New phase of impeachment inquiry begins today

Posted at 8:42 AM, Dec 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-04 13:22:12-05

The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump enters its next stage this week as the House Judiciary Committee holds its first hearing.

The Wednesday hearing, which will feature constitutional law experts, follows a series of public hearings in the House Intelligence Committee where current and former administration officials testified as part of the House Democrat-led investigation into the Ukraine scandal.

It marks a new phase in the investigation centered on Trump's actions when he asked the President of Ukraine in a July 25 phone call to do him a "favor" and pushed for investigations into the family of a potential political rival, Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

The House Intelligence Committee has so far led that investigation, but now the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over drafting articles of impeachment, will have its time in the spotlight.

Ahead of the hearing, Intelligence Committee Democrats released a reportsummarizing the findings in the investigation and stating that the inquiry had "uncovered a months-long effort by President Trump to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election." The report is expected to serve as the basis for articles of impeachment.

Republicans, however, drew up a report of their ownthat provides a full-throated defense of the President's contacts with Ukraine and rejects the Democratic allegations that Trump abused his office or committed any other impeachable offense.

Hearing start time

The hearing is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday. It will take place in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building.

Focus of the hearing and witnesses

The hearing will focus on constitutional grounds for impeachment of a president with testimony from four experts in constitutional law. The witnesses are all law professors: Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, Pamela S. Karlan of Stanford Law School, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law and Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School.

Hearing format

The committee's chairman, Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, and the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, are expected to deliver opening statements at the start of the hearing.

The witnesses are expected to then be sworn in and have a chance to deliver their own opening statements.

Nadler and Collins will be able to question the witnesses for equal periods of time as determined by the chair for up to 45 minutes for each side. During these periods, the chair and the ranking member can yield to committee counsel to question witnesses if they choose.

After that, additional rounds of questioning by the chair and ranking member or staff counsel are possible. Then each lawmaker on the committee is expected to get five minutes to ask questions of the witnesses.

Key lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee

Nadler is the highest-ranking member of the panel as the chairman, and he holds the power to set its agenda as a result.

Nadler was at the forefront of Democratic oversight of the administration after special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election was released and the Judiciary Committee held a high-profile hearing with Mueller himself. Now Nadler will again have the opportunity to act as one of the leading voices in the party as the impeachment investigation ramps up.

As the leading Republican on the committee, Collins is likely to be one of the top voices for GOP messaging during this next stage of the inquiry.

In a possible preview of that message, he and other committee Republicans sent a letter to Nadler on Tuesday criticizing what they described as "Democrats' obsession with impeaching the president and undoing the 2016 election."

The panel also includes staunch Republican defenders of the President such as Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida, two unwavering allies of Trump and his administration on Capitol Hill.

There are many close allies of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, on the committee as well, such as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who serves as a member of Democratic leadership as the House Democratic Caucus chairman.

A number of members on the Judiciary Committee will also have a unique historical perspective on the unfolding inquiry, given that they served in Congress during the 1998 impeachment inquiry into President Bill Clinton.

Those members include Nadler as well as Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren of California and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who served as a House manager during the Senate's impeachment trial.

White House won't participate in hearing

Neither Trump nor his attorneys will participate in Wednesday's impeachment hearing.

In a letter to Nadler that was sent before the witnesses had been publicly announced, White House counsel to the President Pat Cipollone wrote, "We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the President a fair process through additional hearings."

"More importantly," the letter stated, "an invitation to an academic discussion with law professors does not begin to provide the President with any semblance of a fair process. Accordingly, under the current circumstances, we do not intend to participate in your Wednesday hearing."