White House faces next phase of in­quiry

Trump’s team could take part in fu­ture hear­ings, but back­ers fear le­git­imiz­ing im­peach­ment probe.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Laura King

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Trump this week faces a dilemma cen­tral to the im­peach­ment in­quiry against him.

He could opt to have his le­gal team take part in the next phase, a move that some of his back­ers warn would grant the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings greater le­git­i­macy. Or the White House could con­tinue to re­ject any in­volve­ment, po­ten­tially al­low­ing key el­e­ments of a Demo­cratic-crafted nar­ra­tive of of­fi­cial mis­con­duct by the pres­i­dent to go largely unchalleng­ed.

An early in­di­ca­tion of Trump’s lean­ings came Sun­day evening, when the White House said it would not take part in the first pub­lic hear­ing this week by the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. In the longer term, which­ever course Trump chooses will carry risks for both sides in his­toric pro­ceed­ings that have so far bro­ken down al­most ex­clu­sively along par­ti­san lines.

Con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been ex­am­in­ing whether Trump abused his power by try­ing to strongarm Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky into an­nounc­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions meant to dam­age Joe Bi­den, a po­ten­tial 2020 chal­lenger, and to un­der­mine the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s con­clu­sion that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the 2016 elec­tion.

Now the in­quiry will pivot to weigh­ing po­ten­tial ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against Trump. If the process moves on to a vote by the full House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, he could ul­ti­mately find him­self only the third U.S. pres­i­dent ever to be im­peached.

At cam­paign-style ral­lies across the coun­try, Trump has railed against the pro­ceed­ings as a sham and a witch hunt. A typ­i­cal sce­nario un­folded last week in Sunrise, Fla., when he basked in crowd chants of an ex­ple­tive he used to char­ac­ter­ize the in­quiry, and ac­cused “rad­i­cal Democrats” of try­ing to over­turn the last elec­tion.

Back in Washington, the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee in re­cent weeks has heard from a dozen fact wit­nesses, all cur­rent or pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, about the ir­reg­u­lar for­eign-pol­icy chan­nel set up by Trump’s per­sonal lawyer, Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani, and the un­ex­plained holdup of roughly $400 mil­lion in aid to help Kyiv in its war with Rus­sia-backed fight­ers in east­ern Ukraine.

On Tues­day, the In­tel­li­gence panel, which has taken the lead in im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings so far, is set to vote on a for­mal report, also in­clud­ing ev­i­dence gath­ered by the For­eign Af­fairs and Over­sight com­mit­tees.

The fo­cus is then ex­pected to shift to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, which will craft and con­sider spe­cific grounds for im­peach­ment, a process some­what akin to a pros­e­cu­tor de­cid­ing to bring charges.

Law­mak­ers at the first of those hear­ings, prob­a­bly Wed­nes­day, are ex­pected to hear from le­gal and con­sti­tu­tional ex­perts on the im­peach­ment process.

White House coun­sel Pat Cipol­lone ruled out par­tic­i­pat­ing in the first hear­ing, cit­ing the fact that wit­nesses had not yet been named. But he did not rule out fu­ture par­tic­i­pa­tion. That, a White House state­ment said, would de­pend on whether “the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will af­ford the pres­i­dent a fair process.” Among other things, the White House wants as­sur­ances that Repub­li­cans will be able to call wit­nesses without in­ter­fer­ence from Democrats.

The panel’s Demo­cratic chair­man, Rep. Jer­rold Nadler of New York, set a dead­line of Fri­day evening for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to say whether it would take part in more sub­stan­tive hear­ings ex­pected the fol­low­ing week.

In ap­pear­ances on Sun­day’s ma­jor news-talk shows, the pres­i­dent’s sup­port­ers con­tin­ued to main­tain he has en­gaged in no wrong­do­ing, while Democrats chal­lenged them anew to pro­vide ev­i­dence of his in­no­cence. The White House has blocked the tes­ti­mony of se­nior aides and re­fused to hand over doc­u­ments re­lat­ing to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and Trump’s con­gres­sional sup­port­ers have said lit­tle about the sub­stance of the al­le­ga­tions against him.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Rep. Val Dem­ings, a Florida Demo­crat who sits on both the In­tel­li­gence and Ju­di­ciary com­mit­tees, urged the pres­i­dent to put forth any ex­cul­pa­tory ev­i­dence.

