By Patricia Zengerle and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump solicited foreign interference to boost his chances of re-election next year, undermined national security and ordered an “unprecedented” campaign to obstruct Congress, Democrats said in a report on Tuesday that will form the basis of any formal impeachment charges against Trump.
In a 300-page report that alleged sweeping abuse of power, the Democratic-led House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said Trump used U.S. military aid and the prospect of a White House visit to pressure his Ukrainian counterpart to undertake probes that would benefit Trump politically.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
The Republican president “placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security,” the report said.
Democrats, who began the formal impeachment inquiry in September, also accused Trump of an “unprecedented” effort to obstruct the investigation, including refusing to provide documents and testimony from his top advisers, unsuccessful attempts to block career government officials from testifying and intimidation of witnesses.
“The evidence of the President’s misconduct is overwhelming, and so too is the evidence of his obstruction of Congress,” it said, adding that the wrongdoing was “not an isolated occurrence.”
In a news conference following the release of the report, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff described Trump as a “president who believes that he is beyond indictment, beyond impeachment, beyond any form of accountability and indeed above the law.”
Trump, who is in London for a NATO summit, accused Democrats of using the impeachment process to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential election. Opinion polls show Americans are bitterly divided over whether to impeach Trump.
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said House Democrats had conducted a “one-sided sham process” that had failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by Trump.
“This report reflects nothing more than their frustrations. Chairman Schiff’s report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing,” Grisham said in a statement.
The heart of the impeachment probe is whether Trump misused the power of his office to compel Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 election.
Lawmakers and the public have heard testimony from current and former officials that military aid was withheld from Ukraine and that a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was conditioned on Kiev conducting the probe, as well as one into a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT) to vote on its findings.
The matter will then go to the House Judiciary Committee, which will open its proceedings on Wednesday.
If the full House eventually votes to approve formal impeachment charges, a trial would be held in the Republican-led U.S. Senate, where a two-thirds majority of those present would be required to convict Trump and remove him from office.
Much of the report drew on the public testimony of current and former government officials, who have described in televised hearings a months-long effort to pressure Ukraine to carry out the investigations sought by Trump.
But it also suggested that wrongdoing within the executive branch extended beyond Trump.
The report said many of Trump’s “closest subordinates and advisors,” including White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, had knowledge of, and in some cases facilitated and furthered Trump’s efforts and withheld information.
It also cited dozens of previously unreported phone records that laid out a pattern of contact between Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani’s associates, the House Intelligence Committee’s top Republican, Devin Nunes, and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.
The phone records were obtained from AT&T <T.N>, the report says.
An AT&T spokesman acknowledged that the telecoms giant complied with a request.
“Like all companies, we are required by law to provide information to government and law enforcement agencies,” the spokesman said in a statement. “In all cases, we ensure that requests for assistance are valid and that we act in compliance with the law.”
Schiff, in his news conference, said the phone records showed there was considerable coordination among the parties, including the White House, and there might be evidence that members of Congress were complicit in illegal activity.
House Democrats appear to be contemplating at least two possible articles of impeachment tied to the Ukraine scandal: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Republicans, in an advance rebuttal report released on Monday, said Democrats had not established that Trump had committed an impeachable offence.
The president and other administration officials have criticized the timing of this week’s impeachment proceedings as Trump attends the summit overseas, although Democratic then-President Bill Clinton also faced impeachment during a 1998 trip to Israel.
In London, Trump complained Democrats had conducted unfair “witch hunt” hearings in which witnesses who his administration wanted to testify were not called. Senior administration officials have declined to testify in the proceedings.
“We want Biden. We want the son — where’s Hunter? We want the son,” Trump said during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trump and other Republicans have suggested that Biden and his son, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company for several years, should be investigated for corruption. There is no evidence that either of the Bidens engaged in wrongdoing.
Trump also repeated his defence that his calls with Zelenskiy, including one on July 25 in which he pushed for the probe of the Bidens, were “perfect” and that the impeachment inquiry was “a hoax.”
(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle, Jonathan Landay, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Mark Hosenball and Heather Timmons in Washington; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in London; Writing by Paul Simao and Ginger Gibson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)