/House Judiciary panel preparing vote to define Trump impeachment probe

House Judiciary panel preparing vote to define Trump impeachment probe

Jerry Nadler

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler. | Cengiz Yar/Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to take its first formal vote to define what Chairman Jerry Nadler calls an ongoing “impeachment investigation” of President Donald Trump, according to multiple sources briefed on the discussions.

The panel could vote as early as Wednesday on a resolution to spell out the parameters of its investigation. The precise language is still being hammered out inside the committee and with House leaders. A draft of the resolution is expected to be release Monday morning.

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The issue was raised Friday during a conference call among the committee’s Democrats. A source familiar with the discussion said any move next week would be intended to increase the “officialness” of the ongoing probe, following a six-week summer recess in which some Democrats struggled to characterize to their constituents that the House had already begun impeachment proceedings. Democrats are hopeful that explicitly defining their impeachment inquiry will heighten their leverage to compel testimony from witnesses.

Though the language of the resolution is still in flux, some sources said it could incorporate elements of traditional impeachment probes, such as offering access to the president’s attorneys or providing for more time to question witnesses. There was discussion among some Democrats on Friday’s call about the strength of the language in the resolution, according to sources briefed on the call.

Advocates of opening a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump have clamored for the Judiciary Committee to more clearly spell out the contours of its investigation — a move they hope strengthens the House’s hand in a handful of court cases to obtain evidence and testimony against the president.

In early August, Nadler publicly declared that his committee had already launched impeachment proceedings despite taking no formal vote to do so. The claim sparked confusion, even among some Democrats, who sought clarification as they faced questions from progressive constituents about the status of the House’s effort to recommend Trump’s removal from office.

The committee has also repeatedly described an ongoing “impeachment investigation” in court filings submitted during the recess, part of legal efforts to compel testimony from witnesses to allegations that Trump attempted to obstruct an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. By declaring impeachment under active consideration, the committee has sought to convince judges of the urgency of providing Democrats with the evidence they’re seeking.

But Republicans on the committee protested loudly that impeachment proceedings require a vote, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s resistance to a formal impeachment inquiry — despite her support of the Judiciary Committee’s legal filings — has complicated the House’s posture further.

In addition to probing potential obstruction of justice by Trump, the Judiciary Committee is weighing allegations that Trump directed hush money payments to women accusing him of extramarital affairs in the weeks before the 2016 election, as well as evidence that Trump has sought to steer U.S. and foreign government spending to his luxury resorts, raising questions about whether he has violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

Until now, Trump-related investigations had been a patchwork effort by six congressional committees. The Ways and Means Committee, for example, is pursuing Trump’s tax returns in court. The Financial Services Committee and Intelligence Committee are seeking Trump’s financial records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One. The Foreign Affairs Committee has sought details about Trump’s interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the intelligence community has assessed sought to boost Trump’s 2016 electoral prospects. And the Oversight Committee had initially taken the lead on allegations about hush money payments, calling Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to testify in February before he went to prison on charges connected to the scheme.

The Judiciary Committee had mostly kept focused on obstruction of justice and the fallout from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, made public in April, that revealed hundreds of contacts between Russians and Trump campaign associates, as well as repeated attempts by Trump to constrain or shut down the probe altogether. Mueller testified publicly to the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees in late July, days before the House departed for its six-week recess.

But his testimony uncorked a surge of support for launching formal impeachment proceedings. More than half of the House’s 235 Democrats now support taking that step. The number has grown steadily, even after Nadler suggested impeachment proceedings had begun.

But the momentum has been tempered by Pelosi, who warned Democrats in an Aug. 23 call that public sentiment hasn’t kept pace. Polls show most Americans still generally oppose opening impeachment proceedings, even though Democratic voters largely support the move.

Many of the Democrats who declared support for an impeachment inquiry did so because they said it would help break through Trump’s stonewalling of the six committee investigations. They argued that without formal impeachment proceedings, Trump could continue to claim blanket immunity for his top aides and allies, preventing them from testifying or complying with congressional subpoenas. Trump has blocked several of his most senior aides — including former officials who provided some of Mueller’s most damaging testimony — from speaking to Congress.

They include former White House counsel Don McGahn, who told Mueller about multiple attempts by Trump to have the special counsel removed and described an atmosphere of chaos in the West Wing shortly after Mueller’s appointment. They also include former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who provided limited testimony to the committee but refused to discuss her tenure in the White House.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.

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