House panel to vote on Ukraine report as Trump mulls defence

WASHINGTON — The House impeachment inquiry enters a pivotal stage this week, with investigators planning a vote Tuesday to approve their report making the case for President Donald Trump’s removal from office as he decides whether to mount a defence before a likely Senate trial.

A draft report will be available for members of the House Intelligence Committee to view in a secure location before their planned vote on Tuesday, which would send their findings to the House Judiciary Committee to consider actual charges.

Majority Democrats say the report will speak for itself in laying out possible charges of bribery or “high crimes and misdemeanours,” the constitutional standard for impeachment. Republicans want Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to testify, though they have no power to compel him to do so, as they try to cast the Democratic-led inquiry as skewed against the Republican president.

“If he chooses not to (testify), then I really question his veracity in what he’s putting in his report,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

“It’s easy to hide behind a report,” Collins added. “But it’s going to be another thing to actually get up and have to answer questions.”

Schiff has said “there’s nothing for me to testify about,” that he isn’t a “fact” witness and that Republicans are only trying to “mollify the president, and that’s not a good reason to try to call a member of Congress as a witness.”

Coming after two weeks of public testimony, the findings of the House Intelligence Committee report are not yet publicly known. But the report is expected to mostly focus on whether Trump abused his office by withholding military aid approved by Congress as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch investigations into Trump’s political rivals.

Democrats also are 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.

Democrats are aiming for a final House vote by Christmas, which would set the stage for a likely Senate trial in January.

“I do believe that all evidence certainly will be included in that report so the Judiciary Committee can make the necessary decisions that they need to,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

She said Democrats had not yet finalized witnesses for the upcoming Judiciary hearings and were waiting to hear back from Trump on his plans to present a defence.

“If he has not done anything wrong, we’re certainly anxious to hear his explanation of that,” Demings said.

The Judiciary Committee’s first hearing is Wednesday. It’s expected to feature four legal experts who will examine questions of constitutional grounds as the committee decides whether to write articles of impeachment against Trump, and if so, what those articles will be.

After weeks of deriding the process as a sham, Trump has yet to say whether he or his attorneys will participate in the Judiciary hearings. He’s previously suggested that he might be willing to offer written testimony under certain conditions.

“The Democrats are holding the most ridiculous Impeachment hearings in history. Read the Transcripts, NOTHING was done or said wrong!” Trump tweeted Saturday, before falling silent on Twitter for much of Sunday.

It’s unlikely that the president himself would attend on Wednesday, as Trump is scheduled to be at a summit with NATO allies outside London. The Judiciary Committee gave the White House until Sunday evening to decide whether Trump or his attorneys would attend.

Trump must then decide by Friday whether he would take advantage of due process protections afforded to him under House rules adopted in October for follow-up hearings, including the right to request witness testimony and to cross-examine the witnesses called by the House.

“Why would they want to participate in just another rerun?” asked Collins, noting that the Judiciary Committee previously heard from constitutional scholars on impeachable offences during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“This is a complete American waste of time of here,” Collins said, who is calling on the committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to expand the witness list to include those sought by Republicans. “This is why this is a problematic exercise and simply a made-for-TV event coming on Wednesday.”

Still, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, a Judiciary Committee member, said he believes Trump would benefit if he presents his own defence.

“I think it would be to the president’s advantage to have his attorneys there. That’s his right,” he said.

McClintock said he doesn’t believe Trump did anything wrong in the July 25 call with Zelenskiy that is at the heart of the investigation.

“He didn’t use the delicate language of diplomacy in that conversation, that’s true. He also doesn’t use the smarmy talk of politicians,” McClintock said.

To McClintock, Trump was using “the blunt talk of a Manhattan businessman” and “was entirely within his constitutional authority” in his dealings with Ukraine’s leader.

Collins appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and Demings and McClintock were on ABC’s “This Week.”

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