Impeachment inquiry moves to House judiciary committee

Watch the full hearing live on beginning at 10 a.m. ET

The U.S. House judiciary committee is moving swiftly to weigh findings by fellow lawmakers that President Donald Trump misused the power of his office for personal political gain and then obstructed Congress’s investigation as possible grounds for impeachment.

Responsible for drafting articles of impeachment, the judiciary committee prepared Wednesday morning for its first hearing since the release of a 300-page report by Democrats on the House intelligence committee.

The session Wednesday with legal scholars will delve into possible impeachable offences, but the real focus will be on the panel, led by chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, and made up of a sometimes boisterous, sharply partisan division of lawmakers.

In a 53-page opening statement obtained by the AP, Republican witness Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, will say the Democrats are bringing a “slipshod impeachment” case against the president based on second-hand information. Still, Turley doesn’t excuse the president’s behaviour.

“It is not wrong because President Trump is right,” according to Turley. He calls Trump’s call with Ukraine “anything but ‘perfect,” as the president claims. “A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record.”

The remaining three witnesses, all called by Democrats, will argue for impeachment, according to statements obtained by the AP.

The White House declined an invitation to participate in Wednesday’s session.

Possible grounds for impeachment are focused on whether Trump abused his office as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into Trump’s political rivals, as has been alleged Trump did. At the time, Trump was withholding $ 400 million US in military aid, jeopardizing key support as Ukraine faces an aggressive Russia at its border.

The report did not render a judgment on whether Trump’s actions stemming from a July 25 phone call with Zelensky rose to the constitutional level of “high crimes and misdemeanours” warranting impeachment. That is for the full House to decide. But its findings involving Trump’s efforts to seek foreign intervention in the American election process provide the basis for a House vote on impeachment and a Senate trial carrying the penalty of removal from office.

VIDEO: See what’s coming today – and how Republicans prepared for it

Republicans released their defence of U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of the public release of the impeachment report and criticized the report being released while Trump was out of the country. 2:02

“The evidence that we have found is really quite overwhelming that the president used the power of his office to secure political favours and abuse the trust American people put in him and jeopardize our security,” intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, told The Associated Press.

“It was a difficult decision to go down this road, because it’s so consequential for the country,” Schiff said. But “the president was the author of his own impeachment inquiry by repeatedly seeking foreign help in his election campaigns.”

Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill argues, “If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning.”

Giuliani calls with budget office ‘no big deal’: Trump

The political risks are high for all parties as the House presses only the fourth presidential impeachment inquiry in U.S. history.

In a statement, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump.” She said the report “reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”

Trump, who’s in London this week for the NATO meeting with world leaders, called the impeachment effort by Democrats “unpatriotic,” and said he wouldn’t be watching Wednesday’s hearing.

U.S. President Donald Trump is attending the NATO leaders summit in England as the impeachment process moves to the House judiciary committee. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

The “Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report” provides a detailed, stunning, account of a shadow diplomacy run by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, resulting in layers of allegations that can be distilled into specific acts, like bribery or obstruction, and the more amorphous allegation that Trump abused his power by putting his interests above the nation.

Based on two months of investigation sparked by a still-anonymous government whistleblower’s complaint, the report relies heavily on testimony from current and former U.S. officials who defied White House orders not to appear.

The inquiry found Trump “solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his re-election,” Schiff wrote in the report’s preface.

In doing so, the president “sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security,” the report said.

When Congress began investigating, it added, Trump obstructed the investigation like no other president in history.

Along with revelations from earlier testimony, the report included previously unreleased cellphone records raising fresh questions about Giuliani’s interactions with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget as well as the top Republican on the intelligence panel, Devin Nunes of California. Nunes declined to comment. 

Trump said Wednesday in London at the NATO summit that he didn’t know why Giuliani was speaking with the OMB.

Trump encouraged reporters to ask Giuliani about the calls, but claimed they are “no big deal.”

Full House vote on impeachment possible this month

Republicans defended the president in a 123-page rebuttal claiming Trump never intended to pressure Ukraine when he asked for a “favour” — investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden. They say the military aid the White House was withholding was not being used as leverage, as Democrats claim — and besides, the $ 400 million US was ultimately released, although only after a congressional outcry. 

Democrats once hoped to sway Republicans to consider Trump’s removal, but are now facing an ever-hardening partisan split over the swift-moving proceedings that are dividing Congress and the country.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, has urged the Democrats to end what he calls the impeachment ‘nightmare.’ (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The report also accuses Trump of obstruction, becoming the “first and only” president in U.S. history to “openly and indiscriminately” defy the House’s constitutional authority to conduct the impeachment proceedings by instructing officials not to comply with subpoenas for documents and testimony.

While liberal Democrats are pushing the party to go further and incorporate the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and other actions by Trump, more centrist and moderate Democrats prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans understand.

Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment against the president in a matter of days, with a judiciary committee vote next week. The full House could vote by Christmas. Then the matter would move to the Senate for a trial in 2020.

This week marks the first time in 20 years that public hearings could result in the removal of a U.S. President from office. In question is a whistleblower’s complaint alleging the U.S. President attempted to pressure the Ukrainian president into investigating his political rival by threatening to withhold military aid. Today on Front Burner, CBC’s Washington correspondent Alex Panetta preps us for day two of the Donald Trump public impeachment inquiry by explaining why these hearings are so important, and what we can learn from past examples like Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. 25:00

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