Despite mounting evidence, one prominent hole remains in case against Trump

Despite mounting evidence, one prominent hole remains in case against Trump

After two weeks of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, there is a mountain of evidence that some analysts claim is now beyond dispute.

Mr Trump explicitly ordered US government officials to work with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on matters related to Ukraine, a country deeply dependent on Washington’s help to fend off Russian aggression.

And both American and Ukrainian officials feared Mr Trump froze a much-needed package of military aid until Kiev announced it was launching those probes.

Former national security aide Fiona Hill said anyone with information ‘that Congress deems relevant has a legal and moral obligation to provide it’ (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Former national security aide Fiona Hill said anyone with information ‘that Congress deems relevant has a legal and moral obligation to provide it’ (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Those facts were confirmed by a dozen witnesses, mostly career government officials who have 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 Mr Trump before the end of the year, potentially pushing towards a trial in the Senate.

Yet the witness accounts left one prominent hole that offered a lifeline for Mr Trump and his Republican allies.

None of the witnesses could personally attest that Mr Trump directly conditioned the release of $400m 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 would not be enough for them to support impeaching Mr Trump and removing him from office. And without that link, the president’s wall of support among GOP politicians seems formidable.

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 Mr Trump should be impeached for his dealings with Ukraine and removed from office.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has filed legal action to determine if he must give evidence to Congress (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has filed legal action to determine if he must give evidence to Congress (Patrick Semansky/AP)

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 Mr Trump’s actions.

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 Mr Trump in the West Wing and whose names popped up repeatedly in the testimony 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”.

Yet it appears unlikely that Mr Bolton and Mr Mulvaney will tell their stories to Congress. Citing executive privilege, both men have filed court cases to determine if they must appear.

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 is not just about Mr Trump’s future – it is 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, Ms Hill said simply: “It’s a very bad precedent.”

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