The White House:
WASHINGTON — While the world learned details about a pressure campaign aimed at forcing Ukraine to launch two investigations helpful to President Donald Trump, a group of congressional committees were working quietly in the background to outline what they’ve found after months of tangential probes that could bolster House Democrats’ impeachment effort.
The reports being compiled by five House committees – Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Oversight, Ways and Means and Financial Services – will be funneled to a sixth, the House Judiciary Committee, which will ultimately decide whether there is enough evidence to charge Trump with one or more articles of impeachment.
Ukraine drew the spotlight during two weeks of public hearings and will remain at the heart of the impeachment effort. But the other panels have continued to investigate whether Trump has obstructed justice, abused the power of his office, profited unconstitutionally from his business or violated campaign-finance laws.
Trump impeachment hearings: Key moments from all of the hearings
The investigations could provide additional evidence to strengthen impeachment articles. But the various storylines that captured headlines over several years could also pose issues for Democrats should articles become too convoluted.
“We want to tell as comprehensive a story as possible about the corruption and criminality that have emanated from the White House. At the same time, we need to define with precision and focus criminal charges, if we’re going to do that,”said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the Judiciary and Oversight committees. “That is the balance we need to strike. We want to be comprehensive in our recitation of the events, but we want to be as focused and detailed as possible in the elucidation of the articles, if we’re going to write them.”
As the House Intelligence Committee wraps up its investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, here’s a rundown of what the other committees have been investigating, where those probes stand and how the evidence could be used to support potential articles of impeachment:
Visualizing the impeachment hearings: A diagram of events in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump
The White House: Ukraine becomes flashpoint
House investigations of Trump simmered for months after Democrats regained control of the chamber in January. Lawmakers waited for special counsel Robert Mueller’s report released in April about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Then Trump’s White House and campaign aides defied subpoenas for testimony and documents. But the investigations boiled over in mid-September amid reports – and then Trump’s open acknowledgment – that he urged his counterpart in Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Trump released a summary of his July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and provided a whistleblower complaint about the call to Congress Sept. 25. The call, during which Trump raised the notion of investigations into the Bidens, caused concern in the White House and led to the whistleblower complaint. While talking to reporters outside the White House on Oct. 3, Trump suggested Ukraine and China should each investigate Biden. A second whistleblower has since stepped forward. And Trump has said he wants to identify the whistleblower he accuses of a partisan attack.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified that he worked directly for Trump and that he didn’t want to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, but did so at the president’s direction. “Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,” Sondland said.
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Giuliani sought investigations of Burisma, where Hunter Biden worked, and possible meddling in the 2016 election, in exchange for a White House meeting. “As I testified previously, Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” Sondland said.
Meanwhile, A White House staffer announced the suspension of military aid to Ukraine in a July 18 call, as directed by the president through the chief of staff and Office of Management and Budget. Sondland said he presumed a resumption in aid depended on the announcement of investigations, and that’s what he told Ukrainian officials.
The aid was released Sept. 11, after the whistleblower filed the complaint about Trump’s July 25 call and Congress learned about it Sept. 9.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the impeachment case for bribery boiled down to Trump withholding a White House visit or military aid in exchange for an announcement of investigations. Schiff said attempts to cover up the demands, along with the stonewalling congressional demands for documents and testimony, could become articles of impeachment for obstruction of Congress.
“That is beyond anything Nixon did,” Schiff said.
But Republicans argued that the Democrats were pursuing a partisan agenda and that there was nothing wrong with Trump’s call to Ukraine because he didn’t ask for anything in exchange for investigating the Bidens. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Trump eventually met with Zelensky and released the military aid without any investigation of the Bidens.
“This whole thing is a fairy tale,” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., told reporters. “Adam Schiff is misleading you and you’re playing along with it.”
The White House: Mueller and possible obstruction
The House Judiciary Committee has focused its investigation on whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart Mueller’s investigation, something many Democrats say they still want to play a role in the impeachment effort.
Mueller found no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, despite a “sweeping and systematic” effort to influence the election, but his report described 10 episodes of Trump’s possible obstruction of the investigation. Mueller made no decision on whether to charge him because the Justice Department has a policy prohibiting the charging of presidents in office. Attorney General William Barr decided no charges were merited.
“My view is you can’t only do Ukraine,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a member of the Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees. “You can’t ignore obstruction, that’s in the Mueller report. Ten examples of it.”
The Judiciary Committee held hearings with Mueller and with Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. The committee also privately deposed witnesses such as Trump’s former communications director, Hope Hicks. But other White House witnesses defied subpoenas, including former counsel Don McGahn, former staff secretary Rob Porter and former deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn. The committee also filed a lawsuit demanding the grand jury evidence behind the Mueller report.
Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., has called McGahn a key witness because the Mueller report describes Trump directing his counsel to remove the special counsel.
