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Democrats unveil procedures for Trump’s impeachment inquiry, rebutting GOP attacks

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/29/2019 Mike DeBonis
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House Democrats unveiled new procedures for the impeachment inquiry of President Trump on Tuesday, responding to Republican demands for due process by setting out rules for future public hearings delving into whether Trump should be removed from office. 

The resolution backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hands the lead role to the House Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who would have broad latitude to organize extended questioning of potential public witnesses. Two other committees that have so far participated in the closed-door investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform — would not be permitted to directly participate in the open proceedings under the legislation.

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It also sets out for the first time the ability of House Republicans to make their own requests for testimony and documents, though those requests will be subject to a vote of the Democratic-majority committee — a practice that matches the minority powers in the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton. 

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the measure Thursday, according to Democratic aides who were not authorized to comment publicly. The House Rules Committee will debate and potentially amend the measure at a panel meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said Tuesday the resolution “outlines the next steps in this inquiry, including establishing the procedure for public-facing hearings conducted by the Intelligence Committee and the process for transferring evidence to the Judiciary Committee once they are completed.”

“The president’s Republican allies in Congress have tried to hide the president’s conduct, but the American people will now see the facts firsthand,” he said.

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Speaking ahead of the resolution’s release Tuesday, House Republican leaders blasted the Democratic tactics, arguing that the impeachment process was fatally flawed from the beginning and cannot be redeemed with the adoption of new procedures.

“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “Due process starts from the beginning.”

By confining the public hearings to the Intelligence Committee and excluding the other two panels that have participated in the closed-door interviews, Democrats are in effect sidelining several of the GOP’s most aggressive and outspoken defenders of Trump. They include Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Mark Meadows (N.C.), who serve on the Oversight panel, as well as Rep. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.) of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who have led the public pushback to the Democratic impeachment effort in the House.

Jordan said Tuesday that Democrats were “trying to put a ribbon on an already terrible process.”

“It’s complete garbage,” he said. “They can’t undo what they’ve done thus far. All the abuse of due process, all of the unfairness — they can try to dress it up, have a fancy resolution on the floor. But it does nothing. It’s still a sham process.”

Pelosi announced plans to vote on the resolution in a letter to Democratic members Monday, and, according to three House aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions, she kept a tight leash on the process of drafting the measure — excluding the rank and file and even other Democratic leaders.

Addressing reporters Tuesday morning, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he had not yet scheduled a vote on the resolution — contradicting Pelosi, who pledged to hold one this week.

“I have not read it yet; the members have not read it yet,” Hoyer said, showing some frustration at a meeting with reporters. “We’re going to have to consider whether or not it’s ready to go on Thursday. I hope that is the case.”

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff(D-Calif.) talks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Oct. 8. © Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post Committee Chairman Adam Schiff(D-Calif.) talks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Oct. 8.

The resolution was released hours later, and Democrats quickly fell in line — including some of those who might be sidelined by Pelosi’s decision to have Schiff and the Intelligence Committee take the lead.

“Nobody is looking for their five minutes of glory,” said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary and Oversight panels. “We’re looking for an impeachment process that has serious integrity.”

Besides setting out procedures for public hearings in the Intelligence Committee, the resolution would also authorize that panel and four other committees investigating Trump to publicly release interview transcripts and transfer their investigative materials to the House Judiciary Committee, which is expected to draft articles of impeachment based on the other panels’ findings.

The Judiciary Committee would also have the power to hold public hearings under similar procedures to those given to the Intelligence Committee.

Under the resolution, both panels could engage in extended questioning of witnesses in rounds of up to 45 minutes, alternating between the two parties, before beginning the traditional five-minute rounds extended to panel members under existing rules. Both lawmakers and staff would be authorized to question witnesses.

Republicans have raised questions about Trump’s right to be personally represented by attorneys during the impeachment proceedings, noting that Clinton had lawyers present during the House’s consideration of articles in 1998. Responding to those concerns, the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday issued a three-page summary of procedural safeguards for the president.

They include the right of the president or his counsel to recommend additional testimony or evidence for the committee’s review, to attend all hearings and question any witnesses who testify, and generally to respond to the allegations against him “orally or in writing as shall be determined by the chair.”

But Democrats included a significant caveat: Should Trump “unlawfully refuse” to comply with subpoenas issued by the investigating committees, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) would “have the discretion to impose appropriate remedies” — including the denial of Trump’s requests to call or question witnesses.

Democratic leaders have been careful not to characterize the measure as authorizing the impeachment inquiry, something they say has been underway already for weeks without a House vote.

“We have an inquiry looking at whether articles of impeachment are justified by the facts,” Hoyer said. “We’ve been doing that. We are doing it. We’re going to continue to do it. This is about process as to when we move to out of the investigatory phase, which we’ve been in, into a phase where we have public hearings. That’s what it is. No more. No less.”

Several Democrats said Tuesday they believed the vote would undermine Republicans, who for weeks have raised objections to the process Democrats have undertaken and have called for a formal vote on launching impeachment proceedings.

“The message this week is going to be: You asked for it, you got it,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.).

Several members who attended a caucus meeting held at the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday morning said they were ready to vote to formalize the next step in the impeachment investigation — including some in swing districts where the vote could be a political liability.

“I have no qualms about taking a vote,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a freshman running in a district Trump won by seven points in 2016. “We’ve been clearly in an impeachment inquiry, and laying out the plans for the next step, I think, is a helpful thing to do for the American people to understand the parameters of the public hearings.”

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a veteran lawmaker whose district voted for Trump by five points, also said he planned to support the measure: “We fully support a thorough investigation, and we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing.”

But at least one Democrat has said he planned to vote no, citing the upcoming presidential election.

“It’s not that I’m friends with the president. It’s not that I believe he should be protected. I don’t mind if he’s investigated,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew (N.J.). “But what’s going to happen in my mind, it’s going to happen here in the House; it will go over to the Senate, and then he will believe that he has been exonerated. He will still be the president, and he will still be the candidate — a candidate who has been exonerated by the Senate.”

mike.debonis@washpost.com

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