House Democrats are moving swiftly toward the impeachment of President Donald Trump, and lawmakers tasked with drafting articles of impeachment Monday made what could be their final pitch to the American people.
The House Judiciary hearing was the first since Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California called last week on relevant committee heads to “proceed with articles of impeachment.” And the lengthy proceeding, which featured often testy exchanges between members and staff, appeared to be one of the last items on the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry to-do list.
Democratic lawmakers announced Monday night they would hold a news conference Tuesday morning to outline the next steps in the inquiry. A leadership aide told CQ Roll Call that they will announce at least two articles against Trump — one of abuse of power and one of obstruction of Congress.
After committee action, the full chamber would then vote on the specific charges against the president and send them to the Senate for trial, much like a grand jury sends an indictment to a judge and jury.
Judiciary member Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, told CNN that Monday “may be the last hearing,” as the White House is unlikely to cede additional documents or witnesses for the committee to examine.
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York will ultimately decide when to draft the articles.
A vote by the full House on articles of impeachment could come next week, but Jeffries said the timing is Pelosi’s call.
Monday’s hearing had the feel of a series of closing arguments by lawyers for the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, recapping the more than two months of impeachment inquiry hearings and depositions that Democrats will surely cast as supporting evidence to impeach the president.
The Judiciary panel holds jurisdiction over drafting impeachment articles. The Intelligence Committee, at Pelosi’s direction, led the impeachment investigation.
Barry Berke and Daniel Goldman, the respective Democratic counsels for the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, made their party’s case that Trump leaned on Ukraine to help his 2020 reelection bid.
“President Trump directed a monthslong scheme to solicit foreign help in his 2020 reelection campaign, withholding official acts from the government of Ukraine in order to coerce and secure political interference in our domestic affairs,” Goldman said in his opening statement.
The scheme Goldman described involved the White House holding up nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in what Democrats have argued was a chit redeemable by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announcing an investigation into Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, who held a lucrative sinecure at a Ukrainian gas company while his dad was vice president. The elder Biden is now one of the leading Democratic candidates for president.
Democrats have yet to announce exactly what they will include in their articles of impeachment but have previously said that Trump abused his power by obstructing Congress’ investigation and engaged in bribery by seeking to get Ukrainian officials to investigate his political opponents.
Additionally, Nadler hinted last week that Democrats may draft articles based on former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
While it is no secret that articles are in the works, Judiciary Democrats tried to keep the focus Monday on the arguments laid out by their counsel at the hearing instead of speculation about what the official charges against Trump might be.
“We are not at a discussion of articles of impeachment. We are in a discussion of the facts, and facts are undisputed,” Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal told reporters.
Stephen Castor, the GOP counsel for the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, argued that the White House had legitimate reason to stall aid to Ukraine, which that country eventually received without announcing an investigation into the Bidens.
He also said the White House did not obstruct Congress, noting that Trump released a transcript of his call with Zelenskiy. The White House released a summary of the call, not the full transcript.
Castor closed by lamenting that Congress has not been able to interview the intelligence community whistleblower, whose complaint against Trump’s conduct on the call with Zelenskiy propelled the Democrats’ impeachment drive.
Republicans on the committee pressed for a hearing with GOP-selected witnesses, including the whistleblower, but were thwarted by Nadler.
Nadler on Monday sent a letter to Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins of Georgia, rejecting the eight witnesses Republicans wanted to call before the committee. For some of the requested witnesses, Nadler said, their testimony was unnecessary. Others, he said, fell outside the scope of the inquiry.
One of those requested witnesses was House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff. Republicans erected a poster behind their dais featuring a picture of the California Democrat on a milk carton with “missing” above the photo.
Substance and spin
Monday’s hearing appeared to set the agenda going forward for both substance and spin.
The meeting began with Capitol Police removing from the hearing room a pro-Trump protestor, J. Owen Shroyer, the host of the “Infowars War Room” talk show.
“Americans are sick of your impeachment scam. They’re sick of the Democrat treason,” he shouted. “We know who committed the crimes, and it wasn’t Trump. Trump is innocent.”
Procedural interruptions from Republicans followed throughout the day as GOP members have complained since the impeachment inquiry began that the Democrats’ process has been unfair.
At the top of the hearing, Collins called the Democrats’ probe a “focus group impeachment” in his opening statement. “Presumption has now become the standard instead of proof,” the Georgia Republican added.
Republicans also reasserted their allegations that the impeachment process is an effort by Democrats to negate Trump’s election.
“Is this when we just hear staff ask questions of other staff and the members get dealt out of this hearing for the next four hours?” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz asked. “You’re going to try to overturn the result of an election with unelected people giving testimony?”
During the House Judiciary hearings, GOP staffers have been seated between reporters and the Republican side of the dais in the expansive Ways and Means Committee hearing room, allowing staff to easily shuttle documents and huddle with members.
Some staffers held back grins when GOP members delivered blows and pithy one-liners during the hearing. Some exchanges, though, prompted unencumbered reactions from staffers.
In the early afternoon, Collins silenced Goldman after the Democrats’ counsel dodged his questions.
“I’m done with you for right now. We’re done,” Collins said, prompting one GOP staffer to smile and pump her fist before returning her focus to her iPad.
Both Republicans and Democrats have turned such brief moments of triumph into video clips that ricochet around social media and often get picked up by cable channels.
As impeachment proceedings are political endeavors that rely on public support, such displays will likely continue to occur should the process move forward to the Rules Committee and, ultimately, the House floor.