2019-12-10 10:54:321 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
So far the impeachment process is still in the Democrats' hands, despite Republican attempts to upend the entire thing and insist it's a sham. The House Judiciary Committee on Monday heard from the counsel of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Democratic panels as they presented the evidence gathered in the hearings.
House Democrats indicated they will be announcing the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump on Tuesday, and they were expected to work through the night to ready the charges. The unofficial word is that the president will be officially charged with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after his conduct was referred to on Monday as "clear and present danger" to the 2020 election and national security.
Democratic leaders have planned a news conference for Tuesday morning to publicly detail what the charges are. Several senior officials said the focus of the charges has been narrowed to Trump violating his oath of office by putting his own political interests over the national interest and then stonewalling the investigation by Congress.
"What happened with Ukraine — it's not something we can close our eyes to," said Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY) as he left a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-NY) on Monday evening.
The counsel for the Judiciary and Intelligence Democrats addressed the lawmakers during the hearing and urged them to take action against Trump. They summarized that he put his interests above the nation's when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to conduct investigations of his political opponents and then tried to conceal it.
"President Trump's persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security," said Daniel Goldman, the Intelligence Committee counsel.
The evidence he presented, as well as that of Judiciary Democrat counsel Barry Berke, will be debated within the committee and is expected to begin on Wednesday when they consider the official impeachment charge of high crimes and misdemeanors, with it being only the fourth time in history for those charges of a sitting president.
Democrats stayed away from using the term bribery, a crime mentioned specifically in the Constitution as an impeachable offense. They also didn't mention the 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice by Trump that former special counsel Robert Mueller mentioned in his final report.
The focus instead was on video clips of testimony from diplomats and White House officials as they laid out the evidence of Trump pressuring Zelensky to launch the investigations in exchange for a White House visit and $400 million in military aid for Ukraine.
"This is a big deal," said Berke to the Judiciary panel. "President Trump did what a president of our nation is not supposed to do."
Not that it was an easy day of Democrats laying out charges against the president. There was often bitter cross-examinations of attorneys from both parties, with Republican arriving ready to challenge the Democrats. They repeatedly interrupted the Democrats' presentation with the GOP counsel, Stephen Castor, working to take down their arguments.
"Very simply, the evidence in the Democrats' impeachment inquiry does not support the Democrats' conclusion that President Trump abused his power for his own personal, political benefit," explained Castor, who represents Republicans in both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
Castor said there was "simply no clear evidence" that Trump had "malicious intent in withholding a meeting or security assistance" and enough evidence that he had legitimate concerns about Ukraine's corruption. The counsel accused the Democrats of "searching for a set of facts on which to impeach the president," intimating they created a scandal to justify charges.
The White House refused to participate in the proceedings, despite pleas by the Democrats that they should participate before it's too late. However, Trump and those around him are now focusing on what will be a Senate impeachment trial, as it's controlled by the Republicans, and they believe they have a better shot with their defense.
During his 45 minutes of allotted time, Goldman spelled out Trump's "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." He noted to this day Trump is still trying to distort the election with false allegations, pointing to his attorney Rudy Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine over the weekend.
"The scheme by President Trump was so brazen, so clear — supported by documents, actions, sworn testimony, uncontradicted contemporaneous records — that it's had to imagine that anybody could dispute those acts, let alone argue that that conduct does not constitute an impeachable offense or offenses," added Burke.
The two counsel from the Democrats also pointed out that the White House had systematically tried to obstruct the impeachment investigation. A dozen witnesses, including senior officials who could have explained key events, were blocked from testifying, and the White House did not provide a single document to the investigations, despite subpoenas requiring them to.
Republicans complained repeatedly that House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), who led the inquiry, did not testify about the report. They even propped up a poster-size ad on the dais resembling a milk carton missing-person alert for the chairman.
After two-and-a-half months of battling, the complaints by the Republicans only continued, though Democrats and Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) had little patience for it. The chairman used his gavel often trying to maintain order.
"Bang the gavel harder — still doesn't make it right," said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
"They have talked about everything else, but they have offered not one substantive word in the president's defense," noted Nadler in his closing remarks. He rejected Republicans' requests to call witnesses in a letter sent during the hearing. They have been demanding to hear from Schiff, the whistleblower who launched the inquiry, 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his son Hunter. The two Bidens are at the center of the investigations Trump asked Zelensky to conduct.
Republican lawmakers became upset when Berke led the cross-examination of Castor, who also represented the Intelligence Committee attorney. It's unusual for House attorneys to testify in hearings, for Castor to be testifying for both committees, and for one attorney to question another, but it was all allowed.
"He's badgering the witness," Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said as Berk questioned Castor. "He is not," Nadler reprimanded.
They were discussing the subpoenas that were issued for call records that turned up conversations between journalist John Solomon of The Hill; the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA); and Giuliani. Collins had no problem with the subpoenas but demanded to know who decided to name Nunes and Solomon in the report.
"Folks, you have made Joe McCarthy look like a piker," said Sensenbrenner.
"We did not seek to do any investigation on a member of Congress or a staff member," explained Goldman. "It just happened to be they were in communication with a member of the president's scheme."
The House could be voting on the articles of impeachment as early as this week, setting up a Senate trial in January.
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