The House impeachment inquiry enters a new phase this week as the Judiciary Committee takes charge of the investigation of President Donald Trump.
All testimony so far has been heard by the House Intelligence Committee, which is expected to issue a report on its findings early in the week.
Based on that report, the Judiciary panel will hold its own hearings beginning Wednesday on whether Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and his administration’s attempts to block the investigation constitute impeachable offenses.
As the Judiciary panel holds the hearings, Democrats will consider drafting articles of impeachment. The articles could also cover matters beyond Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Democrats, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but no decisions have been made.
The next steps would be a vote by the full House and, finally, a Senate trial.
What’s next in impeachment:
INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE SUMS UP
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Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have been compiling the evidence gathered through more than six weeks of closed-door depositions and public hearings. The committee has scheduled a vote to approve the report Tuesday evening, when lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving break. It would then go to the House Judiciary Committee.
Even after the report is submitted, the intelligence panel’s investigative work could continue. Democratic Chairman Adam Schiff has said the committee could hold more depositions and hearings, but he won’t allow the Trump administration to stall the impeachment inquiry and prevent the Judiciary Committee from moving ahead. His committee could file addendums to its report if necessary.
Several potentially key witnesses — former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others — have declined to provide testimony or documents on Trump’s orders.
Democrats have said they don’t want to get tied up in lengthy court battles to force those witnesses to cooperate with subpoenas. But they could still hear testimony if one of them changed their mind, or if other key witnesses emerged.
Time is running short if the House is to vote on impeachment by Christmas, which Democrats say is the goal.
JUDICIARY TAKES CHARGE
The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled its first hearing for Wednesday. Democratic Chairman Jerrold Nadler said it will be an informational hearing featuring legal experts who will examine the constitutional grounds for impeachment.
While invited to participate in the opening Judiciary hearing, the White House declined. “This baseless and highly partisan inquiry violates all past historical precedent, basic due process rights, and fundamental fairness,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter Sunday, continuing the West Wing’s attack on the procedural form of the impeachment proceedings.
Nadler also gave Trump until the end of this week to say whether he’ll send his attorneys to participate in the subsequent impeachment proceedings before the panel. Trump had complained that his lawyers were unable to cross-examine witnesses before the intelligence panel.
The chairman set the same deadline for Republicans on his committee to name the witnesses they plan to ask permission to subpoena. Nadler can deny witnesses sought by Republicans, who are likely to want subpoenas compelling testimony from Joe Biden’s son and the anonymous intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint triggered the impeachment proceedings.
The Judiciary Committee would be responsible for drafting any articles of impeachment for a vote by the full House.
The articles of impeachment are expected to mostly focus on Ukraine. Democrats are considering an overall “abuse of power” article against Trump, which could be broken into categories like bribery or extortion. The article would center on the Democrats’ assertion, based on witness testimony, that Trump used his office to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate the Bidens and the baseless theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
Additional articles of impeachment could include obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice. The latter could incorporate evidence from Mueller’s report.
HOUSE FLOOR VOTE
The Judiciary panel could take several days to debate the articles and then vote on them. If sent to the House floor, the articles could immediately be called up for consideration and would be handled similarly to any other bill or resolution.
If articles of impeachment reach the House floor, Democrats would be looking to peel off Republicans to make the vote bipartisan. So far, however, it appears few, if any, Republicans would break ranks.
Once an impeachment vote is done, Democrats would appoint impeachment managers for a Senate trial.
House Democrats are hoping to be finished with an impeachment vote by Christmas, sending articles to the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial in 2020. Unless political dynamics change, Trump is expected to have the backing of majority Republicans in that chamber to be acquitted.
It’s still unclear how long a trial would last, what it would look like or what witnesses might be called.
What is known is that Chief Justice John Roberts would preside, as spelled out in the Constitution. Almost everything else can be negotiated.