WASHINGTON—Political corruption is so deeply embedded in all sectors of Ukraine’s government that witnesses called by Democrats in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) impeachment inquiry agreed that President Donald Trump was right to worry that U.S. aid would be wasted.
That’s according to a highly detailed, 18-page memorandum to HPSCI Republicans from their committee staff released late Nov. 11. The committee’s minority staff argued that the testimony provided behind closed doors in the past 49 days was “all unclassified, so the closed-door process is purely for information control.
“This arrangement has allowed [HPSCI Chairman Rep. Adam] Schiff—who has already publicly fabricated evidence and mislead Americans about his interactions with the anonymous whistleblower—to selectively leak cherry-picked information to help paint misleading public narratives, while at the same time, placing a gag order on the Republican members present.”
Schiff’s (D-Calif.) misleading narrative, according to the memorandum, claims Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky in a July 25 telephone call to “investigate his political rivals for his political benefit in the 2020 election.” The evidence presented thus far, however, doesn’t support that allegation nor allegations that Trump covered up misconduct or obstructed justice, the memorandum stated.
To the contrary, the memorandum points to multiple examples of Democratic witnesses testifying about the accuracy and prudence of Trump’s views on Ukraine, most notably by Ambassador Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations.
“President Trump demonstrated that he had a very deeply rooted negative view of Ukraine, based on past corruption. And that is a reasonable position. Most people who would know anything about Ukraine would think that,” Volker told the HPSCI.
Volker also told the committee, according to the memorandum, that “Ukraine has a long history of pervasive corruption throughout the economy, throughout the country, and it has been incredibly difficult for Ukraine as a country to deal with it, to investigate it, to prosecute it.”
Numerous other witnesses subpoenaed by the committee’s Democrats, led by Schiff, told the panel the same thing about the pervasive nature of Ukrainian corruption and that Trump was correct in his wariness about it.
George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, for example, told the committee in his closed-door testimony that Ukraine’s corruption problem is “serious” and has long been “part of the high-level dialogue” between the United States and Ukraine.
So, too, did former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovich, telling the committee that “corruption is frankly not just pervasive, it is the system.” And Ambassador William Tayler, the current U.S. charge d’affaires in the Ukraine, described corruption as “a big issue” there.
Former White House National Security Council Senior Director Fiona Hill told the committee that Trump “has actually quite publicly said that he was very skeptical about corruption in Ukraine. And, in fact, he’s not alone, because everyone has expressed concerns about corruption in Ukraine.”
Catherine Croft, Volker’s deputy at the Department of State, testified, according to the memorandum, that Trump “described his concerns being that Ukraine was corrupt, that it was capable of being a very rich country, and that the United States shouldn’t pay for it, but instead, we should be providing aid through loans.”
The unanimity among the Democratic witnesses, rather than illustrating political venality on Trump’s part, demonstrates that “any reluctance on the President’s part to meet with President Zelensky, or to provide taxpayer-funded assistance to Ukraine, is entirely reasonable,” according to the memorandum.
The memorandum also notes that Democrats on the committee, as well as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), have seized on Trump’s request during the July 25 telephone conversation that Ukraine “do us a favor” as proof that the president sought to pressure Zelensky into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
“Democrats omit, however, the remainder of his sentence,” the memorandum said. “The full sentence shows that President Trump was not asking President Zelensky to investigate his political rivals, but rather asking him to assist in “[getting] to the bottom” of foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
“In fact, the Democrats’ witnesses testified that it would be appropriate for Ukraine to investigate allegations of corruption, including allegations about 2016 election interference,” the memorandum continued.
“Ambassador Volker testified that he ‘always thought [it] was fine’ for Ukraine to investigate allegations about 2016 election interference. Dr. [Fiona] Hill similarly testified that it is ‘not actually completely ridiculous’ for President Zelensky’s administration to investigate allegations of corruption arising from previous administrations.”
The memorandum further noted that the committee was given testimony suggesting that concern about Hunter Biden’s ties to the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma began during the Obama administration.
Kent told the committee he raised the issue with the vice president’s office in 2015, saying Biden’s board position “could create the perception of a conflict of interest.” Yovanovitch said she was prepared to answer questions about Biden’s position during her 2016 Senate confirmation hearing.
“The evidence gathered does not establish an impeachable offense,” the memorandum concluded.
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