Democrats signal unveiling of articles of impeachment amid abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges against Donald Trump

Washington: House Democrats signaled that they would unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday morning that charge President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, for conduct they called a "clear and present danger" to the 2020 election and national security.

The House Judiciary Committee was expected to work through the night Monday, readying the charges, according to multiple senior officials and lawmakers.

They cautioned that plans were not final, but several said they were now focused on two charges: that Trump violated his oath of office by putting his political concerns over the national interest and that he stonewalled congressional attempts to investigate.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the decision before it was ready.

"What happened with Ukraine — it’s not something we can close our eyes to," Rep. Eliot L Engel of New York, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said as he emerged Monday night from a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Engel and four other Democratic committee leaders scheduled a 9 am news conference for Tuesday in a stately Capitol reception room to lay out their plans.

Engel spoke an hour after the conclusion of a contentious Judiciary Committee hearing where Democratic lawyers testified that the evidence against Trump was overwhelming and demanded urgent action.

Summarising the findings of a two-month investigation by the Intelligence Committee, they asserted that the president had abused his office by soliciting reelection help from Ukraine, and then tried to conceal his actions from Congress.

"President Trump's persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security," Daniel S Goldman, the Intelligence Committee lawyer who led the Ukraine inquiry, testified as he presented the evidence gathered against the president.

The presentations by Goldman and a Democratic lawyer for the Judiciary Committee will form the basis for a debate in the committee, expected to begin as soon as Wednesday, over whether to recommend the House adopt the articles of impeachment charging a president with high crimes and misdemeanors for only the third time in American history.

 Democrats signal unveiling of articles of impeachment amid abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges against Donald Trump

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (left), and ranking member Doug Collins during a House Judiciary Committee hearing of presentations by Democratic and Republican lawyers on the evidence for and against impeaching President Donald Trump in Washington on Monday. (Image: Anna Moneymaker © 2019 The New York Times)

Even as the hearing forecast the impeachment articles Democrats planned to lodge against Trump, it also offered hints about the kinds of charges that Democrats might avoid.

Democrats, for instance, did not use the term bribery, an offense explicitly mentioned in the Constitution as impeachable and one that leaders have used in the past to describe the president’s conduct. And they did not discuss instances of potential obstruction of justice by Trump when he tried to thwart the special counsel’s investigation of possible links between his campaign and Russian election interference.

Instead, they used slickly excerpted video clips of testimony from senior diplomats and White House officials to accuse Trump of pressuring President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine to announce investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and an unsupported claim that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to interfere in the 2016 election. At the same time, they said, the president withheld as leverage a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in security assistance the country needed to hold off Russian aggression.

"This is a big deal," said Barry H Berke, the counsel for Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, appealing to the deeply divided panel of lawmakers sitting before him. "President Trump did what a president of our nation is not allowed to do."

Terms of high crimes and misdemeanors are displayed during a House Judiciary Committee on the evidence for and against impeaching President Donald Trump. Image:Doug Mills © 2019 The New York Times

Terms of high crimes and misdemeanors are displayed during a House Judiciary Committee on the evidence for and against impeaching President Donald Trump. Image:Doug Mills © 2019 The New York Times

The hearing, which unfolded over nine hours in the stately House Ways and Means Committee Room near the Capitol, featured bitter rounds of partisan sparring between Democrats and Republicans and testy cross-examinations of lawyers from both parties. Republicans arrived primed to challenge the Democrats’ case and condemn the process they have used to assemble it. They repeatedly interrupted the Democrats’ public presentation, and their own counsel used two separate addresses to try to dismantle it.

"Very simply, the evidence in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry does not support the Democrats’ conclusion that President Trump abused his power for his own personal, political benefit," said Stephen R Castor, a lawyer representing Republicans on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Castor said there was “simply no clear evidence” that Trump had “malicious intent in withholding a meeting or security assistance,” and ample evidence that the president had legitimate concerns about corruption in Ukraine. And he accused Democrats of having gone “searching for a set of facts on which to impeach the president,” essentially manufacturing a scandal where there was none.

The White House once again refused to participate in the day’s proceedings, despite appeals by Democrats to come to the table before it was too late. Trump and his allies, though, have now publicly turned their attention toward a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, where they believe they will have an easier time mounting a defense.

But that did not stop Trump himself from participating — at least via social media.

After posting or reposting nearly 100 messages on Twitter on Sunday, most of them complaining about the impeachment effort and assailing Democrats, the president fired off more Monday as the hearing progressed.

“The Do Nothing Democrats are a disgrace!” Trump tweeted.

For now, Democrats have elected to press ahead without the White House’s cooperation. The Judiciary Committee is likely to debate and vote on articles of impeachment by week’s end, likely along party lines, recommending their adoption by the full House. That would set up a vote before Christmas to impeach Trump, and a Senate trial early in the new year.

