Next week, the House Judiciary Committee will take over the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump, inviting him to a hearing on December 4 as they push closer to a possible vote on actual charges of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The Judiciary panel scheduled the hearing as the separate Intelligence Committee released two last transcripts from its depositions, including from a White House budget official who detailed concerns among colleagues as Mr Trump ordered them, through intermediaries, to put a hold on military aid to Ukraine.
Mr Trump ordered the hold as he was pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate Democrats — the issue at the heart of the impeachment probe. Multiple government witnesses testified in impeachment hearings held by the Intelligence panel this month that Mr Trump directed his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to take the lead on Ukraine policy and that Mr Giuliani pushed an “irregular” diplomatic channel.
The Intelligence Committee is wrapping up the investigative phase of the probe and preparing its report for the next. Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has said the report could be released soon after the House returns from its Thanksgiving break on December 3.
The initial Judiciary hearing on December 4 will feature legal experts who will examine questions of constitutional grounds as the panel decides whether to write articles of impeachment against Mr Trump — and if so what those articles will be. Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on Tuesday that his panel’s hearing will “explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct.”
Democrats are aiming for a final House vote by Christmas, which would set the stage for a likely Senate trial in January.
Mr Trump, meanwhile, tried to put distance between himself and Mr Giuliani in a radio interview on Tuesday. Asked by host Bill O’Reilly what Mr Giuliani was doing on his behalf in Ukraine, Mr Trump said, “I don’t even know,” adding that his lawyer had canceled one trip and had other clients as well.
Asked directly if he had directed Mr Giuliani to go to Ukraine on his behalf, Mr Trump said, “No.”
In a phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25, Mr Trump had said several times he would have Mr Giuliani contact Mr Zelenskiy. “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy,” Mr Trump said to Mr Zelenskiy, according to a rough transcript released by the White House.
The US president and his lawyers are invited to attend the Judiciary hearing and make a request to question witnesses, according to Democratic rules approved by the House last month. The committee released a letter from Nadler to the president, saying that he hopes Trump will participate, “consistent with the rules of decorum and with the solemn nature of the work before us.”
It’s unlikely that the president himself would attend, as Mr Trump is scheduled to be overseas on December 4 for a summit with Nato allies outside London. The Judiciary panel gave the White House until Sunday evening to decide whether Mr Trump or his lawyers would attend.
If Democrats stay on schedule, the committee will introduce articles of impeachment, debate them and then hold a vote, a process that could take several days. If charges are approved by the end of the second week of December, the House could hold a formal impeachment vote the third week of the month just before leaving for the holidays.
The charges are expected to mostly focus on Ukraine. Democrats are considering an overall “abuse of power” article against Mr Trump, which could be broken into categories such as bribery or extortion. That article would center on the Democrats’ assertion, based on witness testimony, that Mr Trump used his office to pressure Ukraine into politically motivated investigations.
Democrats are also expected to include an article on obstruction of Congress that outlines Mr Trump’s instructions to officials in his administration to defy subpoenas for documents or testimony.
Though several government officials called by Democrats cooperated with the committee, several key witnesses — including acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former National Security Adviser John Bolton — refused, following Trump’s orders.
Lastly, Democrats could potentially include an obstruction of justice article based on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report released earlier this year. Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump on that point, essentially leaving the matter up to Congress.
When and if the House approves articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate would be expected to hold a trial in early 2020. Unless political dynamics change drastically, Trump would have the backing of majority Republicans in that chamber and be acquitted.
It’s still unclear how long a trial might last, what it would look like and who might be called as witnesses.