Trump impeachment: Memo reveals how Republicans will try to defend president

Key talking points included in GOP memo largely echo the president’s previous defence of his dealings with Ukraine

Chris Riotta
New York
Tuesday 12 November 2019 17:39 GMT
The US president is accused of pursuing a quid pro quo arrangement with Ukraine
The US president is accused of pursuing a quid pro quo arrangement with Ukraine (Michael Reynolds/EPA)

Republicans who sat in on closed-door impeachment hearings have reportedly drafted a memo with key talking points to defend Donald Trump as the proceedings are set to go public this week.

The memo was penned by GOP staff on the three House committees spearheading an impeachment inquiry into the president over accusations he would not release crucial military aid to Ukraine without investigations into one of his political rivals, Joe Biden.

Four talking points included in the memo, which was shared with Republicans on the House panels and obtained by CNN, all largely echo the president’s previous statements defending his dealings with Ukraine.

The first defence included in the memo for Mr Trump’s 25 July phone call – in which he asked for a “favour” from the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky – was that a White House record of the call “shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure”.

Mr Trump has long said his phone call with Mr Zelensky was “perfect” and that a transcript would prove his innocence in the matter.

A summary of the conversation was released by the White House in September, but the public has still not seen a full transcript of the call, despite the president’s claims; key impeachment witnesses have instead told House investigators a verbatim transcript of the call was moved to a more secure server hosting highly-classified intelligence.

The memo also reportedly encourages Republicans to defend Mr Trump by repeating his own claims: “President Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call.”

A third central defence in the memo reportedly stated that “the Ukrainian government was not aware of the hold on US assistance”, despite the White House reportedly withholding military aid to the country, according to CNN.

Impeachment witnesses who worked on US-Ukraine relations under Mr Trump have said the White House was demanding public statements from Mr Zelensky announcing investigations into the Bidens and the origins of the Russia probe led by former special counsel Robert Mueller.

Finally, the memo reportedly seeks to defend the president by reminding Republicans on the House committees that a hold on security assistance to Ukraine was lifted on 11 September – so the money and military resources in question were eventually delivered.

However, that money arrived only after reports of the phone call and a subsequent whistleblower complaint were leaked to the media.

Impeachment witnesses like Bill Taylor, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, has testified that there was a “clear understanding” the White House was requesting political investigations in exchange for the military assistance, which aids Ukraine against Russia.

Mr Trump has seemingly attempted to divert the public’s attention and scrutiny towards an earlier call he had in April with the new president of Ukraine, in which he congratulated Mr Zelensky on his victory.

The president claimed last week that he was considering releasing a transcript of that call, which he said “no one knows about” – despite having previously discussed it openly with reporters at the UN general assembly earlier in the year.

On Tuesday morning – a day before the impeachment hearings were to set to go public – Mr Trump tweeted: “I will be releasing the transcript of the first, and therefore more important, phone call with the Ukrainian President before week’s end!”

The public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin on Wednesday morning with William Taylor, the most senior US diplomat in Ukraine, and State Department official George Kent giving evidence.

On Friday it will be the turn of Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, who was abruptly recalled after apparently refusing to cooperate with efforts by Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to press officials in Kiev to start investigations into the president’s political opponents.

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