During the Judiciary Committee debate, individual lawmakers can propose changes to the articles leaders will unveil Tuesday as well as additional articles, though they would be subject to a vote of the full committee.

Steve Castor (left) and Barry Berke, majority counsel prepare to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the evidence for and against impeaching President Donald Trump. Image:Doug Mills/ © 2019 The New York Times

Steve Castor (left) and Barry Berke, majority counsel prepare to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the evidence for and against impeaching President Donald Trump. Image:Doug Mills/ © 2019 The New York Times

As the impeachment inquiry marched forward, another investigation consumed Washington on Monday. The Justice Department’s internal watchdog released a long-awaited report sharply criticizing the FBI for its handling of a wiretap application in the early stages of its Russia investigation. But the report also undercut Trump’s claims that former FBI leaders tried to sabotage him for political reasons. Both Trump and his critics claimed vindication.

But it was competing written reports on the Ukraine matter submitted last week by Democrats and Republicans that preoccupied the House. Though the facts recited on Capitol Hill on Monday have become well known over the past two months, including through public testimony from a dozen witnesses, the hearing provided the clearest account yet of the respective cases.

During his 45-minute presentation, Goldman described “a monthslong scheme” by the president “to solicit foreign help in his 2020 reelection campaign, withholding official acts from the government of Ukraine in order to coerce and secure political interference in our domestic affairs.”

Goldman said that Trump was continuing to this day to try to distort next year’s election with false allegations, pointing to his statements to reporters over the weekend claiming that Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, would make a report to the Justice Department about Democrats.

“The scheme by President Trump was so brazen, so clear — supported by documents, actions, sworn testimony, uncontradicted contemporaneous records — that it’s hard to imagine that anybody could dispute those acts, let alone argue that that conduct does not constitute an impeachable offense or offenses,” said Berke, the Judiciary Committee lawyer.

Both lawyers also noted that the White House had systematically tried to obstruct their inquiry. A dozen witnesses, including senior White House officials who could shed light on key events, were blocked from testifying, and the Trump administration did not provide a single document to investigators despite several subpoenas.

Republicans lamented again and again that the Democrat who led the inquiry, Rep Adam B. Schiff of California, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, did not testify himself about the report. They propped up a large poster on the dais that pictured a milk carton missing-person alert: “Missing: Adam Schiff.”

Even after 2 1/2 months of sparring, the complaints by Republicans reached new levels of vitriol. Democrats showed little patience for hearing out their criticisms, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, made liberal use of his gavel as he tried to maintain order in the face of Republican efforts to interrupt the hearing with parliamentary tactics.

“Bang the gavel harder — still doesn’t make it right,” said Rep Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

“They have talked about everything else, but they have offered not one substantive word in the president’s defense,” Nadler said of the Republicans in his closing remarks. In a letter sent during the hearing, he rejected Republicans’ requests to call witnesses including Schiff, Biden’s son Hunter and the anonymous CIA whistleblower whose complaint helped start the inquiry. Republicans could demand a vote on the matter at a later date.

Republican lawmakers fumed when Berke, who appeared at a witness table at the start of the hearing to deliver his argument against Trump, later climbed onto the dais and led the cross-examination of Castor, who was also representing the Intelligence Committee lawyer. It is highly unusual for House lawyers to testify in hearings, for Castor to be testifying on behalf of two committees and for one lawyer to question another in that way, but all were allowed under the rules.

Steve Castor, a Republican staff attorney, testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing during presentations by Democratic and Republican lawyers on the evidence for and against impeaching President Donald Trump. Image:Anna Moneymaker/© 2019 The New York Times

Steve Castor, a Republican staff attorney, testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing during presentations by Democratic and Republican lawyers on the evidence for and against impeaching President Donald Trump. Image:Anna Moneymaker/© 2019 The New York Times

"He's badgering the witness," Rep Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis, shot out as Berke pressed Castor.

"He is not," Nadler fired back.

Republicans seized on a small subset of evidence in the report to accuse Democrats of what Collins called “a gratuitous drive-by” targeting a conservative journalist and a Republican lawmaker.

At issue were a half-dozen subpoenas issued by Democrats that turned up call records between the journalist, John Solomon of The Hill; Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee; and subjects of the investigation, including Giuliani. Collins said he had no problem with the subpoenas but demanded to know who decided to name Nunes and Solomon in the report.

“Folks, you have made Joe McCarthy look like a piker,” Sensenbrenner said.

Goldman declined to discuss investigative decisions but said such identifications were typical when examining phone records in an inquiry like this. The calls noted in the report all took place around key events under scrutiny.

“We did not seek to do any investigation on a member of Congress or a staff member,” Goldman said. “It just happened to be they were in communication with a member of the president’s scheme.”

Nicholas Fandos c.2019 The New York Times Company

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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2019 17:41:06 IST