Amid a formal impeachment inquiry spurred by a whistleblower complaint filed by an anonymous U.S. intelligence official, Indiana Sen. Mike Braun and Indiana Rep. for District 4 James Baird have denounced the proceedings as a political attack.
Braun said via email that on Sept. 9, the House Intelligence Committee was notified of the whistleblower complaint filed in August.
“The complaint alleged President (Donald) Trump had improperly used the office of President to solicit cooperation from the Ukrainian president to investigate allegations of meddling in the 2016 election by Ukrainian officials and corrupt behavior from previous U.S. officials in Ukraine,” Braun said, making clear that the report relied on second hand information.
On Aug. 12, 2019, an anonymous U.S. official filed a whistleblower complaint to North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and California Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
On Sept. 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump based on the contents of the report and a controversial July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Braun said he took issue with the announcement of the inquiry occurring before the public release of the whistleblower report and the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. As of Sept. 30, the senator had read both documents and said, “I believe that Speaker Pelosi’s call for an impeachment inquiry can only be characterized as a politicized attack on the Trump Administration.”
He and fellow Republicans, including Baird, have almost unanimously characterized the inquiry as politically motivated and disapproved of its drawing attention away from issues they deem more important, such as healthcare reform, infrastructure and economic growth.
“Career politicians, distressed by President Trump’s election in 2016, have sought from the day after the election to undermine his ability to affect change,” Braun said. “Instead of working on issues that the American people care about, the Democrats have instead decided to continue harassing the Trump Administration with flimsy and unsubstantiated claims.”
In a statement made to The Indianapolis Star newspaper, Baird echoed Braun’s sentiments, saying that while Republicans are, “helping improve the lives of Americans, Democrats are playing politics and avoiding issues of substance.”
Over a week later, following the release of more information about the Trump Administration’s interactions with Ukrainian officials and a second whistleblower coming forward, Baird said in an official statement, “I do not agree that President Donald Trump’s actions constitute ‘treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.’”
Sen. Todd Young did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The opening statement of the whistleblower report reads, “In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
The report then details a July 25 phone conversation between President Trump and Zelensky where the two primarily discussed foreign aid provided to Ukraine by the United States, with Trump criticizing European countries for a perceived lack of assistance to the nation. In the latter half of the call, the report claims that Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to initiate an investigation into former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
A rough transcript of the conversation has since been released by the White House, containing lines from Trump like, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with (Attorney General William Barr) would be great.”
The President also asked Zelensky to look into an unsubstantiated theory that the American cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, who originally discovered and dispelled Russian hackers who infiltrated the Democratic National Committee’s servers during the 2016 election, hid Hillary Clinton’s emails in a Ukraine server.
The rough transcript of the phone call is largely consistent with the events reported by the whistleblower. Professor of political science Logan Strother explained how the allegations brought forth in the report influenced Pelosi to reverse her previous opposition to an impeachment inquiry.
“The whistleblower report contains explosive allegations, and the public is seeing it unfold in real time, whereas the special counsel investigation into Russian interference was more of a slow burn," Strother said. "The gravity and immediacy of the new allegations changed the political calculus for House Democrats.”
Strother was unsurprised by the responses given by Braun and Baird, saying, “Members of the president’s party usually circle the wagons in the face of any sort of allegation of scandal.”
He also said that strong opposition in the early stages of the inquiry may weaken as more evidence corroborating the activities alleged in the whistleblower complaint surfaces.
“Initially, Republicans defended Nixon in the face of the Watergate scandal — but that support eroded as more information about Nixon’s wrongdoing came to light. The same may happen here; time will tell,” Strother said.
The professor contrasted this impeachment with past initiations of the process, noting that this is the first time the two houses of Congress have been controlled by different political parties. The Democrats hold a majority in the House, the body constitutionally empowered to bring impeachment charges, while the Republicans hold a majority in the Senate, the chamber possessing the sole capacity to try and convict impeached officials with a two-thirds majority vote among its 100 members. He said because of this division of power, the politics of the process will play a significantly enhanced role.
Strother said the speed of the proceedings will depend on how quickly information can be uncovered and how substantive it is found to be. Reporting from the New York Times shows that 226 members of the House support impeachment as of Wednesday, enough to make a majority. Pelosi has indicated that she would like to hold a vote before the conclusion of the year.