House Democrats have concluded that Donald Trump abused his office for political gain and tried to obstruct the investigation into him, according to a highly anticipated report that will pave the way for articles of impeachment and set the stage for a trial in the Senate.
“The evidence is clear that President Trump used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations into his political rival, former vice-president Joe Biden, and a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election,” senior House Democrats said in releasing the results of their impeachment inquiry. “These investigations were designed to benefit his 2020 presidential re-election campaign.”
The Democratic chairs of the House panels leading the impeachment inquiry — the intelligence, oversight, and foreign affairs committees — said the evidence was clear: “President Trump abused the power of his office for personal and political gain, at the expense of our national security”.
The White House described the report as the conclusion of a “one-sided sham” process: “The Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump . . . Chairman Schiff’s report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”
The report will form the basis for the almost-certain decision to proceed with drafting articles of impeachment against Mr Trump.
“The evidence is clear that after his scheme to secure foreign help in his re-election was uncovered, President Trump engaged in categorical and unprecedented obstruction in order to cover-up his misconduct,” said Adam Schiff, head of the intelligence committee, along with Carolyn Maloney and Eliot Engel, the other panel chairs.
Mr Trump has faced the most dangerous crisis of his presidency since a CIA whistleblower raised concerns about a July 25 phone call in which the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, to help find dirt on Mr Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma. The whistleblower filed a report that said that numerous White House officials had raised red flags about the phone conversation.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, for months resisted calls from lawmakers to open an impeachment inquiry because she was worried that it would energise Trump supporters ahead of the 2020 election.
But she launched an investigation in early September following the revelations about the July call and concerns that Mr Trump withheld $391m in military aid to Ukraine to put pressure on Mr Zelensky.
The White House prevented officials from participating in the public hearings that the House intelligence committee held as part of the investigation. Mr Trump has accused the Democrats of pursuing a “witch hunt”, and claimed that they were worried he would win re-election in November 2020.
The House intelligence committee will vote Tuesday evening to send the report to the House judiciary committee, which will lead the next phase of the inquiry.
The judiciary panel will on Wednesday hold a hearing with legal scholars as part of the process to determine if the evidence against Mr Trump rises to the constitutional standard for impeachment of “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanours”.
Over the coming weeks, the Democrats are expected to draft articles of impeachment that will almost certainly pass the House, where the party has a majority. Once the House impeaches Mr Trump, there will be a trial in the Senate, where Mr Trump would have to lose the support of 20 Republicans to be convicted and removed from office.
Some Republicans are privately critical about the July call and Mr Trump’s move to withhold military aid from Ukraine for months. But there has been no indication they will publicly break ranks and convict the president. Most Republicans also appreciate that Mr Trump provided Ukraine with anti-tank Javelin missiles to help the country protect itself from Russia, after the Obama administration refused to provide lethal weapons to the country.
The report was released while Mr Trump was in London for the 70th anniversary summit of Nato. After he landed in the UK on Monday, he lambasted the Democrats over the impeachment inquiry, saying he had just read a report that Republicans released to rebut the allegations they were expecting from the impeachment report.
“Prior to landing I read the Republicans Report on the Impeachment Hoax. Great job! Radical Left has NO CASE. Read the Transcripts. Shouldn’t even be allowed. Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?” Mr Trump tweeted.
Republicans slammed the report, repeating their view that the Democrats have been intent on finding a way to impeach Mr Trump since he won the 2016 election, and were using the Ukraine scandal as a pretext for that goal.
“Placing own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States’ is a remarkable accusation for Democrats to make of @realDonaldTrump — given they’re the ones who have spent 3 years trying to impeach him at the expense of nearly all productivity,” Mark Meadows, a North Carolina lawmaker and staunch ally of Mr Trump, wrote on Twitter.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @Dimi