WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Judiciary Committee received a detailed summing up of the impeachment case against President Donald Trump Monday as Democrats prepare formal charges against him. Trump and his allies lobbed fresh assaults on the proceedings they dismiss as a hoax and a sham.
Democratic lawyers outlined the findings so far, saying Trump’s push to have Ukraine investigate rival Joe Biden while at the same time withholding U.S. military aid ran counter to U.S. policy and benefited Russia as well as himself. Republicans then offered their rebuttal, saying the evidence does not support the allegations and instead is “riddled with hearsay, presumptions and speculation.”
A committee vote is coming, possibly as soon as this week, on two or more articles of impeachment on charges of abuse of power, bribery and obstruction against the Republican president.
Trump quickly began tweeting anew against the “Witch Hunt!” and deriding “Do Nothing Democrats.”
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler was blunt as he opened the hearing, saying, “President Trump put himself before country.”
The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Doug Collins said Democrats are racing to jam impeachment through on a “clock and a calendar” ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
“They can’t get over the fact that Donald Trump is the president of the United States and they don’t have a candidate that can beat him,” Collins said.
The hearing sets off a pivotal week as Democrats march toward a full House vote expected by Christmas. In drafting the articles of impeachment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing a legal and political challenge of balancing the views of her majority while hitting the Constitution’s bar of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Nadler said the case against Trump is clear after “multiple officials testified that the president’s demand for an investigation into his rivals was a part of his personal, political agenda, and not related to the foreign policy objectives of the United States.
“The integrity of our next election is at stake.”
The Republicans tried numerous times to halt or slow the proceedings, formally objecting several times that the committee’s Democratic counsel was impugning Trump as he spelled out potential charges. Nadler responded that negative comments about Trump might well be expected in listing reasons to impeach him. The Republicans demanded roll call votes several times, including on “taking down” the negative comments, all defeated on party-line votes.
Republicans also were demanding to hear from Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, whose 300-page report provides the foundation for articles of impeachment. Schiff declined to appear, sending the panel’s chief counsel to argue the case.
The hearing was briefly interrupted by a protester shouting “We voted for Donald Trump!” and decrying Democrats as the ones committing “treason.” The protester was escorted from the House hearing room by Capitol Police.
Trump spent the morning tweeting against the proceedings. He and his allies acknowledge he likely will be impeached in the Democratic-controlled House, but they also expect acquittal next year in the Senate, where Republicans have the majority. Trump’s team is turning attention elsewhere, including Monday’s release of a long-awaited Justice Department report into the 2016 Russia investigation.
“Impeachment Hearing Hoax,” Trump tweeted Sunday.
The White House is refusing to participate in the process, and Rep. Collins asked to postpone the hearing, criticizing Democrats for moving too swiftly. One legal scholar testified last week it would be the quickest impeachment in modern history.
Trump, meanwhile, is heading out for campaign rallies shifting attention away from the House. Over the weekend, he was focused on a related matter, the Justice Department inspector general’s findings on the FBI’s decisions to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. The president has long called special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe a “witch hunt,” but the inspector general’s report is expected to reject the claim that it was illegitimate, according to people familiar with its findings.
Trump tweeted Sunday, “I.G. report out tomorrow. That will be the big story!”
Democrats say Trump abused his power in a July 25 phone call when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for a favor in investigating Democrats. That was bribery, they say, since Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine depended on to counter Russian aggression.
Trump said over the weekend that his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani wants to take the information gathered from Giuliani’s investigations and a recent trip to Ukraine to the U.S. attorney general and to Congress.
Trump and his aides have made clear that they now see his impeachment in the House as inevitable and have shifted their focus. A vote to convict requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, where Republicans hold 53 of 100 seats. It is unlikely that Republican senators would cross party lines and vote to remove Trump from office.
As Democrats draft the articles, Pelosi’s challenge will be to go broad enough to appease her liberal flank, which prefers a more robust accounting of Trump’s actions reaching back to Mueller’s findings. At the same time, centrist lawmakers prefer charges more tailored to Ukraine. Democratic leaders were to meet Monday evening.
Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said over the weekend lawmakers should approach the charges like a prosecutor putting their best evidence forward. “I think we should focus on those issues that provide the greatest threat to the country. And the president is engaged in a course of conduct that threatens the integrity of the next election, threatens our national security.”
Nadler, in television interviews, declined to say ultimately how many articles of impeachment Democrats will present but said they will involve “certainly abuse of power” and likely “obstruction of Congress.”
He pointed to a “pattern” of conduct by Trump in seeking foreign interference in elections but would not commit to including the evidence of obstruction of justice in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation as part of the articles of impeachment.
In his report, Mueller said he could not determine that Trump’s campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election. But Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump of obstructing justice in the probe and left it for Congress to determine.