The United States House impeachment report on President Donald Trump will be unveiled on Monday behind closed doors for key members of Congress as Democrats push ahead with the inquiry despite the White House’s declaration it will not participate in the first Judiciary Committee hearing.
The Democratic majority on the House Intelligence Committee says the report, compiled after weeks of testimony, will speak for itself in laying out what Chairman Adam Schiff called the evidence of “wrongdoing and misconduct” by the Republican president over his actions towards Ukraine. It was being made available for committee members to review ahead of a vote on Tuesday before it is sent to the Judiciary Committee for Wednesday’s landmark hearing.
The developments come as opinion polls suggest that Americans are bitterly divided over whether Trump should be impeached.
Late on Sunday, White House counsel Pat Cipollone denounced the “baseless and highly partisan inquiry”. In a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, he also declined the invitation for the president’s counsel to appear before his panel Wednesday.
Cipollone, in continuing the White House’s attack on the House process, said the proceeding “violates all past historical precedent, basic due process rights, and fundamental fairness”. Trump himself was scheduled to attend a summit with NATO allies outside London on Wednesday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday it was “very unfortunate” the Judiciary Committee was holding its hearing at the same time that Trump is representing the US at the NATO summit.
“I regret that they’ve chosen to hold these hearings at the same time that the president and our entire national security team will be travelling to Europe, to London, to work on these important matters,” Pompeo said.
For his part, Trump echoed that sentiment, telling reporters on Monday that the NATO trip is “one of the most important journeys we make as president” and the summit date was established a year ago.
He added that Republicans are united in opposing impeachment and the inquiry is backfiring on Democrats, adding “I think it is going to be a tremendous boost for the Republicans”.
As the impeachment inquiry intensifies, Wednesday’s hearing will be a milestone. It is expected to convene legal experts whose testimony, alongside the report from the Intelligence Committee, could lay the groundwork for possible articles of impeachment, which the panel is expected to soon draw up.
Democrats are focused on whether Trump abused his office by withholding military aid approved by Congress and a White House meeting as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to launch investigations into Trump’s political rivals. The report also is expected to include evidence of possible obstruction of Congress by Trump’s instructions that officials in his administration defy subpoenas for documents or testimony.
Trump maintains he did nothing wrong, and as the House presses forward on an ambitious schedule towards an impeachment vote, the president and his Republican allies are aligned against the process.
Cipollone’s letter applied only to the Wednesday hearing, and he demanded more information from Democrats on how they intended to conduct further hearings before Trump would decide whether to participate in them. House rules provide the president and his attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses and review evidence before the committee, but little ability to bring forward witnesses of their own.
Republicans, meanwhile, wanted Schiff, the chairman who led the inquiry report, to testify before the Judiciary Committee, though they have no power to compel him to do so, as they joined the White House effort to try to cast the Democratic-led inquiry as skewed against the Republican president.
“It’s easy to hide behind a report,” said Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “But it’s going to be another thing to actually get up and have to answer questions.”
Schiff has said “there’s nothing for me to testify about”, that he isn’t a “fact” witness and that Republicans are only trying to “mollify the president, and that’s not a good reason to try to call a member of Congress as a witness”.
House vote by Christmas
Democrats were aiming for a final House vote by Christmas, which would set the stage for a likely Senate trial in January.
Trump has previously suggested that he might be willing to offer written testimony under certain conditions, though aides suggested they did not anticipate Democrats would ever agree to them.
Democrats had pressed Trump to decide by Friday whether he would take advantage of due process protections afforded to him under House rules adopted in October for follow-up hearings, including the right to request witness testimony and to cross-examine the witnesses called by the House.
“If you are serious about conducting a fair process going forward, and in order to protect the rights and privileges of the president, we may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the Administration the ability to do so meaningfully,” Cipollone said in the Sunday letter.
Collins, on Fox News Sunday, called Wednesday’s hearing “a complete American waste of time of here”. He wanted the witness list expanded to include those suggested by Republicans. “This is why this is a problematic exercise and simply a made-for-TV event coming on Wednesday.”
Still, Tom McClintock, a Republican Judiciary Committee member, said on ABC’s This Week programme that he believed Trump would benefit if he presented his own defence. McClintock said he did not believe Trump did anything wrong in the July 25 call with Zelenskiy that is at the heart of the investigation.
“He didn’t use the delicate language of diplomacy in that conversation, that’s true. He also doesn’t use the smarmy talk of politicians,” McClintock said.
To McClintock, Trump was using “the blunt talk of a Manhattan businessman” and “was entirely within his constitutional authority” in his dealings with Ukraine’s leader.
The Republican-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to vote to remove Trump. Few Senate Republicans have shown an appetite for removing the president.
But the impeachment inquiry has cast a shadow over Trump’s already tumultuous presidency and sharpened a divide among Americans that is likely to intensify as election campaigning heats up in coming weeks.
“We’re on an exercise with a very predictable outcome and one that’s going to divide the country further. It’ll be a live issue through the election itself, and the American people will make the final determination,” Republican Representative Tom Cole told Reuters news agency.