WASHINGTON - House Democrats accused President Donald Trump on Tuesday of systematically abusing the powers of his office by pressuring Ukraine to launch politically motivated investigations, as their inquiry shifts to a new phase that will almost certainly lead to a vote this month on whether to impeach the president.
A blistering 300-page report produced by the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee concluded that Trump had "compromised national security to advance his personal political interests" and then engaged in an "unprecedented campaign" to prevent Congress from uncovering the truth.
"The President's actions have damaged our national security, undermined the integrity of the next election, and violated his oath of office," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., whose panels have overseen the inquiry, said in a statement. "They have also challenged the very core of our constitutional system of checks and balances, separation of powers, and rule of law."
While the report does not outline the specific articles of impeachment the president could face in the House, it signals that Democrats are at least preparing to accuse of him of obstructing Congress, finding that a dozen witnesses “followed President Trump’s orders, defying voluntary requests and lawful subpoenas, and refusing to testify.”
The House Judiciary Committee is charged with drafting the articles and will hold its first impeachment hearing Wednesday, with constitutional scholars set to testify. The rapid timeline puts the House on pace to impeach Trump by Christmas. The fight will then move to the Senate, where the White House and its allies believe the president will be acquitted by the Republican-controlled chamber.
At the heart of Democrats' case is their allegation that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine in the face of Russian military aggression, to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong and has derided the impeachment inquiry as a "hoax" and a "witch hunt."
"I think it's a disgrace. I think the Democrats should be ashamed of themselves," Trump said during a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in London, where he is attending a NATO meeting. "If you look at impeachment, the word 'impeachment,' here there was nothing wrong, nothing done wrong."
Democrats’ findings are primarily drawn from the testimony of witnesses who appeared before the Intelligence Committee last month, as well as the rough transcript of a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky released by the White House, in which Trump asks the Ukrainian leader to “do us a favor though” with regard to the investigations.
But the report also includes records showing that Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who orchestrated the pressure campaign against Ukraine, made phone calls to the White House and its budget office during key moments of the investigation.
The records show he called the White House repeatedly on April 24, the day then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was summoned to Washington and removed from her post in Kyiv. Giuliani publicly alleged that she was anti-Trump, though Yovanovitch's colleagues, including senior State Department officials, have defended her as an exemplary public servant.
Giuliani called the White House at least seven times on April 24 between 7:47 a.m. and 8:09 p.m. He also received a call from a White House number and spent more than eight minutes speaking to someone identified only as "-1" in the report.
The records do not provide any details about the nature of the calls or whether Giuliani spoke with Trump. On Twitter and in television appearances that day, Giuliani promoted the debunked theory, embraced by the president, about alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
In a news conference Tuesday, Schiff declined to say how his committee obtained the phone records but said they showed "considerable coordination" among key figures, including the White House, in the campaign to oust Yovanovitch.
The report also details calls Guiliani made in August to people whose phone numbers are associated with the White House Office of Management and Budget, at a time when an Oval Office meeting for Zelensky was being sought and Trump had placed a hold on the military aid for Ukraine.
And the report reveals new contacts between the Intelligence Committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, and Giuliani, as well as other newly disclosed phone records that suggest Giuliani may have talked to Trump and Fox News host Sean Hannity on April 25, the same day Joe Biden declared his presidential bid.
Trump was a guest on Hannity's TV show that night and discussed a column by the conservative columnist John Solomon that described Biden's efforts to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor while he was vice president and questioned whether Biden had acted to protect his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. There is no evidence to back up that claim.
In a 13-to-9 vote along partisan lines Tuesday night, the House Intelligence Committee approved sending the report to the Judiciary Committee. Republicans on the Intelligence Committee had issued their own report Monday, asserting that the majority party did not sufficiently make the case that Trump had committed impeachable offenses in the Ukraine matter.
"House Democrats have been trying to undo the results of President Trump's historic election since before he was sworn in," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement praising the minority report.
The increasingly partisan impeachment fight continues as polling shows that the public remains deeply divided on whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
Though the number of Americans who favored impeachment rose initially after the inquiry was announced in September, a Washington Post average of nationally representative polls conducted since the start of the public hearings on Nov. 13 found that the level of support for impeaching and removing Trump stood at 47% - little different from the 47% in the two weeks before the hearings began and 48% earlier in October. In key general-election states such as Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin, fewer voters back impeachment.
The White House, which does not plan to participate in Wednesday's hearing, continued its scathing criticism of how the Democrats have conducted their inquiry in its response to the report.
"At the end of a one-sided sham process, Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. "This report reflects nothing more than their frustrations. Chairman Schiff's report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing."
In London, Trump said he would like top officials who have so far refused to cooperate in the House impeachment inquiry - such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - to testify, but only in the Senate, where he believes he will get a fair trial.
The White House has trained its focus on the Senate, where the president and his allies think they can fight on more favorable terrain against charges that he abused his office for political gain. Senate Republicans have been more muted in their defense of the president than their House colleagues but continue to back Trump, and it is highly unlikely at this point that two-thirds of the chamber would vote to remove him from office.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who began strategizing with a small group of Senate Republicans last month on how to handle an impeachment trial, plans to attend a lunch with GOP senators Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has sidestepped most questions about the impending trial, on Tuesday outlined three scenarios that would help determine what witnesses get called and how the Senate proceedings would unfold.
He and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would negotiate toward a bipartisan deal on trial procedure, though the two leaders have yet to begin those discussions. Absent that, McConnell would attempt to round up 51 GOP senators in support of some procedural package.
The third option - which holds the most potential for chaos and is the least tantalizing option for the majority leader - would be for each side to put forward motions for witnesses and other procedural mechanisms one at a time, and senators would vote on each of them individually.
As the impeachment process continues, an increasing number of Senate Republicans have begun embracing the evidence-free claim - leveled primarily by Trump and his allies - that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election. That's despite congressional testimony from administration officials and intelligence assessments that have found no merit to the claim that Ukrainians, and not Russia, hacked the Democratic National Committee email system in 2016.
"There's no difference in the way Russia put their feet early on the scale, being for one candidate, and everybody called it meddling, and how the Ukrainian officials did it," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said Tuesday, the second consecutive day he stated such claims.
From the Senate floor, Schumer called GOP assertions that Ukraine interfered "appalling."
David Hale, the third-ranking official at the State Department, testified Tuesday that he was not aware of any evidence that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election - and he supported the assessment of Fiona Hill, former White House National Security Council director for Russia and Europe, that the talking point was Russian propaganda.
“I saw no evidence from our intelligence community, nor from the representatives today for the Department of State, that there is any evidence of any kind that suggests that Ukraine interfered in our elections,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters Tuesday.
The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis, Greg Miller, John Hudson, Jacqueline Alemany, Felicia Sonmez, Rosalind S. Helderman, John Wagner, Colby Itkowitz, Paul Kane, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.