Republicans, Planning Impeachment Defense, Argue Trump Did Nothing Wrong

WASHINGTON — House Republicans plan to aggressively defend President Trump during impeachment hearings that begin Wednesday by arguing that his efforts to push a foreign leader to announce investigations into his political rivals were legitimate attempts to root out corruption.

Bracing for hours of testimony from administration officials who are expected to detail how Mr. Trump and his allies leaned on Ukraine to announce it was investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats, Republicans’ argument boils down to a simple formulation: The president did it, but he had completely innocent reasons.

And now, Republicans plan to argue, Democrats are trying to impeach Mr. Trump purely on the basis of a group of government insiders who disagree with the president, and are trying to substitute their judgment for his.

According to a memo on Tuesday by their top impeachment investigators, Republicans will insist that the president had a “deep-seated, genuine and reasonable skepticism” about Ukraine given its history of corruption, and that his decision to withhold security aid was “entirely reasonable.”

The detailed description of the Republican strategy was distributed to the party’s members in the House late Monday night by the Republican staff of the committees conducting the impeachment inquiry.

The document makes it clear that Mr. Trump’s Republican defenders on Capitol Hill will raise doubts about the witnesses who have testified in the Ukraine affair, attacking the diplomats and national security officials who have raised questions about Mr. Trump’s telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and the efforts to pressure Ukraine before and after the call.

“Democrats want to impeach President Trump because unelected and anonymous bureaucrats disagreed with the president’s decisions and were discomforted by his telephone call with President Zelensky,” the memo’s author’s wrote. “The president works for the American people. And President Trump is doing what Americans elected him to do.”

A set of high-profile impeachment hearings are to kick off on Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill with two senior diplomats who Democrats believe will tell a compelling story of a president who deployed his inner circle, including his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, to inject his domestic political interests into United States foreign policy on Ukraine.

William B. Taylor Jr., the top diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, a senior State Department official, will be the first two witnesses.

Republicans have already signaled that they intend to use the hearings as a platform to shift the discussion away from Mr. Trump and toward a series of largely debunked conspiracy theories about Democrats, including the business dealings of Hunter Biden while his father, who is now a Democratic candidate for president, was vice president.

But the memo circulated Monday night indicates that the president’s adversaries will try to defend the president’s actions toward Ukraine as well. It urges lawmakers to argue that Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with Mr. Zelensky shows “no conditionality or evidence of pressure” on the president of Ukraine. In the reconstructed transcript of the call, when Mr. Zelensky brought up his desire to purchase defense weaponry, Mr. Trump said he wanted the Ukrainian president to “do us a favor, though” and then mentioned the investigations into the Bidens.

The memo also makes a broader case that there was no pressure on Mr. Zelensky because the Ukrainians were not aware that the United States was withholding promised security assistance, and that the aid was ultimately released without Ukraine committing to the investigations that Mr. Trump wanted.

In fact, officials have testified that some Ukrainian officials were aware that the aid had been frozen by the Trump administration, and were told by a top American diplomat that they would probably not receive it unless the investigations were publicly announced. And while the aid was eventually released, it occurred only after the Trump administration knew that a whistle-blower had filed a confidential complaint about the July 25 call. That complaint alleged that the freezing of the aid was part of a broader abuse of power by Mr. Trump in an effort to better his political chances in 2020.

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