Congress

Impeachment news roundup: Dec. 4

Judiciary hearing features partisan sniping, witnesses play parts they were chosen for

Democratic Rep. Al Green of Texas, who has called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump since not long after he took office, watches the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The four constitutional experts called to testify Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee on the impeachment into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine largely played the roles they were asked to play at the televised hearing.

The three Democrat-called witnesses agreed Trump’s behavior warrants impeachment.

[Nadler hints Trump impeachment inquiry could expand beyond Ukraine]

“The president’s serious misconduct, including bribery, soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power, and obstructing justice and Congress are worse than the misconduct of any prior president,” University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt said.

Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School said that Trump’s conduct “clearly constitutes an impeachable high crime.”

And Pamela S. Karlan of Stanford Law School said that the president “doubled down on violating his oath to ‘faithfully execute’ the laws and to ‘protect and defend the Constitution.’”

Meanwhile, committee Republicans’ chosen witness, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, said the case against Trump is the “thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president.”

Turley countered what he called a “boundless” definition of bribery and Democrats’ suggestion that obstruction of Congress could be an article of impeachment because Trump has challenged the legitimacy of House subpoenas.

“President Trump has gone ... to the courts. He’s allowed to do that — we have three branches, not two,” Turley said. “If you impeach a president, if you make a high crime and misdemeanor out of going to the courts, it is an abuse of power. It’s your abuse of power. You are doing precisely what you’re criticizing the president for doing.”

He also argued the legal definition of bribery is relevant to the impeachment, even if impeachment isn't strictly a legal proceeding.

“This isn’t improvisational jazz. Close enough is not good enough. If you’re going to accuse a president of bribery, you need to make it stick, because you’re trying to remove a duly elected president of the United States,” Turley said.

Here is the latest on the impeachment inquiry:

Closed-door transcripts: The Intelligence Committee on Wednesday released a transcript of its closed-door markup from the previous evening of the Democratic staff report summarizing evidence compiled during the fact-finding stage of the impeachment inquiry.

The transcript shows that Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes participated in the markup, despite questions raised about whether he should recuse himself after the report revealed phone calls he had with  Rudy Guiliani. 

Nunes did not mention the phone calls during the markup, nor did any other member. The California Republican used his opening statement to complain about the impeachment inquiry process and that Schiff only provided members 24 hours to read the 300-page report during a period when most members were not in Washington.

Republicans offered seven amendments during the markup that Democrats rejected.

The committee adopted the report, 13-9, with all Democrats voting yes and all Republicans voting no. Nunes provided notice of Republicans’ intent to submit minority views to the report within two calendar days, per the rules.

He said these views may be separate from the report the GOP released Monday.

Melania demands privacy: Florida Republican Matt Gaetz hit back at a reference Karlan made earlier in the hearing to Trump’s youngest son.

“I’ll just give you one example that shows you the difference between him and a king, which is the Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. So while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron,” Karlan said.

Gatez called the comments about the teen out of line and in poor taste.

“When you invoke the president’s son’s name here, when you try to make a little joke out of referencing Barron Trump, that does not lend credibility to your argument. It makes you look mean,” Gaetz told Karlan.

Melania Trump weighed in Wednesday evening, tweeting that “A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics.”

Hours after she first mentioned Barron Trump, and after Gaetz and Melania Trump protested, Karlan apologized.

“I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president’s son. It was wrong of me to do that,” Karlan said. “I wish the president would apologize, obviously, for the things that he’s done that’s wrong. But I do regret having said that.”

Phone tag: GOP Rep. Jim Banks sent a letter Wednesday to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham requesting he subpoena the phone records of Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, the whistleblower’s lawyer Mark Zaid, former Vice President Joe Biden and Hunter Biden.

“The public has a right to know with whom Rep. Adam Schiff has coordinated his impeachment effort and if America’s national security is at risk in any way as a result of Rep. Schiff’s actions,” Banks said.

Banks cited Schiff’s committee subpoenaing the phone records of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, which were included in the panel’s report released Tuesday. It chronicled conversations Giuliani had with White House officials, a journalist and Nunes, as precedent for the action he was suggesting.

Attorney’s visit: White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told Republican Senators at lunch Wednesday the administration’s view of what transpired in the House impeachment hearings and Trump’s eagerness to present a case in the Senate if a trial happens, according to Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, who was present.

“He (Cipollone) said a number of times ‘we don’t think that there is any reason the House should send this to the Senate,’” Blunt said.

It is still unclear the appetite of Senate Republicans on whether they will call a strong set of witnesses for the impeachment trial.

Majority Whip John Thune described the White House counsel’s presence as an opportunity for Republican senators to understand the White House’s thought process on a possible impeachment trial.

Heck’s out: Rep. Denny Heckannounced Wednesday that he is not running for reelection. The Washington Democrat, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, cited the impeachment investigation as part of the reason for his retirement.

Senate calendar questions: The Senate has released its calendar for 2020, but the year will begin with a giant question mark because of a possible impeachment trial. The month of January is missing from the calendar entirely.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer presented to Senate Democrats about the mechanics of an impeachment trial.

According to a senior Senate Democratic aide, the New York Democrat showed clips from the Bill Clinton trial, since only seven of the current members of his caucus were in the chamber for that trial.

