Panel Spars Over Trump Impeachment Articles, Sets Friday Vote
(Bloomberg) -- The House Judiciary Committee plowed ahead with articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, despite objections and amendments from the panel’s Republican members, setting up a final vote on Friday morning.
The hearing began Thursday with the reading of the two charges against the president -- abuse of power and obstructions of Congress -- and quickly turned to Republican complaints about the impeachment process.
After hours of bitter and heated debate, the tension boiled over late Thursday night when Chairman Jerrold Nadler unexpectedly announced he was delaying the panel’s final votes until 10 a.m. the next morning.
There are “absolutely no factual underpinnings” for impeaching the president, Doug Collins, the panel’s ranking Republican, said earlier in the hearing. “This is just a travesty and a sham from day one.”
Nadler defended the process by citing historical precedent for committee meetings and impeachment proceedings. He largely allowed members to speak, recognizing both Republicans and Democrats to make their points.
Republicans forced much of the hearing into a procedural slog. Collins said Democrats, the majority on the committee, didn’t allow the GOP minority to fully participate in the inquiry by calling witnesses and holding a “minority day” hearing.
“This committee has now sounded the death of minority rights,” Collins said. “There’s no way to recover from that.”
An amendment offered by Republican Representative Jim Jordan was defeated on a 17-23 vote. The measure sought to strike the article regarding abuse of power from the impeachment resolution. That initiated a debate between Republicans defending Trump’s conduct and Democrats referring to impeachment witness testimony to prove that Trump did indeed abuse the power of the president.
California Democrat Eric Swalwell cited the U.S. criminal code to argue that Trump committed bribery and honest services fraud in his actions regarding Ukraine, by withholding security aid and a White House meeting to pressure that country to conduct politically motivated investigations.
But Republicans said that despite such public statements by Democrats, those specific crimes are not included in the impeachment resolution and argued that the process didn’t give Trump adequate opportunity to present his defense or challenge whether the elements of actual crimes have been proven.
Representative Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican, contrasted this process with the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, who was accused of perjury for lying to a grand jury. Swalwell said a president’s actions don’t need to meet statutory standards to be impeached.
Trump reacted in real time on twitter, criticizing the way two Democrats characterized his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
After the Jordan amendment was defeated, Florida Republican Matt Gaetz proposed amending the abuse of power article of impeachment to revise the description of Trump’s request for investigations by Ukraine. The committee later rejected the Gaetz amendment on a party-line vote.
Instead of saying the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and a “discredited theory” that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, Gaetz’s amendment would have stated that Trump sought investigations of Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice president, and Burisma Holdings, a Ukraine energy company on whose board Hunter Biden served.
Republicans contend Hunter Biden was overpaid and unqualified to serve on the board of Burisma, a company that had been widely known to be corrupt.
“We have the ability to show that Burisma is corrupt,” Gaetz said. “We have the ability to show that Hunter Biden is corrupt. That totally exculpates the president because there is no way in the United States of America that honestly pursuing actual corruption is an impeachable offense.”
Democrats countered that the president didn’t demonstrate an interest in rooting out corruption in other parts of the world, nor did Congress investigate Hunter Biden when Republicans controlled both chambers in the first two years of Trump’s presidency. They asserted that Trump’s interest was aroused only after Joe Biden announced his presidential campaign.
Representative Andy Biggs, a Republican from Arizona, presented a third amendment to change the abuse of power article to note that the aid for Ukraine was later released. Democrats say the Trump administration lifted the hold only after Congress became aware that an anonymous whistle-blower filed a report questioning the president’s motives for blocking the congressionally approved funds.
The length of the hearing will largely be determined by the extent to which each Republican amendment is debated. Collins dashed any expectation that Republicans would temper their objections, warning: “We are going to be here all night.”
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