Ratcliffe’s Radical Positions During the Impeachment Proceedings

Many commentaries on Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tx), who the president has nominated to lead the intelligence community, focus on what was already known about the Texas congressman when his earlier nomination for the position fell through in August of last year. But it is Ratcliffe’s job performance since then that also deserves scrutiny. This past February, President Donald Trump nominated the Texas representative after praising Ratcliffe’s performance in the impeachment proceedings.

There were many paths open to congressional Republicans in how they addressed the impeachment process. Very few chose Ratcliffe’s approach. Most significantly, Ratcliffe grossly misrepresented facts to the public, including when the information at the time was confidential and could not be independently assessed. He defended the most serious allegations against the president by treating as acceptable what most would consider clear abuses of Executive Branch power.

Below, we’ve organized the statements he made during the impeachment process into two categories:

  • Objectively false statements and disinformation about the impeachment evidentiary record
  • Disregard for potential abuses of executive power

FALSE STATEMENTS AND DISINFORMATION ABOUT THE EVIDENTIARY RECORD

 1. Fox News-Guest Speaker on Bill Taylor’s Testimony Linking U.S. Military Aid and the Political Investigation, 10/23/2019 (video)

“At the end of the day, this was about quid pro quo and whether or not the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld and on that most important issue. Neither this witness or any other witness has provided any evidence that there was a quid pro quo…

2. Fox News-Guest Speaker on Bill Taylor’s Testimony Linking U.S. Military Aid and the Political Investigation, 10/23/2019 (video)

The mainstream media reporting that he [Ambassador Taylor] provided evidence of a quid pro quo involving military aid is false — I questioned him directly on that . . . I can’t tell you what he said . . . but I can tell you what he didn’t say — neither he [Ambassador Taylor] nor any other witness has provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld.

Note: This statement is false. As one example, Ambassador Taylor had testified that Ambassador Sondland had a conversation with Andriy Yermak, a senior Ukrainian official, during which “Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelenskyy committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.

3. Donald Trump Tweets a Video of Ratcliffe Fox News Interview, 11/17/2019 (tweet + video)

They don’t want the whistleblower to come in because it has now been discovered that Chairman Schiff’s office coordinated for that person to become the whistleblower. The other thing that Chairman Schiff hasn’t done . . . he hasn’t released the Inspector General’s transcript, the first transcript of the first witness because it will tell you what the Inspector General knew and didn’t know about the relationship between Chairman Schiff and the whistleblower based on what Chairman Schiff and the whistleblower did or didn’t reveal to the Inspector General.”

Note: Fact Checkers explain that Rep. Schiff did not help write or coordinate the whistleblower’s complaint.

4. Questions to Williams and Vindman in House Judiciary Committee, 11/19/2019 (video)

“I’ve wordsearched each of your transcripts. And the word bribery or bribe doesn’t appear anywhere in that. … No witness has used the word ‘bribery’ to describe President Trump’s conduct. None of them.”

Note: This is highly misleading or otherwise false. Rep. Ratcliffe statements are contradicted by a fact check on PolitiFact, explaining that the witnesses referenced were fact witnesses who “were asked to detail what they saw and heard, in order to nail down the facts of what happened.” The witnesses’ statements were intended to show that a quid pro quo occurred, which is a key element of bribery. As Rep. Schiff explained to the witnesses: “You’re fact witnesses. It will be our job to decide whether the impeachable act of bribery has occurred. That’s why we don’t ask you those questions. For one thing, you’re also not aware of all the other facts that have been adduced during the investigation.”

5. Tweet, 11/20/2019 (tweet)

“Sondland admits Trump told him “I want no quid pro quo.” Also admits his opinion that there was quid pro quo is based on a “presumption” – and is directly contradicted by Volker and Morrison. Reasonable people having different conclusions isn’t compelling evidence to impeach.”

Note: This is a closer call, but Volker and Morrison’s testimony supported Sondland’s account on this point. Morrison’s testimony also supported Taylor’s account which too was consistent with Sondland’s testimony on this issue. Volker also said he realized, “in hindsight,” that the demands for an investigation into Burisma meant Biden.

6. Interview with Rep. David Crenshaw, 12/7/2019 (video)

“None of the witnesses use the term bribery, extortion or quid pro quo to describe the President’s conduct.”

