weather icon Partly Cloudy

Analysis: Lots of impeachment evidence, but not on $400M in aid

WASHINGTON — After two weeks of riveting public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, there is a mountain of evidence that is now beyond dispute.

Trump explicitly ordered U.S. government officials to work with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on matters related to Ukraine, a country deeply dependent on Washington’s help to fend off Russian aggression. The Republican president pushed Ukraine to launch investigations into political rivals, leaning on a discredited conspiracy theory his own advisers disputed. And both American and Ukrainian officials feared that Trump froze a much-needed package of military aid until Kyiv announced it was launching those probes.

Those facts were confirmed by a dozen witnesses, mostly staid career government officials who served both Democratic and Republican administrations. They relied on emails, text messages and contemporaneous notes to back up their recollections from the past year.

Stitched together, their hours of televised testimony paint a portrait of an American president willing to leverage his powerful office to push a foreign government for personal political help. That alone has many Democrats on the brink of voting to impeach Trump before the end of the year, potentially pushing toward a trial in the Senate.

Lifeline for Trump

Yet the witness accounts left one prominent hole that offered a lifeline for Trump and his GOP allies. None of the witnesses could personally attest that Trump directly conditioned the release of the $400 million in military aid on a Ukrainian announcement of investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

Some Republicans suggested that even if that link could be made, it wouldn’t be enough for them to support impeaching Trump and removing him from office. And without that link, Trump’s wall of support among GOP lawmakers seems formidable.

“I have not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion,” said Rep. Will Hurd, a moderate Republican from Texas who is retiring from Congress next year and would be a bellwether for any signs of weakness in GOP support for the president. Like some other Republicans, he made clear he found Trump’s actions “inappropriate” — just not impeachable.

Democrats now face the prospect of a House impeachment vote split along party lines. That would mirror public polling, which shows Americans divided over whether Trump should be impeached for his dealings with Ukraine and removed from office.

Which way forward?

With the public hearings complete, Democrats are now urgently plotting the way forward with a limited blueprint in just the nation’s fourth impeachment proceeding.

They must first decide whether to begin drafting articles of impeachment based on what has been revealed to this point or to launch a long-shot bid for testimony from additional witnesses who could provide more direct evidence of Trump’s actions.

There are indeed officials who would likely be able to fill in some of the blanks. Democrats have requested testimony from acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, men who spent hours alongside Trump in the West Wing and whose names popped up repeatedly in the recollections of other officials.

In a pointed moment in Thursday’s testimony, former White House national security official Fiona Hill said she believes “those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and moral obligation to provide it.”

Bolton & Mulvaney unlikely to talk

Yet it appears unlikely that Bolton and Mulvaney will tell their stories to Congress. Citing executive privilege, both men have filed court cases to determine if they must appear. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she didn’t want the next steps in the inquiry to be “at the mercy of a court.”

That’s fine with many Democrats who say the bar for impeachment has already been cleared through the methodical case built over the past two weeks. The diplomats and national security officials testified that they repeatedly raised alarms over the administration’s dealings with Ukraine and described urgent efforts to help leaders in Kyiv boost their standing with Trump in order to secure the military aid.

William Taylor, the top American diplomat in Kyiv who opened the hearings, vividly cast the security assistance as a matter of life or death for Ukrainian soldiers in a hot war with Russia. He said he was left deeply unsettled by the prospect of the Trump administration abandoning American partners abroad.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a White House Ukraine adviser who testified in his Army uniform bedecked with medals, said he was shaken as he heard Trump ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and the DNC in the July 25 phone call that launched the impeachment probe. Vindman, whose family fled Ukraine when he was 3, was forced to defend himself against charges from Trump allies that he had divided loyalties.

Sondland clarifies loop

And U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland made clear the effort to extract investigations from Ukraine wasn’t a secret within the administration. He declared, “Everyone was in the loop.”

The case Democrats plan to make in the coming days as they try to sway both Republicans and the American people is that the impeachment inquiry isn’t just about Trump’s future. It’s about what Americans should expect from their president.

Asked what the consequences are if Congress allows an American president to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival, Hill said simply, “It’s a very bad precedent.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Joe Biden at the national hospitality workers union.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to members of the national hospitality workers union during UNITE HERE's town hall on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. @bizutesfaye
Elizabeth Warren at Culinary Union
Elizabeth Warren speaks at a Culinary Union town hall in Las Vegas on Dec. 9, 2019.
Secretary of Education visits Henderson school
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited students at Pinecrest Academy in Henderson to talk about college planning on Dec. 4, 2019. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump dropped from Terry Fator’s show on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Fator has edited out one prominent figure: President Donald Trump, a focal point of Fator’s regular stage show and also Christmas show over the past 3½ years. The Trump puppet, with his pop-up hairpiece, has been sidelined from both shows until further notice. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Middle: Nonpartisan voters and the 2020 election
How will the growing segment of nonpartisan or independent voters — those who have not registered with either political party, or who have left partisan politics behind — vote in 2020?
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - VIDEO
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - VIDEO
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Biden: No one-term promise from me

Former Vice President Joe Biden, in an interview following his address to a UNITE HERE town hall at the Culinary Union Local 226 hall in Las Vegas, said he was not going to pledge to serve only a single term if elected.

Report: Rudy Giuliani settles long divorce from 3rd wife

The settlement comes more than year after Judith Giuliani filed divorce papers against her now former husband, the personal attorney to President Donald Trump.

US shuts down World Trade Organization appeals court

Without having to worry about rebukes from the WTO, countries could use tariffs and other sanctions to limit imports.