Update: This story has been changed to reflect release of the Intelligence Committee’s report.
On the eve of U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearings into the possible impeachment of his political sponsor Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissed the proceedings as “typical Washington stuff” that’s not much engaging the public.
Asked whether the president was harming himself by refusing to participate or allow aides to testify, the governor said: “Not really.”
“My sense, just talking to people, is I think the public generally views it as typical Washington stuff. Obviously, the people who love the president think it’s bad. People who hate him think that it’s good they’re doing it. But I think the average person in between is just kind of like, ‘Typical Washington.’”
DeSantis spoke to reporters following a meeting with the Florida Cabinet, one day before the Judiciary Committee was to open hearings intended to write possible impeachment counts – and one day after Intelligence Committee Republicans released a minority report in which GOP members argued the Democrats had failed to make their case that the president abused his authority.
The full Intelligence Committee released its findings Tuesday afternoon. They conclude that “[t]he president conditioned a White House meeting and military aid to Ukraine on a public announcement of investigations beneficial to his reelection campaign,” and that “[t]he president obstructed the impeachment inquiry by instructing witnesses and agencies to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony.”
“No other President has flouted the Constitution and power of Congress to conduct oversight to this extent. No president has claimed for himself the right to deny the House’s authority to conduct an impeachment proceeding, control the scope of a power exclusively vested in the House, and forbid any and all cooperation from the executive branch. Even President Richard Nixon – who obstructed Congress by refusing to turn over key evidence – accepted the authority of Congress to conduct an impeachment inquiry and permitted his aides and advisors to produce documents and testify to congressional committees,” the executive summary reads.
“If left unanswered, President Trump’s ongoing effort to thwart Congress’ impeachment power risks doing grave harm to the institution of Congress, the balance of power between our branches of government, and the constitutional order that the president and every member of Congress have sworn to protect and defend.”
Orlando Democrat Val Demings was the lone Floridian to serve on the panel and participate in its hearings.
“The Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is not the organic outgrowth of serious misconduct; it is an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system,” the Republican insist in their own report. “The Democrats are trying to impeach a duly elected president based on the accusations and assumptions of unelected bureaucrats who disagreed with President Trump’s policy initiatives and processes.”
Evidence presented before the Intelligence Committee by officials within the U.S. State and Defense departments suggested that the president withheld desperately needed military aid from Ukraine, which is fighting a war with Russia, contingent on President Volodymyr Zelensky’s agreement to announce an investigation into U.S. Democrats including former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate.
Committee Republicans attempted to refute any such conclusion. “The evidence presented does not prove any of these Democrat allegations, and none of the Democrats’ witnesses testified to having evidence of bribery, extortion, or any high crime or misdemeanor,” they wrote.
“The evidence does not support the accusation that President Trump pressured President Zelensky to initiate investigations for the purpose of benefiting the president in the 2020 election. The evidence does not support the accusation that President Trump covered up the summary of his phone conversation with President Zelensky. The evidence does not support the accusation that President Trump obstructed the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.”
The minority report also appears to accept the position that it was Ukraine that interfered with the U.S. 2016 elections. National security official Fiona Hills specifically repudiated that theory during her testimony before the Intelligence Committee, saying: “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016.”
Committee Republicans insisted, however: “Publicly available – and irrefutable – evidence shows how senior Ukrainian government officials sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election in opposition to President Trump’s candidacy, and that some in the Ukrainian embassy in Washington worked with a Democrat operative to achieve that goal. While Democrats reflexively dismiss these truths as conspiracy theories, the facts are indisputable and bear heavily on the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.”
The Intelligence committee held public hearings for two weeks, which included testimony by 12 witnesses, including three requested by Republicans, and considered 17 depositions and transcribed interviews, Chairman Adam Schiff of California wrote Monday in a letter to House members.
“Over the course of our inquiry, we have uncovered a months-long effort in which President Trump again sought foreign interference in our elections for his personal and political benefit at the expense of our national interest. As the evidence conclusively shows, President Trump conditioned official acts … on Ukraine announcing sham, politically-motivated investigations that would help President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign” Schiff wrote.
“The corrupt intent made plain in the record of the July 25 call between presidents Trump and Zelensky has been supplemented by significant evidence showing the extent of the president’s abuse of power both before and after the July 25 telephone call. This conduct directed by the president not only became more ‘insidious’ over time, but was known to the vice president, the president’s chief of staff, the secretary of state, and others down the line.”