Trump Gets No Respite From Impeachment Probe After U.S. Raid


(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump scored one of the biggest successes of his presidency with the killing of an Islamic State leader, yet the battlefield victory isn’t likely to blunt the momentum of Democrats moving closer to impeaching him.

The inquiry led by three House committees resumes Monday with another slate of witnesses, even as the country absorbs Trump’s dramatic announcement of the death of Islamic State commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was cornered in a tunnel by U.S. forces.

History suggests Trump may enjoy a boost in public support after the raid, but it will likely be short-lived. That gives Democrats little incentive to slow down an impeachment inquiry, especially after testimony last week bolstered their main line of investigation into whether the president pressured the government of Ukraine for his personal political benefit.

Trump Gets No Respite From Impeachment Probe After U.S. Raid

“We will be doing public hearings, and I think we’ll being doing them soon” Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” program.

Lawmakers and officials familiar with committee plans say the aim has been to wrap up the impeachment probe by the end of the year. But with a long list of potential witnesses, House adjournments and holidays ahead, there are rising doubts that timetable can be met, even if White House roadblocks aren’t successful.

Representative Gerald Connolly, a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee conducting the inquiry with the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs panels, said last week he hasn’t been told of any official deadline to wrap up the inquiry, but getting it done by the end of the year would be “very challenging.”

“I don’t know if we can make that,” the Virginia Democrat said. “I would favor acceleration of the process of the evidence we have now, most of which is in the public domain.”

Schiff said Sunday he would give a precise timeline for beginning public hearings, which are all but certain to lead to drafting of articles of impeachment.

“In part we’re struggling with the White House’s continuing efforts to obstruct our investigation, to obstruct witnesses coming in,” Schiff said.

If the House votes to impeach Trump, it will be up to the Republican-led Senate to decide whether to remove him from office.

Republicans on Sunday continued to argue, as Trump has, that the impeachment inquiry is politically motivated and is taking attention away from more important work Congress should be doing. Several cited the raid in which Baghdadi was killed.

Baghdadi’s death “reinforces the fact that while Democrats are obsessed with ‘striking while the iron is hot’ and rushing towards a partisan impeachment, President Trump is working tirelessly to solve the real problems facing the American people,” said Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican on the Oversight panel.

But Republican Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a top congressional ally of Trump who also is on the Oversight Committee, acknowledged that such arguments won’t slow down the impeachment inquiry.

“Today’s strike against terrorism will be applauded, but I doubt it will deter Democrats from racing forward with their partisan attacks,” Meadows said.

Democrats said the president’s success or failure and other legislative business have no bearing on their investigation.

Pressing Ahead

“Foreign policy debacles, like the abandonment of the Kurds, or military successes, like this operation, are presumably irrelevant to the question of whether President Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors,” said Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, a member of the Oversight Committee.

Part of the Democratic strategy in the inquiry is to build public support for impeaching Trump, a step that will deepen the divides in the country. The president can’t count on a lasting boost from the death of Bahgdadi.

Then-President Barack Obama’s approval rating before the May 2, 2011 operation that killed Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was 44%, according to Gallup data. It rose to 51% in week after the raid, but by the next month it had slipped to 46% and continued falling through the summer, as Obama dealt with a still sluggish economy and a fight with House Republicans over the budget and federal debt ceiling. It hit 40% by the end of August. By comparison, Trump’s approval rating in the most recent Gallup survey was 39%.

The schedule for this week of closed-door hearings so far includes testimony Thursday from Timothy Morrison, a special assistant to the president. On Sunday, an attorney for Charles Kupperman, a former deputy national security adviser, sent a letter to the three House committees saying that he would defy a subpoena to testify Monday. Kupperman is asking a federal court to resolve the “irreconcilable demands” he faces in deciding whether to comply with a congressional subpoena for his testimony or instructions from the White House that he not appear.

Contempt Threat

Schiff, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and acting Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney wrote in a letter to Kupperman’s attorneys on Saturday that they expect the former aide to show up. If he doesn’t, they wrote, “his absence will constitute evidence that may be used against him in a contempt proceeding.”

The Democrats’ inquiry focused over the past month almost entirely on the question of whether Trump and a handful of close advisers put pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to conduct investigations of his political rivals, including by holding up U.S. military assistance. But Democrats have other potential avenues they could pursue. The inquiry has already taken several turns and could do so again.

Although the Ukraine matter is in the forefront now, a federal judge on Friday ordered the Justice Department to give the Judiciary Committee grand-jury materials from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Democrats sought those materials when they were investigating whether Trump obstructed the probe.

The ruling handed Democrats another major victory that may be more important. U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell rejected Republicans’ central challenge to the impeachment investigation -- that Congress’s inquiry is invalid because the full House hasn’t authorized it with a floor vote.

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