McGahn ignored the request and also defied the committee’s subpoena, at the request of the White House, which argued executive privilege and absolute immunity protect him from being forced to testify. The committee won a federal court ruling Monday to enforce the subpoena, but the Justice Department appealed the decision.
The White House: Trump profits from business
Concerns about Trump profiting from his namesake business while he is president focus on two provisions in the Constitution. Trump turned over day-to-day control of the Trump Organization to his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, but he continues to profit from it.
The conflict is that two emoluments clauses in the Constitution basically prohibit a president from receiving compensation beyond his official salary while in office or profiting from foreigners. His business operates worldwide, which raised questions when Trump offered to host an international economic summit at his Florida resort or when Vice President Mike Pence stayed at his resort in Ireland. After a public uproar, Trump announced he wouldn’t hold the summit at his resort after all.
Democratic lawmakers and government watchdogs complain the most flagrant violations happen when government officials, such as those from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, spend lavishly at the Trump International Hotel a few blocks from the White House.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee focused one of its investigations on the hotel because Trump is both the tenant and the landlord, and he has altered government development plans around it.
The General Services Administration selected Trump to convert the 1890s building into a 260-room hotel in February 2012. The lease calls for at least $3 million in rent per year. The Trump International Hotel officially opened Oct. 26, 2016 – days before he was elected president.
The agency’s inspector general reported in January 2019 that federal officials were aware of the constitutional provisions that could breach the lease, but “decided not to address those issues.” But Jack St. John, the GSA’s general counsel, said investigators interviewed two dozen employees and reviewed 10,000 documents and found no political influence exerted to obtain the lease.
Democrats have questioned the hotel’s impact on another project nearby. The FBI had planned for years to move its headquarters to the Washington suburbs from its deteriorating building at 935 Pennsylvania Ave., across from the hotel.
But after GSA Administrator Emily Murphy met with Trump on Jan. 24, 2018, the government decided to demolish the current FBI building and rebuild at the same location. FBI Director Christopher Wray has said it’s better to keep workers closer to the Justice Department, other agencies and Congress.
Democratic lawmakers have accused Trump of a conflict of interest because the decision would prevent a competing hotel from being developed across the street from the Trump hotel. Democrats have also criticized the decision because it is estimated to cost $500 million more, while housing 2,306 fewer FBI employees, who would be moved to other offices.
Trump has promoted the hotel for world-class accommodations and said he reviewed the FBI project because of his interest in real estate development.
Connollysaid the various investigations, including these into emoluments, will likely play a supporting role in bolstering potential articles of impeachment, but how they will be structured is very much undecided.
“So will some of this stuff get into that category abuse of power?” Connolly asked. “Will some of this behavior, even with respect to Ukraine, get into the obstruction of justice category? Now, how will we structure this? Yet to be determined.”
The White House: Hush money and campaign finance
The Oversight Committee also investigated Trump’s involvement in the hush money payoffs to two women who claimed to have had sex with him before the 2016 election.
Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, began a three-year prison sentence in May 2019 for crimes including a campaign-finance violation for arranging the $130,000 payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors charged that the payment amounted to a campaign contribution that should have been reported to federal authorities, but Trump was never charged in the scheme. Lawmakers began referring derisively to Trump as “Individual-1,” after his role in the payoffs was revealed in Cohen’s charging documents.
Trump said in a tweet that the payments were “a simple private transaction,” rather than campaign spending that had to be reported.
The White House: Trump’s tax returns, more roadblocks
House committees have subpoenaed Trump’s tax returns and other financial documents, but the president fought them in three federal lawsuits.
The Intelligence and Financial Services committees subpoenaed financial documents from Deutsche Bank, a longtime lender to Trump, and Capital One dealing with Trump, his three oldest children and the Trump Organization. The panels sought evidence of foreign influence on the president, who reported $130 million in liabilities to the bank in 2017. Deutsche Bank has said it has tax returns covered by the subpoena.
Those requests are still being fought in court, as is a subpoena for Trump’s financial documents from his longtime accountant Mazars USA.
The late Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the panel sought the documents to determine whether Trump has accurately reported his own finances. Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, alleged in sworn testimony before the committee that Trump routinely inflated his holdings to obtain loans and reduced his estimates to avoid real-estate taxes.
The House Ways and Means Committee is similarly waiting on the courts to decide whether it can have access to Trump’s tax returns after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig defied a subpoena for them.
The lawsuits involving Congress deal with the civil enforcement of subpoenas against Trump, his business or members of his administration. But in the New York City case, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is conducting a criminal investigation into the hush money payments.
U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero rejected Trump’s “extraordinary claim” that “the person who serves as president, while in office, enjoys absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind.”
Trump has asked the Supreme Court to block appeals decisions in the Mazars and Vance cases. A decision is pending in the appeals case involving Deutsche Bank. And the Ways and Means Committee case is still being argued in U.S. District Court.
More about the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump:
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