Partisan sniping: The House Judiciary Committee began its first hearing on the impeachment inquiry into Trump with the same partisan sparring that punctuated the Intelligence Committee’s proceedings last month.

Ranking member Doug Collins argued that there was nothing new to be discovered or learned from Wednesday’s hearing, highlighting the departure from the panel’s traditional hearing room, framing the proceedings as a show.

“Don’t tell me this is about new evidence and new things and new stuff. We may have a new hearing room. We may have new mics and we may have new chairs that aren’t comfortable, but this is nothing new, folks. This is sad,” Collins said.

The Georgia Republican requested that Schiff, who conducted the November round of hearings, appear before the Judiciary Committee, but the motion was tabled on a party-line 24-17 vote.

Talking turkey: Karlan repeatedly asserted her grasp of previous testimony in the inquiry, quoting and paraphrasing ambassadors William Taylor and Gordon Sondland while answering questions from the Democratic counsel.

“I spent all of Thanksgiving vacation sitting there reading these transcripts. I ate a turkey that came to us in the mail that was already cooked because I was spending my time doing this,” she said.

Karlan had earlier shot back at Collins’ assertion that the witnesses weren’t familiar enough with previous proceedings and the Republican and Democratic reports released earlier this week to speak about them.

“Mr. Collins, I would like to say to you, sir, I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing,” Karlan said. “I am insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.”

Standing O:Schiff received a standing ovation from Democrats after presenting his report to the Democratic Caucus Wednesday, a senior Democratic aide said.

Pelosi spoke about the gravity and somber nature of the moment and said members must give room for their colleagues to reach their own conclusions as the inquiry proceeds, the aide said.

Members then discussed what they’ve heard in their districts about impeachment and the “overwhelmingly” consensus was that the inquiry should continue to advance one step at a time, the aide said.

No timetable: House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer on Wednesday continued to decline to outline a timeframe for floor consideration of articles of impeachment, saying timing is dependent on the facts and whether the Judiciary Committee recommends articles of impeachment.

He said he doesn’t know if or when the Judiciary Committee would report out articles.

“I think there’s time to do it before the end of year, but I’m not saying we’re going to do it by the end of the year,” he said.

No dates were discussed during a Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday, Hoyer said, reiterating he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi want to move expeditiously.

Asked whether censure was on the table or whether Democrats are solely looking at impeachment, Hoyer said the Judiciary panel would consider all alternatives. “However the facts are pretty clear here,” he added, indicating that impeachment is the most likely outcome.

Earlier this year Pelosi ruled out the idea of censuring Trump, saying it’s a punishment that is not commensurate with the seriousness of Trump’s actions and that for Trump it would be like a day at his golf club.

Off-script: Karlan also riffed off-script during her opening statement, bringing pop culture, along with documents from the founding fathers, into the impeachment discussion.

“You’ve already heard two people give William Davy his props. Hamilton got a whole musical. William Davy is just going to get this committee hearing,” she quipped.

In secret: Pelosi tightened access to the weekly Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday morning. Staff were not allowed to enter and members were encouraged not to bring their phones into the room — measures seemingly designed to reduce leaks to the media.

Members leaving the meeting did not disclose anything Pelosi said that would explain the secrecy.

The speaker was “very positive, very hopeful,” Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said, noting Pelosi urged the caucus to “trust the truth.”

Pelosi did not reveal a timeline for the House considering articles of impeachment, members said.

“I think all of us are interested in moving expeditiously,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a member of the Intelligence Committee that led the fact-finding phase of the impeachment inquiry.

Ask Rudy: Trump on Wednesday deflected criticism of his personal attorney after House Democrats release call logs showing he had phone conversations with Office of Management and Budget officials after taking over Ukraine matters for the president, leaving Rudy Guiliani to defend himself.

“I really don’t know. You’ll have to ask him,” Trump said at a NATO meeting in London, referring to his personal attorney. “It sounds like something that’s not so complicated. … No big deal.”

That came a few minutes after Giuliani defended himself on Twitter. “The mere fact I had numerous calls with the White House does not establish any specific topic. Remember, I’m the President’s attorney,” he wrote.

Where we’re headed: The Judiciary hearing will be more about the members of the committee than the witnesses, and what it reveals about where the process is headed in the next two weeks.

Four constitutional law experts will appear to discuss the meaning of the Constitution’s impeachment standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But committee members from either side are poised to use the testimony to air their grievances about Trump’s behavior or about the impeachment process.

No problem with Nunes: Among the things revealed in a report from the committees investigating Trump’s behavior in dealing with Ukraine is that Judiciary ranking member Devin Nunes was speaking to key Trump associates involved in the Ukraine matter while committees were investigating it.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that he has no problem with the revelation.

“There’s nothing wrong that Devin has done except once again to get accused of something,” McCarthy said of his fellow California Republican.

Hoyer was asked Wednesday about the Intel Committee report that showed Nunes had phone calls with Giuliani and his associate Lev Parnas, who has been indicted on campaign finance law violations.

“We need to look at them and see what action, if any, needs to be taken,” Hoyer said, noting he wants to gather input from others before opining on what should be done.

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