“We are cer­tainly hop­ing the pres­i­dent, his coun­sel, will take ad­van­tage of that op­por­tu­nity,” Dem­ings said. “If he hasn’t done any­thing wrong, we are cer­tainly anx­ious to hear his ex­pla­na­tion of that.”

Dem­ings, a former po­lice chief in Or­lando, Fla., scoffed at the idea — fre­quently put forth by Trump’s de­fend­ers — that the even­tual re­lease of the mil­i­tary as­sis­tance left Trump in the clear over al­le­ga­tions he pres­sured Ze­len­sky to start in­ves­ti­ga­tions that would per­son­ally ben­e­fit Trump in re­turn for the aid. A botched bank rob­bery or an un­suc­cess­ful bur­glary are still crimes, she said.

Rep. Tom McClin­tock, ap­pear­ing on the same pro­gram, said it would be “to the pres­i­dent’s ad­van­tage” to have his lawyers take part in the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee pro­ceed­ings. But the Elk Grove, Calif., Repub­li­can, who sits on the com­mit­tee, added: “I can also un­der­stand how he is up­set at the il­le­git­i­mate process that we saw un­fold” in In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee hear­ings.

In those ses­sions, the Repub­li­can mi­nor­ity was al­lowed to pose ques­tions and re­quest wit­nesses, though not all were ap­proved by the com­mit­tee’s Demo­cratic chair­man, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Bur­bank. The head of the Demo­cratic cau­cus, Rep. Ha­keem Jef­fries of New York, said on “Fox News Sun­day” that rel­e­vant knowl­edge of facts sur­round­ing Trump’s con­duct on Ukraine would be the de­ter­min­ing fac­tor in whether wit­nesses would be sum­moned.

Repub­li­cans have de­manded that fig­ures such as Bi­den’s son Hunter Bi­den, who for­merly sat on the board of a Ukrainian en­ergy com­pany, be called to tes­tify. Trump’s back­ers, without of­fer­ing ev­i­dence, have ac­cused the former vice pres­i­dent of push­ing for the fir­ing of a Ukrainian pros­e­cu­tor to pro­tect his son. But U.S. part­ners such as the Euro­pean Union and the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund also sought the pros­e­cu­tor’s dis­missal, say­ing he im­peded anti-cor­rup­tion ef­forts.

Rep. Doug Collins of Ge­or­gia, the rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, sig­naled that the GOP would con­tinue to use de­mands for par­tic­u­lar wit­nesses to try to at­tack the in­tegrity of the process. He said Schiff him­self should be called to tes­tify.

If the Democrats de­cline to call Schiff, Collins said on “Fox News Sun­day,” then “I re­ally ques­tion his ve­rac­ity in what he’s put­ting in his report.”

Repub­li­cans also con­tin­ued to press the idea that Trump was be­ing vil­i­fied for a non­tra­di­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion style rather than for ac­tual wrong­do­ing.

In the now-fa­mous July 25 call — in which a White House-re­leased call record has the U.S. leader ask­ing his Ukrainian coun­ter­part to “do us a fa­vor, though” — McClin­tock said Trump was merely talk­ing like the brash Man­hat­tan real es­tate de­vel­oper he once was, rather than us­ing the “del­i­cate lan­guage of diplo­macy.”

It will be up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make the fi­nal call on any ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment. The San Fran­cisco Demo­crat re­peat­edly has said no one is above the law, but she also urged fel­low law­mak­ers to bear in mind the grav­ity of im­peach­ing a pres­i­dent.

If the Demo­cratic-con­trolled House votes to im­peach, the pro­ceed­ings would move to the Se­nate, where the Repub­li­cans hold a ma­jor­ity, for a trial to de­ter­mine whether Trump should be con­victed and re­moved as pres­i­dent.

Man­del Ngan AFP via Getty Images

PRES­I­DENT Trump, First Lady Me­la­nia Trump and son Bar­ron ar­rive in Washington from Florida, where the pres­i­dent held a cam­paign-style rally last week.

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