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Schiff Lays Out Alleged Trump Misconduct in Opening Statement: ‘If This Is Not Impeachable Conduct, What Is?’

Chairman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, gives an opening statement during the first public hearings as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2019. (Saul Loeb/Reuters)

In his opening statement during the first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) gave an overview of President Trump’s “personal and political interests” in pressing for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into Burisma’s relationship with Hunter Biden.

Schiff began his opening remarks by providing the historical context surrounding U.S. policy toward Ukraine, and its importance to the American effort to contain Russia, and then suggested that President Trump used America’s status of “Ukraine’s most powerful patron” to leverage political influence with Zelensky, who was elected in April.

“The questions presented by this impeachment inquiry are whether President Trump sought to exploit that ally’s vulnerability and invite Ukraine’s interference in our elections? Whether President Trump sought to condition official acts, such as a White House meeting or U.S. military assistance, on Ukraine’s willingness to assist with two political investigations that would help his reelection campaign? And if President Trump did either, whether such an abuse of his power is compatible with the office of the presidency?” Schiff stated.

The chairman described the efforts of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, to look into “a debunked conspiracy” that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as “a smear campaign” against Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.

“With the sidelining of Yovanovich, the stage was set for the establishment of an irregular channel in which Giuliani and later others, including Gordon Sondland — an influential donor to the President’s inauguration now serving as Ambassador to the European Union — could advance the President’s personal and political interests,” Schiff remarked.

Schiff also described the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky in which the president mentioned allegations of corruption against Hunter Biden, as well as alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, and asked Zelensky “to get to the bottom of it.”

“After the call, multiple individuals were concerned enough to report it to the National Security Council’s top lawyer. The White House would then take the extraordinary step of moving the call record to a highly classified server exclusively reserved for the most sensitive intelligence matters,” Schiff explained.

The congressman also described conversations between former special representative to Ukraine negotiations Kurt Volker, Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, and Bill Taylor, the chargé d’affaires in Ukraine, which describe informal efforts undertaken by Rudy Giuliani and others to coordinate the investigations mentioned by Trump in his July phone call with Zelensky.

The chairman also suggested that the House may pursue additional charges of obstruction against the president in response to his efforts to stonewall congressional oversight efforts.

“Although we have learned a great deal about these events in the last several weeks, there are still missing pieces,” Schiff said. “The President has instructed the State Department and other agencies to ignore Congressional subpoenas for documents. He has instructed witnesses to defy subpoenas and refuse to appear. And he has suggested that those who do expose wrongdoing should be treated like traitors and spies.”

“These actions will force Congress to consider, as it did with President Nixon, whether Trump’s obstruction of the constitutional duties of Congress constitute additional grounds for impeachment,” he continued.

Schiff concluded by echoing remarks from Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.

“These are the questions we must ask and answer. Without rancor if we can, without delay regardless, and without party favor or prejudice if we are true to our responsibilities,” Schiff stated. “Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of a country America was to become, ‘A Republic,’ he answered, ‘if you can keep it.’ The fundamental issue raised by the impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump is: Can we, keep it?”

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