In­fight­ing high­lights ju­di­ciary hear­ing

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick

WASH­ING­TON >> The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s first im­peach­ment hear­ing quickly burst into par­ti­san in­fight­ing Wed­nes­day as Democrats charged that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump must be re­moved from of­fice for en­list­ing for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in U.S. elec­tions and Repub­li­cans an­grily re­torted there were no grounds for such dras­tic ac­tion.

The panel re­spon­si­ble for draft­ing ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment con­vened as Trump’s team was fan­ning out across Capi­tol Hill. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence met behind closed doors with House Repub­li­cans, and Se­nate Repub­li­cans were to hud­dle with the White House coun­sel as GOP law­mak­ers stand with the pres­i­dent and Democrats charge head­long into what has be­come a one-party drive to im­peach him.

Chair­man Jer­rold Nadler, D-N.Y., gaveled open the hear­ing say­ing, “‘The facts be­fore us are undis­puted.”

Nadler said Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s pres­i­dent last July wasn’t the first time Trump sought a for­eign power to in­flu­ence Amer­i­can elec­tions, af­ter Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in 2016, and if left unchecked he could do again in next year’s cam­paign.

“We can­not wait for the elec­tion to ad­dress the present cri­sis,” Nadler said. “The pres­i­dent has shown us his pat­tern of con­duct. If we do not act to hold him in check, now, Pres­i­dent Trump will al­most cer­tainly try again to so­licit in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion for his per­sonal po­lit­i­cal gain.”

Repub­li­cans protested the pro­ceed­ings as un­fair to the pres­i­dent, the dredg­ing up of un­founded al­le­ga­tions as part of an ef­fort to undo the 2016 elec­tion and re­move Trump from of­fice.

“You just don’t like the guy,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Repub­li­can on the panel. He called the pro­ceed­ings a “disgrace’’ and a “sham.”

Sev­eral Repub­li­cans im­me­di­ately ob­jected to the process, in­ter­ject­ing pro­ce­dural ques­tions, and they planned to spend much of the ses­sion in­ter­rupt­ing, de­lay­ing and ques­tion­ing the rules.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats “haven’t made a de­ci­sion” yet on whether there will be a vote on im­peach­ment. She also meet­ing pri­vately with the Demo­cratic cau­cus. But a vote by Christ­mas ap­pears in­creas­ingly likely with the re­lease of a 300-page re­port by Democrats on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee that found “se­ri­ous mis­con­duct” by the pres­i­dent.

In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “Amer­i­cans need to un­der­stand that this pres­i­dent is putting his per­sonal po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests above theirs. And that

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it’s en­dan­ger­ing the coun­try.”

The Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee heard Wed­nes­day from le­gal ex­perts, delv­ing par­tic­u­larly into the is­sue of whether Trump’s ac­tions stem­ming from the July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s pres­i­dent rose to the con­sti­tu­tional level of “bribery” or “high crimes and mis­de­meanors” war­rant­ing im­peach­ment. The re­port laid out ev­i­dence that the Democrats say shows Trump’s ef­forts to seek for­eign in­ter­ven­tion in the U.S. elec­tion and then ob­struct the House’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Trump told re­porters in London, where he was at­tend­ing a NATO meet­ing, that he doubted many peo­ple would watch the live hear­ing “be­cause it’s go­ing to be bor­ing.”

Trump did phone in to the House GOP’s morn­ing meet­ing with Pence to talk with House Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy. The Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can said im­peach­ment didn’t come up. “The unity has been very pos­i­tive,” he said.

New tele­phone call records re­leased with the re­port deepen Trump lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani’s known in­volve­ment in what House in­ves­ti­ga­tors called the “scheme” to use the pres­i­dent’s of­fice for per­sonal po­lit­i­cal gain by en­list­ing a for­eign power, Ukraine, to in­ves­ti­gate Democrats in­clud­ing Joe Bi­den, and in­ter­vene in the Amer­i­can elec­tion process.

Trump told re­porters he re­ally doesn’t know why Gi­u­liani was call­ing the White House’s Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, which was with­hold­ing $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid to the ally con­fronting an ag­gres­sive Rus­sia at its bor­der.

“‘You have to ask him,” Trump said. “Sounds like some­thing that’s not so com­pli­cated . ... No big deal.”

At the hear­ing, the three le­gal ex­perts called by Democrats backed im­peach­ment. Noah Feld­man, a Har­vard Law School pro­fes­sor, said he con­sid­ered it clear that the pres­i­dent’s con­duct met the def­i­ni­tion of “high crimes and mis­de­meanors/” Pamela Kar­lan, a Stan­ford Law School pro­fes­sor and for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial, said the pres­i­dent’s ac­tion con­sti­tuted an es­pe­cially se­ri­ous abuse of power “be­cause it un­der­mines democ­racy it­self.”

Repub­li­can witness Jonathan Tur­ley, a law pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, said that the Democrats were bring­ing a “slip­shod im­peach­ment” case against the pres­i­dent, but he didn’t ex­cuse the pres­i­dent’s be­hav­ior.

“It is not wrong be­cause Pres­i­dent Trump is right,” ac­cord­ing to Tur­ley. “A case for im­peach­ment could be made, but it can­not be made on this record,” he said.

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

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

The in­quiry found that Trump “so­licited the in­ter­fer­ence of a for­eign gov­ern­ment, Ukraine, to ben­e­fit his re­elec­tion,” 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 new phone records raised fresh ques­tions about Gi­u­liani’s in­ter­ac­tions with the top Repub­li­can on the in­tel­li­gence panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of Cal­i­for­nia. Nunes de­clined to com­ment. Schiff said his panel would con­tinue its probe.

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

For Repub­li­cans fall­ing in line behind Trump, the in­quiry is sim­ply a “hoax.” Trump crit­i­cized the House for push­ing for­ward with the pro­ceed­ings while he was over­seas, a breach of po­lit­i­cal deco­rum that tra­di­tion­ally leaves par­ti­san dif­fer­ences at the wa­ter’s edge.

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

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

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.

For Democrats march­ing into what is now a largely par­ti­san process, the po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge if they pro­ceed is to craft the im­peach­ment ar­ti­cles in a way that will draw the most sup­port from their ranks and not ex­pose Pelosi’s ma­jor­ity to messy di­vi­sions, es­pe­cially as Repub­li­cans stand with the pres­i­dent.

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 moves to the Se­nate for a trial in 2020.

The White House de­clined an invitation to par­tic­i­pate Wed­nes­day, with coun­sel Pat Cipol­lone de­nounc­ing the pro­ceed­ings as a “base­less and highly par­ti­san in­quiry.” Cipol­lone, who will brief Se­nate Repub­li­cans on Wed­nes­day, left open the ques­tion of whether White House of­fi­cials would par­tic­i­pate in ad­di­tional House hear­ings.

Copy­right 2019 The As­so­ci­ated Press. All rights re­served. This ma­te­rial may not be pub­lished, broad­cast, rewrit­ten or re­dis­tributed.

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