WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee is set to take over the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump next week, scheduling a Dec. 4 hearing on the question of “high crimes and misdemeanours” set out in the Constitution.
The opening hearing will feature legal experts who will examine the constitutional grounds as the Judiciary panel decides whether to write articles of impeachment against Trump — and if so what those articles will be.
Democrats are aiming for a final House vote by Christmas, which would set the stage for a likely Senate trial in January.
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that his panel’s hearing will “explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct.”
Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee will be submitting the report on its probe into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has said his committee will finish that report “soon after Congress returns from the Thanksgiving recess.” The panel held two weeks of impeachment hearings this month examining Trump’s requests for Ukraine to investigate Democrats as the U.S. withheld military aid to the country.
Trump and his lawyers are invited to attend the Judiciary hearing and make a request to question witnesses, according to Democratic rules approved by the House last month. The committee released a letter from Nadler to the president, saying that he hopes Trump will participate, “consistent with the rules of decorum and with the solemn nature of the work before us.”
It’s unlikely that the president himself will attend, as Trump is scheduled to be overseas on Dec. 4 to participate in a summit with NATO allies outside London — a split screen showing leadership that Trump’s allies may find favourable. The Judiciary panel gave the White House until the evening of Dec. 1 to decide whether Trump or his lawyers would attend.
If Democrats stay on schedule, the hearing could come as the committee introduces articles of impeachment and then holds a vote, a process that could take several days. If the committee approves articles by the end of the second week of December, the House could hold an impeachment vote the third week of the month just before leaving for the holidays.
The charges are expected to mostly focus on Ukraine. Democrats are considering an overall “abuse of power” article against Trump, which could be broken into categories such as bribery or extortion. That article would centre on the Democrats’ assertion, based on witness testimony, that Trump used his office to pressure Ukraine into politically motivated investigations.
Democrats are also expected to include an article on obstruction of Congress that outlines Trump’s instructions to officials in his administration to defy subpoenas for documents or testimony.
Though several government officials called by Democrats co-operated with the committee, several key witnesses — including acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former National Security Adviser John Bolton — refused, following Trump’s orders.
Lastly, Democrats could include an obstruction of justice article based on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report released earlier this year. Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump on that point, essentially leaving the matter up to Congress.
When and if the House approves articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate would be expected to hold a trial in early 2020. Unless political dynamics change drastically, Trump would have the backing of majority Republicans in that chamber and be acquitted.
It’s still unclear how long a trial might last, what it would look like and who might be called as witnesses.
While the matter remains in the House, Schiff said in a letter to his colleagues on Monday that his committee “will continue with our investigative work” and could still hold depositions or hearings. But Schiff said it will not prolong a fight to obtain documents or testimony in court.
“The president has accepted or enlisted foreign nations to interfere in our upcoming elections, including the next one,” Schiff said in the letter. “This is an urgent matter that cannot wait if we are to protect the nation’s security and the integrity of our elections.”
Though the investigative hearings are over, Democrats are continuing to release new information. On Tuesday, the House Budget Committee said that the White House Budget Office had given investigators documentation that the first official hold on military aid to Ukraine was signed on the evening of July 25, just hours after Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats, including former Vice-President Joe Biden and his family, on a phone call.
Revelations about that phone call triggered the impeachment inquiry in September as the White House released a rough transcript of the conversation.
The House Budget Committee said a career budget official signed the July 25 letter, which delayed the Ukraine aid through Aug. 5, but that subsequent “apportionment” letters were signed by a political appointee, Michael Duffey, who retained responsibility for the account through the Sept. 30 end of the 2019 budget year.
Duffey defied a House impeachment probe subpoena to testify.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
Mary Clare Jalonick And Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press