/House Democrats accelerate impeachment inquiry

House Democrats accelerate impeachment inquiry

Adam Schiff

“We’ll be busy,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of his committee’s activities during the scheduled two-week recess that will end Oct. 15. | Samuel Corum/Getty Images

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Democrats are issuing new subpoenas and some lawmakers are planning to return to Washington despite a scheduled congressional recess.

House Democrats are moving swiftly in their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, with the Foreign Affairs Committee subpoenaing Secretary of State Mike Pomepo on Friday and members of the Intelligence Committee planning to return to Washington next week despite a scheduled congressional recess.

The Intelligence Committee is also eyeing a hearing next Friday, according to multiple lawmakers and aides, a sign that House Democrats are accelerating their impeachment inquiry that was formalized earlier this week with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s blessing.

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That lawmakers will be working over the two-week recess reflects a growing sense of urgency among House Democrats to more aggressively confront and investigate Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which were documented in a whistleblower complaint that the Trump administration initially withheld from Congress.

Three members of the intelligence panel told POLITICO that they expect the committee to issue subpoenas for documents and witnesses as they work to corroborate the whistleblower’s claims.

“We’ll be here for part of the week, yes,” Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told POLITICO. “We’re going to be trying to schedule hearings, witness interviews, we’ll be working on subpoenas and document requests. We’ll be busy.”

Pelosi and her leadership team have agreed to press ahead with an impeachment inquiry that’s squarely focused on the Ukraine scandal engulfing Trump and some of his senior officials — allegations that have unified their fractious caucus against Trump in a way that previous ones have not.

Pompeo was slapped with a subpoena on Friday after the State Department refused to turn over documents about Trump’s efforts to pressure Zelensky to investigate former Vice President and 2020 hopeful Joe Biden, as well as the involvement of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Additionally, five senior State Department officials have been scheduled for depositions during the upcoming congressional recess.

The three House committee chairs pursuing the investigation — Schiff, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — told Pompeo on Friday that his refusal to comply with the Foreign Affairs panel’s subpoena would be used as evidence of obstruction that could form the basis of a distinct article of impeachment.

“The subpoenaed documents shall be part of the impeachment inquiry and shared among the committees. Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry,” the three chairmen wrote.

The Intelligence Committee is expected to return for a potential hearing Friday, but lawmakers say they are still awaiting details from Schiff.

“We want to know who in the White House knew what and when,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a senior member of the intelligence panel.

The precise details of that hearing — including whether it will be public — depend on whether the committee can schedule an interview with the whistleblower, and if it obtains the full inspector general’s report on the whistleblower’s complaint.

Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, previously said the complaint was both urgent and credible. The whistleblower, meanwhile, is awaiting legal guidance from the office of the director of national intelligence regarding what he or she is permitted to tell lawmakers. Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power to pressure Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son, and possibly withhold critical military aid to the Eastern European country.

Lawmakers on the Intelligence Committee have been told to be “flexible” over the two-week break. However, there might be logistical challenges to getting lawmakers back to Washington. For example, there are previously scheduled congressional delegations to foreign countries, in addition to Jewish holidays next week.

“Sometimes the practicalities of that are a constraint,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Democratic leaders resisted calls from some members this week to cancel the two-week recess after taking the historic step to move ahead with an impeachment inquiry into Trump. The full House will not return until Oct. 15, which has some Democrats worried they could squander public interest and momentum in the Ukraine investigation — in a similar way that Democratic investigators lost steam amid their slow-moving investigations stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

But Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries stressed that House investigators, particularly within the intelligence panel, would be “very active” over the next two weeks.

“The intel committee is going to be active, the investigation is ongoing, we’re going to approach it with the seriousness and solemnity that it deserves,” Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who sits on the Judiciary panel, told POLITICO.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus during a closed-door meeting this week that the impeachment process, which his panel oversees, is not likely to be a sprawling one that includes a dozen articles of impeachment.

Nadler’s key message to the group? “It’s going to happen sooner than people think,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who attended the Thursday meeting.

“When I said it needs to happen before the end of the year, people started laughing, saying it’s going to happen much faster than that,” Khanna added.

But Nadler also stressed to lawmakers that the House should not sideline other potentially impeachable offenses, including those outlined in the Mueller report and allegations that Trump is violating the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the Constitution.

“It makes no sense to put aside the Mueller investigation,” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), an Intelligence Committee member, said in an interview. “We can’t forget the special counsel’s report and the crimes that were elicited there.”

Lawmakers and aides emphasized that it is too early to discuss potential articles of impeachment and when such measures could come to the House floor. Much of the timing, they say, will depend on when — and if — they are able to secure further evidence from the whistleblower and the inspector general.

As the House moves ahead with its impeachment inquiry, top Democrats have increasingly discussed the possibility of pursuing “obstruction of Congress” as part of potential articles of impeachment, including during a closed-door meeting on Monday with committee chairs.

The focus on obstruction of Congress would be in addition to the House investigations centering on the mounting Ukraine scandal. Obstruction of Congress articles would be a catchall rebuke of the president, lawmakers say, over his refusal to comply with dozens of congressional oversight requests over the past year.

“Obstruction of Congress is a unifying pattern of misconduct that we’ve seen from the beginning of this Congress,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a Judiciary Committee member. “So I would be shocked if it doesn’t find its way into whatever our final work product is.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who sits on the Judiciary panel, said there is a “strong possibility” that obstruction of Congress articles could receive an eventual vote.

“The president has now had a long lineage of obstruction of Congress,” she said, pointing to the Trump administration’s refusal to initially turn over the whistleblower complaint and the stonewalling by Trump confidants like his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former White House counsel Don McGahn.

Schiff said the White House will “strengthen the case on obstruction” if it refuses to comply with his committee’s investigation.

Still, there is a simmering debate within the caucus about just what should be in the articles of impeachment that Democrats will likely draft.

“I think the articles of impeachment, assuming we refer them to the House, there will be a debate about what those should be,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member. “What the Judiciary Committee is going to do over the next couple of weeks is begin to start to think about the legal framework.”

The difference of opinion is part of a larger behind-the-scenes turf way playing out over just who is overseeing the impeachment investigation.

The Intelligence Committee is in the spotlight as it pursues the Ukraine investigation, but members of the Judiciary Committee and lawmakers on some of the other panels investigating Trump are privately jockeying to ensure they have a say in how the impeachment inquiry culminates.

Pelosi made clear Thursday that Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine — and White House officials’ alleged attempts to conceal that information — was the focus of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. But she left open the possibility of including other charges against Trump if Democrats ultimately draft articles of impeachment.

“This is the focus of the moment because this is the charge. All of the other work that relates to abuse of power, ignoring subpoenas of government, of Congress, contempt of Congress by him, those things will be considered later,” Pelosi told reporters.

“So, that’s why I said let’s not make any conclusions about articles of impeachment. We have to get the facts.”

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