A House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing opened Monday with shouting matches that reflected the deep partisan divide as Democrats moved toward a likely full House vote to impeach President Trump as early as next week.
Democrats say Trump’s campaign to get Ukraine’s president to investigate a potential 2020 Democratic rival and a debunked theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election — while withholding nearly $400 million in congressionally mandated security aid and a promised White House meeting — constitutes an impeachable offense.
Democratic staff attorney Daniel Goldman boiled down the Democrats’ 300-page evidence report to four points: Trump orchestrated a scheme to pressure Ukraine to open two investigations that would benefit his 2020 reelection campaign; Trump used the trappings of his office by withholding aid and a White House meeting to pressure Ukraine; high-ranking officials throughout the administration were involved or aware; and despite releasing the aid once the hold-up became public, he continues to solicit Ukraine’s help through Giuliani in influencing the 2020 election.
“We are here today,” Goldman said, “because Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, abused the power of his office — the American presidency — for his personal political benefit.”
Republican counsel Stephen Castor made the argument that Democrats had searched since the inauguration for a reason to impeach Trump.
“Democrats went searching for a set of facts on which to impeach the president,” Castor said. They settled on the Ukraine call, he said, referring to the July 25 conversation in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open the investigations.
“To impeach a president who 63 million people voted for over eight lines in a call transcript is baloney,” Castor said, adding that Trump did not act with “malicious intent.”
“There are legitimate explanations for these actions that are not as nefarious as the Democrats allege,” Castor said.
Democrats are also likely to seek an article of impeachment for Trump’s refusal to honor congressional subpoenas and his instructions to aides not to cooperate. Democrats are weighing whether to include parts of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that concluded last spring.
With no further hearings scheduled, Monday’s hearing was perhaps the last chance for representatives to make their case to the public. It began with a lengthy recitation of the evidence collected by Democratic and Republican lawyers employed by Congress.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in his opening remarks that the framers of the Constitution included impeachment for just such a situation.
“They warned us against the dangers of would-be monarchs, fake populists, charismatic demagogues. They knew that the most dangerous threat to the country may come from within, in the form of a corrupt executive who put his private interests above the interests of the nation,” Nadler told the panel. He stressed that ongoing efforts to uncover information in Ukraine by the president’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani showed Trump’s efforts had not ended.
“President Trump put himself before country,” Nadler said. “The integrity of our next election is at stake. Nothing could be more urgent.”
Republicans have dismissed the inquiry as a partisan effort to overturn the 2016 election and influence the 2020 election. They say Trump acted properly by withholding U.S. aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the senior Republican on the committee, called it “a farce.”
“Where’s the impeachable offense? Why are we here?” he said.
Collins called the hearing a waste of time because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) already called for articles of impeachment. “The speaker undercut you. She took the thrill out of the room,” Collins said.
Monday’s hearing was immediately more contentious than previous proceedings, with a protester screaming, as he was hurried from the room by Capitol Police, about committee treason and the president being innocent.
Republican members repeatedly pressed Nadler about why he had not scheduled a hearing for them to call their witnesses as required by committee rules.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), shouting over Nadler pounding the gavel, decried having lawyers present the evidence at the hearing rather than requiring Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) to appear.
“You’re going to try to overturn the results of an election with unelected people,” he said.
Nadler shut him down. “The gentleman will not yell out and he will not attempt to disrupt the proceedings.”
The House resolution that outlined the rules for the impeachment inquiry specified that staff would present the report.
Republicans also took issue with how Judiciary Committee Democratic counsel Barry Berke described Trump’s actions in his opening remarks.
“The witness has used language which impugns the motive of the president, and suggests that he’s disloyal to his country,” Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) said.
Nadler rejected his objection, responding, “None of us should find it surprising that we’re hearing testimony that’s critical of the president.”
In a letter, Nadler also rejected Republicans’ request to subpoena Schiff, the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry, and several others including Biden’s son Hunter Biden, who they say could speak to the issues Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate.
Nadler responded that the whistleblower’s complaint was already verified by others, that staff would speak for Schiff and that the other witnesses were “outside the parameters” of the investigation. The full committee will vote at the end of the day whether to issue the subpoenas. It is expected to fall along party lines.
Nadler had invited Trump to participate in the House hearings or send an attorney to question witnesses and present evidence, but his lawyer rejected the offer on Friday.
Trump tweeted during the hearing that “Democrats are a disgrace!”
In advance of the hearing, Nadler sent a letter to the White House late Sunday officially forwarding the Intelligence Committee’s report, along with additional evidence supporting impeachment. It also invited White House officials to review sensitive materials in a classified setting.
During the hearing, Judiciary Committee members formally received a report of the evidence the Intelligence Committee collected in its investigation, and a report about the historical precedent for impeachment.
The committee is still discussing what articles of impeachment to present to the House, with Nadler suggesting Sunday that members could vote this week on two or more charges against Trump.
Though Democratic leaders insist they have no timetable, they appear on track to ensure the full House can vote before Christmas. If Trump is impeached, the Senate would then hold a trial, probably in January. If he is acquitted, which appears likely in the GOP-controlled chamber, Trump would remain in office.