Two weeks of explosive public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump have left lawmakers as divided and entrenched as ever, but House Democrats are charging ahead with the next phase of the probe.
The spotlight now turns to the House Judiciary Committee, which is set to hold its first impeachment hearing at 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday.
The panel is expected to hear from legal scholars, though it has yet to announce who will be called to speak.
It has shared an invitation for one notable guest however: the president himself.
Democrats are investigating whether Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine and its leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to announce investigations into Trump’s political rivals while dangling an invitation to the White House and withholding a military aid package approved by Congress.
Trump is on the guest list
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., informed Trump in a letter Tuesday that he is allowed to attend the hearing, in keeping with the rules for the impeachment proceedings that passed in the House last month. The president was not allowed to participate in House Intelligence Committee hearings.
The rules also permit Trump’s counsel to appear and question the witness panel. Nadler gave the president a deadline of 6 p.m. on Sunday to respond to his invitation.
During the hearing, entitled “The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J. Trump: Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,” experts will discuss the Constitution and explore whether Trump’s actions rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.
It will “also discuss whether your alleged actions warrant the House’s exercising its authority to adopt articles of impeachment,” Nadler told Trump in the letter.
“At base, the President has a choice to make: he can take this opportunity to be represented in the impeachment hearings, or he can stop complaining about the process,” Nadler said in a statement.
So far, Trump’s White House has refused to cooperate with the inquiry. But Trump claimed in a series of tweets Tuesday that he would “love” for senior officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify.
Still, the Justice Department on Wednesday moved to appeal a ruling that former White House counsel Don McGahn must testify before Congress and answer questions related to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The federal judge in that case soundly rejected the Trump administration’s broad claim of “absolute immunity,” saying “Presidents are not kings.”
Trump and his allies aren’t satisfied
With the Judiciary Committee now taking the lead, the House rules allow Trump to get involved. But that isn’t likely to mollify the president or his allies, who have railed against the proceedings as biased and unfair since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formal inquiry in September.
Republicans blasted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., for conducting depositions behind closed doors that excluded Trump’s counsel, and for rejecting some of the GOP-proposed witnesses.
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, will have the power to call witnesses in the hearings, according to the rules. But just like in the Intelligence Committee hearings, suggestions about witnesses must be approved by the Democratic chairman.
While the White House did not reject Nadler’s invitation, it reiterated some harsh words about the inquiry.
“The White House is currently reviewing Chairman Nadler’s letter — but what is obvious to every American is that this letter comes at the end of an illegitimate sham partisan process,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement Wednesday. “The President has done nothing wrong and the Democrats know it.”
The Democrats’ report
The Intelligence Committee has no additional impeachment hearings scheduled at this time. More witnesses could still be called to appear — but Schiff and his colleagues are already pushing forward with their next task.
In a lengthy letter Monday, Schiff confirmed that the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees “are now preparing a report summarizing the evidence we have found this far.”
That report will be sent to Nadler’s committee after Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess, Schiff wrote. It is not clear whether it will arrive before Wednesday’s hearing.
The Democrats’ report will set forth its findings from its weeks of testimony and evidence gathering and will make recommendations to the Judiciary Committee, according to the rules. But Nadler’s panel will make the ultimate decision on whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump to the full House.
Politically, it would be nearly impossible for Democrats to decide not to recommend articles of impeachment at this point. Less certain, though, is which articles they are likely to recommend.
Democrats have described Trump’s actions as “bribery,” “extortion” and “abuse of power.” And Schiff has suggested that the White House’s repeated attempts to block witnesses from testifying could result in another article of impeachment for obstruction of justice.
“The evidence of wrongdoing and misconduct by the President that we have gathered to date is clear and hardly in dispute,” Schiff wrote in his letter. “What is left to us now is to decide whether this behavior is compatible with the office of the presidency, and whether the constitutional process of impeachment is warranted.”
Republicans, meanwhile, are planning to draft their own “minority views” report to counter the Democrats, The New York Times reported.
Collins called on Schiff last week to pass along all documents and information gathered in the impeachment inquiry.
“If Democrats are determined to overturn the results of the 2016 election, the process should be fair to the President and the people who elected him,” he said in a letter to Nadler. “If not, you can be sure Republicans will routinely protest these inequities.”