In a final bid to shape public opinion before drafting articles of impeachment, Democrats said during a raucous House Judiciary Committee hearing Monday that President Trump is jeopardizing the nation’s democracy in a reckless bid for political survival.
Little new was revealed during the daylong hearing, a culmination of more than two months of congressional investigation into Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president open investigations into a potential Democratic rival in next year’s election as well as a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
No other hearings have been scheduled, and Nadler suggested Sunday that the committee could decide this week on two or more charges against Trump. Democrats could push for a full House vote to impeach Trump as early as next week.
Democrats say Trump’s pressure on Ukraine — which came while he withheld a promised White House visit for Zelensky and nearly $400 million in congressionally mandated security aid for the Eastern European country as it fends off Russia-backed separatists — constitutes an impeachable offense.
At the center of the hearing were dueling presentations from Republican and Democratic lawyers, who detailed the party’s divergent conclusions about Trump’s conduct.
“We are here today because Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, abused the power of his office — the American presidency — for his personal political benefit,” Democratic staff attorney Daniel Goldman said.
Republican counsel Stephen Castor argued that Democrats have searched since the inauguration for a reason to impeach Trump.
“Democrats went searching for a set of facts on which to impeach the president,” Castor said. They settled on the Ukraine call, he said, referring to the July 25 conversation in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open the investigations.
“To impeach a president who 63 million people voted for over eight lines in a call transcript is baloney,” Castor said, adding that Trump did not act with “malicious intent.”
At times the counsels appeared to be examining different evidence. Barry Berke, a Democratic lawyer, asked Castor to confirm that Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, the former vice president who is a potential opponent in next year’s election.
“I don’t think the record supports that,” Castor said.
Berke was incredulous, pointing out the request was reflected in the White House memo summarizing the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. Castor was unmoved, saying, “I think it’s ambiguous.”
Berke turned to Goldman, the Democratic lawyer testifying alongside Castor. “I don’t think there’s any other way to read the words on the page than to conclude that,” Goldman said.
In addition to abuse of power, Democrats are also likely to seek an article of impeachment for Trump’s refusal to honor congressional subpoenas and his instructions to aides to not cooperate with the inquiry. And although the lawyers didn’t discuss it during their presentations Monday, Democrats are weighing whether to include parts of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that concluded in the spring.
Nadler said in his opening remarks that the framers of the Constitution included impeachment for precisely the kind of behavior exhibited by Trump.
“They warned us against the dangers of would-be monarchs, fake populists, charismatic demagogues. They knew that the most dangerous threat to the country may come from within, in the form of a corrupt executive who put his private interests above the interests of the nation,” Nadler told the panel.
He stressed that ongoing efforts to uncover information in Ukraine by the president’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani showed Trump’s scheme had not ended.
“President Trump put himself before country,” Nadler said. “The integrity of our next election is at stake. Nothing could be more urgent.”
Republicans have said Trump acted properly by withholding U.S. aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
Nadler had invited Trump to participate in the House hearings or send an attorney to question witnesses and present evidence, but his lawyer rejected the offer on Friday.
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