The House Intelligence Committee report on its impeachment inquiry, released Dec. 3, is quite possibly the most laughable document ever drawn up in Congress. It reads like a dime-store novel, liberally sprinkled with loaded language, half-truths, blatantly false statements, and completely unfounded assertions. Taken as a whole, it is a testament to the fanciful imagination of Committee Chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Within a week, it should be topping the Amazon bestseller list for fiction.
The preface sets the tone for the rest of the report – utterly devoid of even the pretense of objectivity. It is a document written for a single purpose: To convince the American public that President Donald Trump is, in fact, a cross between Al Capone, J.K. Rowling’s Voldemort, and every James Bond villain.
The impeachment inquiry, it claims, “has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his re-election.” Yet, no such thing has been proven. The idea that Trump had said or done anything, in regard to Ukraine, that would benefit his re-election is entirely subjective and a matter of speculation. Any investigation the president suggested the Ukrainians might undertake had far more to do with the 2016 election.
Even if one assumes the president is wrong to put stock in the unproven theory that Ukraine was somehow involved in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee server, it is abundantly clear that his focus was on finding out what happened during the 2016 campaign, rather than what may happen in 2020. As Trump himself told certain key players during an Oval Office meeting: “[The Ukrainians] tried to take me down.” Understandably, he wants to know why and how they did so.
“The damage the President has done to our relationship with a key strategic partner will be remedied over time, and Ukraine continues to enjoy strong bipartisan support in Congress,” says the report. In reality, the president has not damaged U.S.-Ukraine relations in any way. At least, it appears the Ukrainian president does not believe that to be the case. The one thing that may have directly damaged America’s relationship with Ukraine was the letter sent by three Senate Democrats to the Ukrainian government, in which they threatened to withhold congressional support (and, by extension, the approval of military assistance) unless that country’s government co-operated with the special counsel Russia collusion investigation. If ever there was a case of soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. election, that was it.
Further, the report claims Trump “was elected in 2016 with the benefit of an unprecedented and sweeping campaign of election interference undertaken by Russia in his favor.” This conspiracy theory has been investigated perhaps more than any other real or fake scandal in modern American history, and it has been thoroughly debunked. Though nobody denies that the Russians did indeed meddle in the 2016 election, no one has asserted – let alone provided any proof – that a single vote cast in the 2016 election was changed as a result of Russian measures. Even within the U.S. intelligence community, there is a consensus that no link can be established between Russian interference and the final election result.
Hearsay Portrayed as Fact
The entire document is flawed because its composition is based upon a single principle: Witness testimony – even testimony based upon second-hand knowledge, hearsay or assumption – shall be considered provably true if it fits the narrative that President Trump committed impeachable offenses.
Section I, under the heading “The President’s Misconduct,” begins by stating that “The President Conditioned a White House Meeting and Military Aid to Ukraine on a Public Announcement of Investigations Beneficial to his Reelection Campaign.” Once again, this is a purely assumptive statement. While it can be argued that, based on what several U.S. government officials assumed, the Ukraine assistance was held up until the Ukrainian president agreed to publicly announce certain investigations, there is an equal amount of evidence that the funds were held up as part of a general review of foreign aid.
There is also a great deal of evidence – including statements by Trump, reported by the media – that the president was generally skeptical about the provision of assistance to foreign nations. Additionally, Trump was convinced of three things: First, that Ukraine was an inherently corrupt country – something with which all the impeachment witnesses agreed. Second, that Ukrainian government officials directly intervened in the 2016 U.S. election to aid the Clinton campaign and damage his own campaign and personal reputation. This also is a belief that is backed up by documented evidence of statements and actions by Ukrainian officials. Third, President Trump believed that Ukraine was first and foremost a European problem and that the U.S. should not be on the hook for the bulk of assistance provided to that country.
The remainder of the 300-page House Intelligence Committee report follows the same pattern: Drawing upon the selective use of witness testimony, it paints the picture of a nefarious plot to force the Ukrainian government to do Trump’s bidding.
The Question of Sondland’s Credibility
In truth, the closest any of the committee’s witness testimony came to confirming the accusation that Trump leveraged military assistance and a White House visit for President Zelensky to force Ukrainian compliance with his wishes was the testimony of Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
It should be noted, of course, that Sondland changed his own testimony; the one he initially gave behind closed doors. That fact alone calls into question the credibility of anything he subsequently said. There is little doubt that Sondland’s primary concern was shielding himself from implication in any alleged misconduct. It is worth investigating whether the ambassador had any contact with the Intelligence Committee between his closed-door testimony and his participation in the public hearing.
Sondland directly claimed that there was a quid pro quo; that Trump had indeed conditioned certain outcomes on Ukraine’s commitment to investigating the Bidens, as well as Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election. However, he provided no proof of this but only the assertion that he had “developed a clear understanding that the military aid was also conditioned on the investigations, that it was as simple as 2+2=4.”
Examine the language, though: “developed a clear understanding” implies, very obviously, that the ambassador gradually came to that conclusion. This does not constitute proof. Sondland never testified that he abruptly discovered the link between the release of aid and a Ukrainian commitment after being directly informed of that link or after having seen a document that confirmed it. Rather, he “developed” that “understanding” based on everything he had heard from others. That is not proof. That is not a conclusion based on facts.
The Intelligence Committee report is portrayed as a report of its findings. That is not what it is. A fair and objective report on the findings of the inquiry would acknowledge the fact that most of the statements made and answers given by the witnesses were based upon nothing more than what those witnesses had come to believe or suspect, based upon what others had told them or on what they had overheard. In fact – with the exception of the dates of certain events – the report is almost entirely devoid of established and provable facts.
The president’s political enemies have chosen to interpret assumption as fact when that assumption jibes with what they want to believe or what they want the American people to believe. If this president is impeached based upon such an approach then no future president is safe from impeachment, should the House of Representatives be controlled by the opposition party.
Read more from Graham J Noble.