Zelenskiy Call Not a Shakedown, Lawyer Says: Impeachment Update

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(Bloomberg) -- The House Judiciary Committee is hearing evidence Monday on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump from the Democratic and Republican staff lawyers for the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

Testifying are the Intelligence panel’s Democratic counsel Dan Goldman and the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic attorney Barry Berke, while attorney Stephen Castor is speaking for Republicans on both committees.

Here are the latest developments:

Zelenskiy Call Not a Shakedown, Lawyer Says (12:19 p.m.)

Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was “not a sinister mob shakedown,” Republican attorney Castor told the committee.

”The call summary shows President Trump and President Zelenskiy engaged in pleasantries and cordialities,” Castor said. “The call summary reveals laughter. Simply put, the call is not the sinister mob shakedown some Democrats have described.”

Zelenskiy later said publicly that he never felt pressured or that conditions were being imposed, the GOP lawyer said.

There’s no clear evidence that Trump acted with “malicious intent,” Castor said. “The inquiry has returned no direct evidence that President Trump withheld a meeting or security assistance to pressure President Zelenskiy to investigate the election or Vice President Biden.“

“The impeachment inquiry record is riddled with hearsay, presumptions and speculation,” he said.

Trump had a legitimate reason to be concerned about Hunter Biden’s membership on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, Castor said. There were valid questions about the company’s reputation for corruption as well as Biden’s pay of more than $50,000 a month while his father was vice president and led U.S. policy on Ukraine, Castor said.

Trump Freed Aid When Caught, Lawyer Says (11:22 a.m.)

Trump freed the military aid to Ukraine in September because he got caught, Goldman said.

“By early September, the president’s scheme was unraveling,” said Goldman.

He said that on Sept. 9, the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees announced an investigation into the efforts in Ukraine by Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. On the same day, the Intelligence Committee learned that a whistle-blower had filed a complaint nearly a month earlier related to this issue, and that the Trump administration was withholding it from Congress.

“The White House had been aware of the whistle-blower complaint for several weeks,” said Goldman.

He said Trump lifted the hold on the aid on Sept. 11 “in the face of growing public and congressional scrutiny.”

“Put simply, President Trump got caught, so he released the aid,” said Goldman.

“Since this investigation began, the president has demonstrated no contrition or acknowledgment that his demand for a foreign country to interfere in our election is wrong,” said Goldman. -- Billy House

Trump Still Squeezing Ukraine, Lawyer Says (10:55 a.m.)

Trump “has not given up” his effort to pressure Ukraine, Goldman, the attorney for Intelligence Democrats, says in his prepared testimony.

“He and his agents continue to solicit Ukrainian interference in our election, causing an imminent threat to our elections and our national security,” Goldman will say.

The president also conducted an “unprecedented effort” to obstruct Congress’s investigation of his actions, the attorney said.

“President Trump’s persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security,” Goldman said. “The president placed his personal interests above the nation’s interests to help his own re-election efforts.” -- Billy House

Removing Trump Would Be ‘Baloney,’ Lawyer Says (10:34 a.m.)

Castor, the Republican staff attorney, said it doesn’t make sense to impeach Trump over his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president.

“To impeach a president who 63 million people voted for, over eight lines in a call transcript, is baloney,” he said.

”The record in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry does not show that President Trump abused the power of Congress or obstructed Congress,” he said. “The Democrats do not have the proof.”

The impeachment effort is “an orchestrated effort to upend our political system,” Castor said. “Democrats have been searching for a set of facts with which to impeach President Trump since his inauguration.”

Democrats controlled earlier hearings during the impeachment inquiry “in a manifestly unfair way” by rejecting Republican requests for testimony and documents, Castor said. -- Billy House

Trump Is at Center of Scheme, Lawyer Says (9:54 a.m.)

Barry Berke, counsel to Democrats on the Judiciary panel, said, “President Trump did what a president of our nation is not allowed to do.”

“In the scheme to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, the person at the center of that scheme was President Donald Trump,” Berke said.

“Europe had a stake in this and so do we” because Ukraine is under attack by Russia, Berke said.

Trump’s decision “to hold aid desperately needed by Ukraine,” Berke said, was made “to help his own campaign.”

“The aid was only released after President Trump got caught doing the scheme,” Berke said. -- Billy House

Democrats Ran ‘Sham’ Inquiry, Collins Says (9:31 a.m.)

Democrats are conducting an impeachment process “that does not fit fairness or decorum,” Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said in his opening statement.

Collins repeated accusations that Democrats have been looking for a reason to impeach Trump since he was first elected. He also questioned why Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff decided not to participate in the Judiciary Committee hearing to review the report that he helped author, choosing instead to “hide behind his staff.”

The Georgia Republican also questioned the strength of evidence Democrats say proved that Trump misused his power to pressure a foreign power for his political gain.

“Presumption has now become the standard, rather than proof,” Collins said. -- Billy House

Trump Put Self Before Country, Nadler Says (9:22 a.m.)

Chairman Jerrold Nadler said, “President Trump put himself before country,” in opening the hearing that will hear evidence from the Judiciary and Intelligence panels.

He said that if members could “drop our blinders for one moment,” they could agree on a common set of facts about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine for investigations in exchange for military aid and a White House visit.

“Every fact alleged by the whistle-blower has been substantiated by multiple witnesses, again and again,“ Nadler said. “The allegations also match up with the president’s own words released by the White House, which the president still says were perfect.”

“The integrity of our next election is at stake,“ Nadler said, noting that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was in Ukraine last week meeting with officials. -- Billy House

House Judiciary Hearing Begins (9:08 a.m.)

Chairman Jerrold Nadler has gaveled in Monday’s Judiciary Committee hearing.

Himes Expects at Least Two Counts for Trump (8:01 a.m.)

Democrat Jim Himes, a member of House Intelligence Committee, expects at least two counts of impeachment against Trump, on abuse of power and contempt of Congress.

Himes, speaking on MSNBC, said Monday that “we’re probably going to have a debate” on a third count, related to the Russian election meddling report by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“My guess is that you are going to see at least two” counts, Himes said. The first will likely be abuse of power. Himes said he feels “very strongly” about the second count, likely on contempt of Congress. -- Kasia Klimasinska

Panel Lawyers to Present Ukraine Case (7 a.m.)

The committees’ lawyers are to present their findings, but the Trump administration rejected an invitation to participate in the hearing, which begins at 9 a.m. Washington time.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone called the impeachment inquiry an “abuse of power” in a letter to Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Friday. “You should end this inquiry now,“ Cipollone wrote.

Catch Up on Impeachment Coverage

Key Events

  • The Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins of Georgia, doesn’t plan to offer witnesses in the president’s defense, saying Speaker Nancy Pelosi “ended the suspense” by ordering impeachment articles to be written.
  • The House Intelligence Committee Democrats’ impeachment report is here.
  • Gordon Sondland’s transcript is here and here; Kurt Volker’s transcript is here and here. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s transcript is here and here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of State, is here. The transcript of Holmes, a Foreign Service officer in Kyiv, is here.
  • The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here and here. State Department official George Kent’s testimony is here and here. Testimony by Alexander Vindman can be found here, and the Hill transcript is here. Laura Cooper’s transcript is here; Christopher Anderson’s is here and Catherine Croft’s is here. Jennifer Williams’ transcript is here and Timothy Morrison’s is here. Philip Reeker transcript is here. Mark Sandy’s is here.

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