Note: This is false. Multiple witnesses referenced or used the term “quid pro quo” when testifying, including Ambassador Taylor (see exchanges with Daniel Goldman) and Ambassador Sondland. Sondland had, for example, testified, “I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.” He also said, “I shared concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid with Senator Ron Johnson.”

7 and 8.

Fox News Interview on the Inspector General Report, 12/9/2019 (video)

“The whistleblower did not make truthful disclosures to the inspector general.”

Remarks during House Judiciary Committee hearing, 12/12/2019 (video):

“The whistleblower made false statements. … the whistleblower who I told you the other day didn’t tell the truth, verbally and in writing, and that’s in a transcript.”

Note: The Inspector General found the whistleblower complaint credible and the complaint was subsequently highly corroborated. See also the Washington Post’s fact check, “Trump’s very inaccurate claim that the whistleblower is ‘very inaccurate.’”

9. Fox News Interview, 12/15/2019 (link)

“[T]he Democrats have made the mistake of staking the credibility of all this on Adam Schiff. The person that they put in charge of this investigation, turns out, is the one that helped start it by meeting with a person who walked out of Adam Schiff’s office and became the whistleblower.”

Note: Rep. Schiff’s staff had communicated with the whistleblower but it is false that Rep. Schiff met the whistleblower.

10. Rep. Ratcliffe Statement on Vote Against Trump Impeachment, 12/18/2019 (press release)

“This is the thinnest, fastest and weakest impeachment our country has ever seen – rooted in a congratulatory phone call where there are no crimes alleged, where there is no victim, and where Democrats themselves could never decide what to even accuse the president of doing wrong.”

Note: The House Judiciary Committee’s final report alleged several crimes, including bribery.

DISREGARD FOR POTENTIAL ABUSE OF EXECUTIVE POWER

1. Rep. Ratcliffe Statement on Democrats’ Impeachment Inquiry, 10/9/2019 (press release)

“I support the administration’s refusal to tolerate or participate in an investigation that follows no precedent and no due process in a complete violation of the Constitution. If the Democrats had any legitimate basis for impeachment other than their political bias against President Trump, they’d have no problem playing by the rules through an investigation that implements transparency and accountability..”

Note: For a contrasting view, read Gregg T. Nunziata, “The Need for a Bipartisan Stand Against the White House Counsel Letter.”

2. Interview with Rep. David Crenshaw, 12/7/2019 (video)

“The Hunter Biden contract is corrupt on its face. … It is entirely appropriate for the President of the United States to ask for assistance in connection with that investigation before he releases hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid.”

3. Comments in House Judiciary Committee,12/12/2019 (video)

“Is it ever okay to invite a foreign government to become involved in an election involving a political opponent? The answer is yes! It better be. We do it all the time. … He is the chief executive.”

4. Comments in House Judiciary Committee,12/12/2019 (video)

“There was an ongoing criminal investigation into what happened in 2016. The Attorney General Barr, at the time of the July 25th call [with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky] had, long before that appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate exactly that issue. It wasn’t just appropriate, it was absolutely the president’s constitutional duty.”

5. CSPAN Interview, 1/28/2020 (video)

“Alan Dershowitz made it clear: even if you assume everything supposedly in the Bolton book manuscript is true, ‘abuse of power’ and ‘obstruction of Congress’ both fail as legal, constitutional arguments. They’re not impeachable offenses.”

Note: Dershowitz’s presentation was widely criticized as justifying authoritarian abuse of power that he himself had to walk back what he had said.

 

Photo credit: Rep. Jim Jordan, (R-OH) speaks to Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) during break during a House Judiciary Committee hearing questioning staff lawyer Stephen Castor, representing the minority Republicans, and staff lawyer Daniel Goldman, representing the majority Democrats, December 9, 2019 (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

 

About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). Follow him on Twitter (@rgoodlaw).

Danielle Schulkin

Fellow at Just Security. JD, New York University School of Law. Prior to entering law school, she worked at the United States Department of Justice on the 2008 Financial Crisis Task Force and at the Geneva Initiative, an Israeli-Palestinian peace process think tank. Follow her on Twitter (@DaniSchulkin).