Dems look to tie Ukraine, Rus­sia

White House won’t take part in next impeachmen­t stage

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mas­caro and Mary Clare Jalonick

Pelosi mak­ing case that Trump’s pres­sure campaign on Ukraine was part of a trou­bling al­liance with Rus­sia.

WASHINGTON — House Democrats are bring­ing the impeachmen­t fo­cus back to Rus­sia as they draft for­mal charges against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is con­nect­ing the dots — “all roads lead to Putin,” she says — and mak­ing the argument that Trump’s pres­sure campaign on Ukraine was not an iso­lated in­ci­dent but part of a trou­bling bond with the Rus­sian pres­i­dent reach­ing back to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s find­ings on the 2016 elec­tion.

“This has been go­ing on for 21⁄2 years,” Pelosi said. “This isn’t about Ukraine. It’s about Rus­sia. Who ben­e­fited by our with­hold­ing of that mil­i­tary as­sis­tance? Rus­sia.”

The fram­ing is tak­ing on greater ur­gency and im­por­tance, both as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter and a po­lit­i­cal one, as Democrats move into writ­ing the ar­ti­cles of impeachmen­t.

It’s an at­tempt to ex­plain why Amer­i­cans should care that Trump pushed Ukraine to in­ves­ti­gate ri­val Joe Bi­den while with­hold­ing $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid that Con­gress had ap­proved for the strug­gling Eastern Euro­pean ally fight­ing a bor­der war with Rus­sia.

“Some­times peo­ple say, ‘Well I don’t know about Ukraine. I don’t know that much about Ukraine,’ ” Pelosi said Thurs­day in an­nounc­ing the de­ci­sion to draft for­mal charges. “Well, our ad­ver­sary in this is Rus­sia. All roads lead to Putin. Un­der­stand that.”

At the same time, trac­ing the arc of Trump’s be­hav­ior from the 2016 campaign to the present stitches it all to­gether. And that helps the speaker bal­ance her left­flank lib­er­als, who want more charges brought against Trump, in­clud­ing from Mueller’s re­port, and cen­trist Democrats who pre­fer to keep the argument more nar­rowly fo­cused on Ukraine.

Pelosi and her team are try­ing to con­vey a mes­sage that impeachmen­t is in­deed about Ukraine — Trump’s ask­ing-for-a-fa­vor phone call that sparked the probe — but also about a pat­tern of be­hav­ior that could stoke re­newed con­cern about his at­ti­tude to­ward Rus­sia ahead of the 2020 elec­tion.

“It shows that a leop­ard doesn’t change his spots,” said Rep. Eric Swal­well, D-Calif., a mem­ber of the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, which drafted the 300-page re­port on the Ukraine in­quiry that serves as the foun­da­tion for the impeachmen­t pro­ceed­ings.

With ar­ti­cles of impeachmen­t coming in a mat­ter of days and votes in the House ex­pected by Christ­mas, Trump’s team is hard­en­ing its argument that the pres­i­dent did noth­ing wrong. They say vot­ers will stick with him at the Democrats’ ex­pense next Novem­ber.

Late Fri­day, White House Coun­sel Pat Cipol­lone in­formed the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee that the ad­min­is­tra­tion would not be par­tic­i­pat­ing in up­com­ing hear­ings, de­cry­ing the pro­ceed­ings as “com­pletely base­less.“

Trump’s campaign also an­nounced new ral­lies tak­ing the case di­rectly to vot­ers — as well as a new email fundrais­ing pitch that claims the Democrats have

“gone ab­so­lutely in­sane.”

“The Democrats have NO impeachmen­t case and are de­mean­ing our great Coun­try at YOUR ex­pense,” Trump wrote in the email to sup­port­ers. “It’s US against THEM.”

Demo­cratic law­mak­ers and aides are work­ing be­hind closed doors over the week­end as the ar­ti­cles are be­ing drafted and Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee mem­bers are pre­par­ing for hear­ings and votes ex­pected next week.

The ar­ti­cles are likely to en­com­pass two ma­jor themes — abuse of of­fice and ob­struc­tion — as the drafters strive to reach the Constituti­on’s bar of “trea­son, bribery or other high crimes and mis­de­meanors.” But they could be di­vided up into mul­ti­ple ar­ti­cles.

Democrats ar­gue that Trump abused his of­fice when he asked Ukraine

Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy for a “fa­vor” dur­ing a July 25 phone call con­grat­u­lat­ing the newly elected comedian-turned­pres­i­dent. Trump wanted Ukraine to an­nounce it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing Democrats in­clud­ing Bi­den, ac­cord­ing to a rough tran­script re­leased un­der pres­sure by the White House.

They might also in­clude a charge of “bribery,” based on Trump’s de­ci­sion to with­hold the mil­i­tary aid and stall on grant­ing Ze­len­skiy a cov­eted White House visit the new pres­i­dent was seek­ing as a show of sup­port from the U.S., its most im­por­tant ally.

The money was re­leased once Con­gress be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing in Septem­ber. The meet­ing never hap­pened.

Ob­struc­tion ar­ti­cles could in­clude ob­struc­tion of Con­gress, as the White

House or­dered of­fi­cials not to com­ply with House sub­poe­nas for testimony or doc­u­ments in the in­quiry. They could also in­clude ob­struc­tion of jus­tice, based on Mueller’s re­port on the orig­i­nal Trump-Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Democrats ex­pect there will be two to four ar­ti­cles of impeachmen­t against the pres­i­dent. Merg­ing the Mueller find­ings into the over­all charges by mak­ing the di­rect link to Ukraine might be one way to reach all sides.

Said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a mem­ber of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, “You know we have to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity that the Ukraine episode is not some kind of aber­ra­tional out­burst but rather re­flec­tive of a con­tin­u­ing course of mis­con­duct.”

MAN­DEL NGAN/GETTY-AFP

Democrats ar­gue that Pres­i­dent Trump abused his of­fice when he asked Ukraine Pres­i­dent Ze­len­skiy for a “fa­vor.”

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