U.S. Republicans say inquiry has not established 'impeachable offense'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans said on Monday that weeks of closed-door impeachment testimony have not established that U.S. President Donald Trump pressed Ukraine to investigate his political rivals for his own benefit or that he has committed an impeachable offense.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a Veterans Day Parade and Wreath Laying ceremony in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

As the Democratic-led investigation heads into a critical new public phase this week, Republican staff of the House of Representatives Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees released an 18-page memo to update party lawmakers on evidence gathered to date.

“The body of evidence to date does not support the Democrat allegation that President Trump pressured Ukraine to conduct investigations into the president’s political rivals for his political benefit in the 2020 election,” said the memo, which was reviewed by Reuters.

“The evidence gathered does not establish an impeachable offense,” it added.

Democrats are trying to determine whether Trump abused his office for political gain by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, now a 2020 Democratic president candidate, and his businessman son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

The inquiry has heard testimony from officials who were concerned that Trump and his administration sought to tie nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine to the investigations, which could benefit his 2020 re-election bid.

Trump denies wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a witch hunt by Democrats.

The new memo provides talking points for Republican lawmakers, including those on the House Intelligence Committee, who are expected to mount a defense of Trump at public hearings set to begin Wednesday.

According to the document, Trump “holds a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption.” It cites media reports of Ukrainian officials backing Trump’s former Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“Seen in this light, any reluctance on the president’s part to meet with President Zelenskiy or to provide taxpayer-funded assistance to Ukraine is entirely reasonable,” the memo said.

The contents of Trump’s call with Zelenskiy were revealed in a whistleblower complaint by an anonymous intelligence official. The whistleblower’s account has largely been confirmed by testimony and other evidence.

Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Richard Pullin