry so far.
Hannity, in particular, appears to have a nexus to much of the shenanigans. He and Fox were mentioned at least dozen times during the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine.
On the podcast
Will Wednesday’s testimony move the needle on impeachment? New details emerge on how the GOP plans to defend the President – but will Trump play along? CNN political director David Chalian sets the stage for a monumental day with CNN reporter and producer Marshall Cohen and CNN Legal Analyst Ross Garber. Listen here.
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election.
Democrats want to impeach him for it.
It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.