'The evidence is overwhelming': Combative hearing moves House closer to impeachment
Democrat Adam Schiff’s committee formally presented its findings to the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, bringing the House one step closer to a formal vote to impeach President Trump.
“The evidence is overwhelming that the president abused his power by pressuring Ukraine and its new president to investigate a political opponent,” said Barry Berke, staff attorney for the Judiciary Committee.
“A president cannot abuse his power to secure an election,” Berke said. “That is an impeachable offense.”
It was a fact- and lawyer-heavy hearing, focused on laying the groundwork for one final hearing in this committee — likely this week — during which the panel will debate and vote on specific articles of impeachment against the president, sending those charges to the full House for a vote by all 435 members of the lower chamber.
The House has only 10 legislative days left if it wants to hold an impeachment vote before the end of the year, though a day or two could be added the weekend before Christmas.
Like the hearing last week with constitutional scholars, Monday’s proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee lack any testimony from witnesses with direct knowledge of the events leading to the impeachment charges. So in terms of pure drama, it was a drop-off after five hearings in the House Intelligence Committee in November that featured plenty of new disclosures by diplomats and former Trump advisers.
But the Judiciary Committee is playing a different role than the Intelligence Committee. Schiff, the California Democrat and Intelligence Committee chairman, conducted an investigation into the facts, first in closed-door depositions and then in public hearings.
The Judiciary Committee, a larger and more contentious panel, is evaluating the findings. The constitutional lawyers last week spoke to the standards for impeachment. Monday’s hearing is a presentation of the investigation’s findings, and a discussion of whether Trump’s actions rise to the level of impeachable offenses.
Democrats say Trump should be impeached because he pressured Ukraine’s government to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently running for president. They say the evidence shows that the administration withheld a White House meeting between Trump and the Ukrainian president, using it as leverage over authorities in Kyiv. And they found significant circumstantial evidence that Trump’s withholding of roughly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine was also used to try to force the Eastern European country to help him against Biden, a domestic political rival.
“This pattern of conduct represents a continuing risk to the country. The evidence shows that Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States, has put himself before his country. He has violated his most basic responsibilities to the people. He has broken his oath,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.
Republicans raised a few objections at the beginning of Monday’s daylong hearing, which was also interrupted by one protester.
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, complained that Schiff would not be testifying, as Ken Starr, the independent counsel in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, did in 1998.
“Guess he can’t back up his own report,” said Collins, sitting in front of a large black sign on an easel that said in white uppercase letters: “WHERE’S ADAM?”
Later in the hearing, Republicans put up a new poster, this one a giant red milk carton with a picture of Schiff on the side under the word “MISSING.”
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., demanded that Nadler schedule a hearing in which Republicans can call their own witnesses. Nadler said that under the rules, the committee could discuss that at the next hearing, leading to several minutes of Republicans interrupting and expressing their frustration with these rules.
And Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., complained that he and other rank-and-file members of the committee would have to wait hours before asking questions. The hearing rules for this impeachment inquiry have been set up to give long periods of time to sustained question-and-answer periods by committee lawyers.
“Is this when we just hear staff ask questions of other staff and the members get dealt out of this whole hearing for the next four hours?” Gaetz hollered at Nadler.
Republican staff lawyer Steve Castor, making the GOP’s case, said Democrats were “obsessed with impeaching the president.”
There is “no clear evidence of malicious intent” by Trump, Castor said.
But Daniel Goldman, the Democratic lawyer for the Intelligence Committee, said that the continued travels in Ukraine by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, along with Trump’s own comments, show that the president is actively seeking to undermine the 2020 election.
“His determination to solicit foreign interference in our election continues today. It did not end with Russia’s support for Trump in 2016, which President Trump invited by asking for his opponent to be hacked by Russia, and it did not end when his Ukrainian scheme was exposed in September of this year,” Goldman said.
“He has not given up. He and his agents continue to solicit Ukrainian interference in our election, causing an imminent threat to our elections and our national security,” he said.
In the early afternoon the hearing grew contentious as Berke, who spoke to the committee from the witness table at the beginning of the hearing, sat on the dais next to Nadler and questioned Goldman and Castor.
“This is not appropriate, to have a witness be a questioner. It’s just wrong,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. Gohmert insinuated that Goldman and Berke, who were brought onto their committee spots earlier this year, had gained those positions through political donations.
Collins later made the same point about Goldman’s political donations, earning a rebuke from the Democratic lawyer.
Collins also lambasted Goldman and Schiff for making it public in the Intelligence Committee report that Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, was talking by phone to Giuliani and his associates at key moments of the president’s alleged Ukraine scheme.
Collins said the report should have referred to Nunes as an anonymous member of Congress, and called the move a “gratuitous drive-by.”
Schiff said last week that the call records indicate that Nunes may have been “complicit” in the Ukraine affair.
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