All Eyes on Rob Portman as U.S. Senate Prepares to Vote on Witnesses

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9 mins read

In case you missed it… As the U.S. Senate prepares to vote on whether or not to hear from witnesses during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman is drawing heat for his uniquely problematic role as both a witness and participant in the events that culminated in Trump’s impeachment, while now trying to serve as an “impartial” juror.

NBC’s Heidi Przybyla notes, “Portman has been credited by the president himself with convincing him to release a hold on the nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine that is at the center of the House’s impeachment case and was involved in promoting a disputed narrative around the president’s motives.”

This weekend Darrel Rowland of the Columbus Dispatch noted, “Portman’s personal involvement in the Ukraine aid situation leads some to ask whether he should be a witness rather than juror.”

In the Cincinnati Enquirer, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper writes of Portman’s “blatant conflict of interest” in serving as a juror in Trump’s impeachment trial:

If Portman was duped into being a participant in the White House’s effort to cover its tracks, that’s important to know, and he should say so. You’d imagine he’d want to assure Americans he did not knowingly mislead them. This would also mean that he is at the very least a witness to the impeachable course of action, including an attempt to cover it up with a bogus narrative involving a sitting senator. …

If Portman wasn’t duped, but knowingly advanced the cover story – in coordination with that president, Pence and Mulvaney, via multiple and well-timed interviews – he has even more questions to answer. And here the conflict of interest is even more egregious, because Portman would have his own reputation to protect by squelching a robust impeachment trial.

Either scenario meets the textbook definition of having an interest in the case, and every vote he takes represents a blatant conflict of interest.

Throughout the impeachment trial, Portman has continued to duck interview requests.

KEY HIGHLIGHTS FROM NBC:

  • Unlike his colleagues, Portman has been credited by the president himself with convincing him to release a hold on the nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine that is at the center of the House’s impeachment case and was involved in promoting a disputed narrative around the president’s motives.
  • In the initial days after Congress began investigating Trump, Portman helped validate a justification for the delay that has not been born out by the evidence, even as the Trump legal team has mounted an 11th-hour effort to resurrect it.
  • Trump’s lawyers have laid out a strategy to defend the president’s actions in part by suggesting he blocked the aid because European nations have failed to provide adequate financial assistance toward Ukraine’s security. That argument has largely been debunked — numerous fact checkers have noted that Europe has provided two-thirds of the aid since Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
  • But it’s an argument Portman echoed in television appearances last fall and it’s one that contradicts the main rationale Trump has offered since then: that the freeze was due to “corruption” concerns in Ukraine.
  • Portman was among the last known people outside of the White House to speak with Trump before the aid was released in September, according to a White House brief, and he’s spoken little publicly about his role since last fall. A day after it was unfrozen, Portman thanked the president and said he agreed with Trump’s assessment that other nations need to step up their assistance.
  • And the president singled out the Ohio senator as one of primary movers behind getting the aid released. “I gave the money because Rob Portman and others called me and asked,” Trump told reporters in early October.
  • As part of the Senate trial, Portman has already voted against releasing correspondence from the Office of Management and Budget that could contradict the argument around Europe’s contributions. And his participation in the disputed narrative is increasingly relevant as he faces a vote on whether to call witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton, who could establish whether Trump was telling Portman the truth about his motives.
  • Portman was among just seven senators expressing opposition to impeachment before any witnesses had testified in the House. That’s in contrast to other Republicans representing swing states who had yet to weigh in.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the original whistleblower report that kickstarted the House investigation, Portman said the issue of corruption never came up in the conversation that allegedly led to the release of the aid.
  • Portman was part of a small group who spoke with Trump the evening of Sept. 11, just before the aid was released, according to a White House impeachment brief. An experienced foreign policy hand, former White House budget director and chairman of the bipartisan Ukraine Caucus in the Senate, Portman would go on to press the argument about a lack of European contributions as Trump offered that as justification after news of the whistleblower report became public.
  • At the White House in October, Trump repeated the claim about Europe’s contribution, invoking Portman. “We were the sucker country for years and years,” Trump said. “But I gave the money because Rob Portman and others called me and asked. But I don’t like to be the sucker and European countries are helped far more than we are, and those countries should pay more to help Ukraine.”
  • Yet David Holmes, a U.S. embassy official in Ukraine, testified in November that Trump’s assertion was wrong and communicated that to the White House at the end of August. Since 2014, the U.S. has provided a combined $3 billion while the Europeans have provided $12 billion. “That information showed a different story,” he testified.
  • Portman, through his spokesperson, declined an interview request from NBC News. But a senior Portman aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, acknowledged that his specific claim that Europe has fallen short in its financial obligations to Ukraine is incorrect and that his staff later reminded the senator of this.
  • Portman, in many ways, should be an ideal character and fact witness for Trump.

READ MORE:

NBC News: Portman’s role in disputed Ukraine narrative sets him apart from other senators

Columbus Dispatch: Capitol Insider | Ohio’s GOP Sen. Rob Portman faces challenges in Trump impeachment trial

Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: Rob Portman knee-deep in Ukraine incident


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