WASHINGTON — House Democrats pushed ahead Friday with a rapidly unfurling impeachment inquiry into President Trump, planning subpoenas and plotting out a witness list for a proceeding that could yield its first hearing as early as next week.
“Everything is real time,” Representative Mike Quigley, Democrat of Illinois and a member of the Intelligence Committee. “You don’t sit back and contemplate the future when you are in the middle of it.”
With Congress now in a two-week recess and lawmakers headed back home to their districts, Democrats were working on two tracks, meticulously outlining a rapid-fire set of investigative steps while they honed their messaging for what promises to be a divisive and politically charged process.
House Democratic leaders instructed their rank-and-file on Friday to keep it simple when talking to voters, emphasizing that Mr. Trump had “engaged in serious wrongdoing” and had “abused the office of the president.” Investigators for Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, were assembling a plan of inquiry and sequence of witnesses the committee should call or subpoena for testimony.
Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and head of the party’s messaging arm, circulated talking points for his colleagues, aimed especially at helping moderates — many of whom were against an impeachment inquiry only a week ago, but have now voiced their support — explain this past week’s dizzying turn of events to their constituents.
Headlined “No One Is Above The Law,” the talking points laid out three central messages for Democrats: that the president “engaged in serious wrongdoing, betrayed his oath of office and undermined national security,” that he “pressured a foreign government to target a political opponent to help in his re-election and tried to cover it up” and that they would follow the facts.
“We want to keep this simple,” said Mr. Cicilline, clutching the talking point cards in his hand. “This is not complicated. This is misconduct that the president has admitted to.”
Already, some Democrats were veering off that somber message, stoking progressive outrage about Mr. Trump’s conduct to call for his immediate removal. The re-election campaign of Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan began selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Impeach the MF,” using a two-letter abbreviation for an expletive the first-term congresswoman used for the president when she uttered that phrase in a speech to activists in January.
The inquiry centers on Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure the president of Ukraine to launch a corruption investigation into Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., part of a whistle-blower’s complaint that charged the president with using his office to enlist foreign help to boost his own re-election in 2020. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants it done expeditiously, and Mr. Schiff’s committee is expected to march forward with the investigation in the coming days.
Mr. Trump, increasingly enraged by the airing of the allegations against him and Democrats’ move to consider impeaching him as a result, tried to defend himself in an irate series of tweets on Friday. He called his conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine “perfect” and “appropriate” and lashed out at Mr. Schiff, demanding his resignation.
Ms. Pelosi, who has embarked on a media tour of sorts after embracing the impeachment push, said that William P. Barr, the attorney general, had “gone rogue,” given the role of the Justice Department in withholding the whistle-blower complaint from Congress. In his conversation with Mr. Zelensky that was a crucial element of the complaint, Mr. Trump instructed the Ukrainian president to follow up with Mr. Barr and Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, on launching the investigation of Mr. Biden.
“Since he was mentioned in all of this, it’s curious that he would be making decisions about how the complaint would be handled,” Ms. Pelosi said of Mr. Barr on CNN.
The committee has already stated publicly that it intends to meet with the whistle-blower in a secure setting as soon as possible, to try to identify other officials who witnessed the alleged events and who would be willing to cooperate with their work.
They also will speak again with the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, who was restricted last week from sharing any details with Congress about the work his office did to initially corroborate the complaint. This time, Mr. Atkinson would be freer to discuss that work, which could give the committee a clearer sense of where it should start its work.
Mr. Quigley said he expected the committee would call Mr. Barr and Mr. Giuliani, as well as officials in the White House and elsewhere who appear to have brought their concerns to the whistle-blower.
Committee staff could begin interviewing other potential witnesses in the coming days. Much of that work would likely take place out of view, lawmakers said, to speed up the fact-finding process and avoid the political implications of public hearings.
Democrats on the panel said they expected to spend at least a portion of the House’s two-week recess in Washington working. They are in the early stages of planning a thematic hearing for next week, potentially focused on Ukraine and American foreign policy, or on whistle-blowers, an officials familiar with the matter said.
“It’s the committee’s intention to pick up momentum, so I imagine a lot of work will get done in the next two weeks,” said Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, the second-ranking Democrat on the panel.
For many Democrats, the past week has been a rat-a-tat series of jolts. On Monday, seven moderates, all with military or national security backgrounds — and most of whom had opposed impeachment — called for an inquiry, opening the floodgates for more moderates to join in.
Tuesday brought Ms. Pelosi’s announcement. On Wednesday, the White House released a transcript of Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky. On Thursday, the whistle-blower’s complaint was made public, including the explosive allegation that the White House sought to “lock down” records of the call. Ms. Pelosi accused Mr. Trump of a “cover up”
By Friday, most Democrats seemed exhausted, grateful for a two-week break to gather their thoughts. Many said they intended to do more listening than talking. Liberals including Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota were beaming; they believe an impeachment inquiry should have begun a long time ago.
But moderates looked somber, burdened with the weight of the moment. Among them was Representative Angie Craig, a freshman who flipped a Republican seat in Minnesota. Ordinarily private about her Christian faith, she said she has turned to the Bible for solace.
“I’m going to tell my constituents that this is a decision I never wanted to have to make,” Ms. Craig said, “that the president left us no choice but to open an impeachment inquiry.”