Impeachment Week 11: House Judiciary hearing to explore whether ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ apply to President Trump

WASHINGTON – The House’s Democratic investigation of President Donald Trump moves from the fact-gathering hearings of the Intelligence Committee to a hearing Wednesday at the Judiciary Committee, which will decide whether to recommend articles of impeachment.

The Intelligence Committee will vote Tuesday on a report of its findings, compiled after two weeks of open hearings with a dozen witnesses and weeks more of closed-door testimony. If approved, the report will be sent to the Judiciary Committee, which is expected to use it as the foundation of the case against Trump. 

The first Judiciary Committee hearing will focus on the constitutional grounds for impeachment. The review will cover the intent and meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” for which a president could potentially be removed.

“Our first task is to explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct like those against President Trump,” Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in announcing the hearing.

Nadler set a deadline of 6 p.m. Sunday for Trump to decide whether to participate personally or send a lawyer to question witnesses Wednesday. White House counsel Pat Cipollone replied Sunday that he Trump wouldn’t participate in the Wednesday hearing he said was part of a “baseless and highly partisan inquiry.”

Nadler sent a second letter on Friday, asking the president whether he intends to participate at all in the inquiry, whether it be to question witnesses, respond to any of the evidence or offer any presentation in his defense. Nadler gave Trump a Friday deadline to respond to that letter, which Cipollone said he was taking under advisement.

Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a partisan “witch hunt.” Cipollone notified the House on Oct. 8 that it wouldn’t participate in what he called an illegitimate and unconstitutional inquiry. Witnesses and federal agencies have defied subpoenas for documents and testimony.

Nadler on Friday also asked Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, if the GOP will want to subpoena anyone in these hearings. Collins replied in a letter asking Nadler to expand the number of witnesses from four planned academics, to include a broader spectrum of scholastic and political views.

“An equal distribution of experts for the December 4 hearing would be a small concession to demonstrate to the American people this impeachment inquiry is not merely political theater,” Collins wrote.

The hearing is a prelude to debate on whether the committee should recommend articles of impeachment to the full House. If the House votes to impeach Trump, the Senate would then hold a trial, probably in early 2020, to determine whether to remove Trump.

But a two-thirds majority would be required for conviction, or removal, making it unlikely in the Republican-controlled Senate. No president has been removed this way in three previous impeachment inquiries.

The Judiciary Committee is collecting reports from five other committees as evidence for possible articles of impeachment. The Intelligence Committee will submit its report about its investigation –with the Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees – of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Two weeks of hearings before the Thanksgiving break featured diplomats and national security officials describing Trump’s demand for Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Witnesses said the investigations were initially a condition for a White House meeting between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and later a trade-off for the release of $391 million in military aid.

But Trump has said he was justified in calling for the investigation of corruption. Congressional Republicans have argued that the president sets foreign policy, but that the dispute over Ukraine boils down to

Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the panel, said Democratic charges change by the day from demanding a quid pro quo to extortion to bribery to obstruction of justice.

“It’s clear why the Democrats have been forced onto this carousel of accusations,” Nunes said. “President Trump had good reason to be wary of Ukrainian election meddling against his campaign and of widespread corruption in that country.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who served on the Intelligence Committee during the hearings and is a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Trump met with Zelensky and released the aid without the requested investigation.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

The Judiciary Committee has focused on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller found no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, despite numerous contacts. Mueller made no decision on whether to charge Trump with obstruction of justice, despite 10 potential episodes listed in the report, because of Justice Department policy barring charges against a sitting president.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Trump used his office for personal gain while undermining the national security of the United States by withholding military aid from Ukraine.

“As we continue to gather evidence and the facts from the testimony, we will go where the facts take us,” Pelosi said.

Trump touted Mueller’s conclusions repeatedly as “no collusion, no obstruction.” Jordan said he’d never seen the country this divided, but that Democrats pursued their investigations anyway.

“No conspiracy, no coordination, no collusion, but they don’t care,” Jordan said.

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