House Panel Defends Impeachment Process From GOP Criticism
(Bloomberg) -- The House Judiciary Committee defended the process to build a case for impeachment against Donald Trump, dismissing complaints by the president and his congressional backers about a lack of first-hand evidence and his claim to exert sweeping powers.
The 55-page majority staff report reviews the historical record on impeachment as envisioned by the drafters of the U.S. Constitution, which was the subject of a hearing this week.
The report also tackles “six falsehoods” about the process, including the lack of direct evidence, the lack of a role for Trump’s lawyers in the House proceedings, and Trump’s claim that he can “do whatever I want.”
Later on Saturday, Democratic officials tied to the Judiciary and Intelligence committees issued a second report, intended as a rebuttal to what they described as “false narratives” being put forth by Republicans on Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.
The majority staff report -- and the rebuttal document -- were released as the Judiciary Committee prepares to hold on Monday what may be the final hearing before the committee begins to draft articles of impeachment against Trump.
The White House on Friday sent a letter to the committee declining to participate in the proceedings, including any requests to present evidence or defense witnesses.
At Monday’s hearing, Democratic and Republican Judiciary staff lawyers will give trial-like closing arguments in the case. Also, Intelligence Committee majority and minority counsels will present their party’s reports on the evidence gathered over more than two months of investigation, and take questions from lawmakers.
Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, late Saturday demanded that the committee delay the hearing, citing late delivery of documents to GOP lawmakers.
“It is impossible for Judiciary members to sift through thousands and thousands of pages in any meaningful way in a matter of hours,” Collins said in a statement. The last-minute transmission “shows just how far Democrats have gone to pervert basic fairness,” he said.
Democratic officials familiar with the investigation said Saturday no articles of impeachment have yet been written. The officials said the main theory behind the case, however, is that Trump abused the power of his office for personal benefit.
“The Constitution does not prescribe rules of evidence for impeachment proceedings,” the Democratic staff said in the report released Saturday. “The House is constitutionally authorized to consider any evidence that it believes may illuminate the issues before it.”
Judiciary Committee Democrats are working this weekend, and by Thursday could begin to draft the articles of impeachment that will shape debate in a Senate trial. The next formal step is a hearing on Monday where counsels for both parties on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees will lay out the findings of the investigations.
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said the current inquiry has raised “several issues of constitutional law” not considered during the cases of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, respectively.
“The framers worst nightmare is what we are facing in this very moment,” Nadler said in a statement releasing the report. “President Trump abused his power, betrayed our national security, and corrupted our elections, all for personal gain. The Constitution details only one remedy for this misconduct: impeachment.”
The majority’s report dismissed Republican arguments that the president’s actions weren’t impeachable because the aid approved by Congress for Ukraine -- a major focus of the impeachment inquiry -- eventually was released, and an investigation Trump sought into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son never began. “Attempted presidential wrongdoing can be impeachable,” it said.
“The president appears to think he can just blow off the Constitution,” Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren said Saturday on CNN. “ I don’t think so.”
The Democrats’ report also rejected Trump’s assertion, made on July 23 in front of a group of students, that his actions were protected by a clause in the Constitution that outlines the powers of the president.
“This claim is wrong, and profoundly so, because our Constitution rejects pretensions to monarchy and binds Presidents with law,” according to the report. “That is true even of powers vested exclusively in the chief executive.”
The report said the factual record so far is “formidable” with “highly reliable” evidence, even without additional witnesses sought by the House.
“It goes without saying, however, that the record might be more expansive if the House had full access to the documents and testimony it has lawfully subpoenaed from government officials,” according to the report. “The reason the House lacks such access is an unprecedented decision by President Trump to order a total blockade of the House impeachment inquiry.”
The report notes that when prosecutors present evidence to a grand jury in a criminal case, the person under investigation has no right to question witnesses before charges are filed. A president’s right to question evidence is “properly secured at trial in the Senate, where he may be afforded an opportunity to present an evidentiary defense and test the strength of the House’s case,” Democrats said in the report.
Saturday’s second Democratic document takes on Republican claims, including that Ukraine didn’t know until August that the Trump administration was withholding military assistance; that Trump was concerned about Ukraine corruption; and that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that conspired to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
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