WASHINGTON – The House impeachment inquiry could become even more combative and theatrical Wednesday, as the Judiciary Committee holds its first hearing into whether to recommend the potential removal of President Donald Trump.
After weeks of relatively somber hearings in the Intelligence Committee, the scene moves to a panel with nearly twice as many members who are at least as polarized. One Democrat brought a bucket of chicken to an earlier hearing to accuse Attorney General William Barr of cowardice for refusing to attend. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, promoted his potential Senate bid during a contentious hearing. And shouting matches erupted at previous hearings when Republicans vigorously questioned rules or procedure.
The Judiciary Committee has focused on whether Trump obstructed justice in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 election.
The witnesses Wednesday are law professors who can help define what “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Constitution justify removing a president: Noah Feldman of Harvard University, Pamela Karlan of Stanford University, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina and Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.
“Our first task is to explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct like those against President Trump,” Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in announcing the hearing.
On the eve of the hearing, Nadler privately told fellow Democrats that the circus that had consumed his committee in the past would not be on display Wednesday.
“I’m not going to take any s—,” Nadler told the group, according to a Democratic source, first reported by Politico.
The hearing comes a day after three other committees released a report about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The investigation found that Trump withheld official acts such as a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military aid in order to compel Ukraine to deliver two investigations to help his reelection campaign in 2020.
“The evidence of the President’s misconduct is overwhelming, and so too is the evidence of his obstruction of Congress,” the 300-page report said.
But Republicans on the Judiciary Committee led by Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia called the report a Schiff “sideshow” of misleading information. Republicans criticized the swiftness and lack of notification about Judiciary hearings, with no information about what else the panel plans.
“This ad hoc, poorly executed ‘impeachment inquiry’ will provide the Senate with ample justification for expeditiously disposing of it,” Collins told Nadler in a letter Monday.
Collins told reporters Tuesday that Nadler is wasting time with academics because he won’t call witnesses who know facts that lawmakers are reviewing. The hearing “is simply a filler because Jerry Nadler didn’t know what else to do,” Collins said.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the head of the House Republican Conference, told reporters Tuesday that Democrats would be asking law professors inaccurate questions about Trump’s behavior.
“The Constitution does not say that impeachment will be the responsibility of a panel of liberal activities, but that’s where we’re going to be” Wednesday, Cheney said.
Vice President Mike Pence rallied Republican House defenders of Trump at the Capitol on Tuesday. Pence met with Collins, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and John Ratcliffe of Texas.
“Independents are breaking and breaking hard away from the Democrats’ narrative on this, and with every advantage, essentially, the opportunity to be judge, jury and prosecutor, all at the same time, for them to actually be losing ground really shows how weak this impeachment effort is,” said Ratcliffe, who called the meeting invigorating.
Five other committees have been investigating Trump since Democrats regained control of the House in January. The Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform committees produced its report Tuesday on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, which Democrats argued represented an abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. But Republicans drafted a minority report defending Trump.
Trump chose not to participate in the Judiciary Committee hearing after White House counsel Pat Cipollone called the inquiry “baseless and highly partisan.” Trump has dismissed the inquiry as a partisan witch hunt and said impeachment or censure would be “unacceptable” because he did nothing wrong.
Nadler called Trump’s decision “unfortunate.” If the president had nothing to hide, Nadler said he should have provided thousands of pages of documents requested by Congress and allowed witnesses to testify rather than “blocking testimony with baseless privilege claims and provide any exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power.”
Mueller’s report described 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice by Trump. But Mueller made no decision on whether to charge Trump because of Justice Department policy against charging a sitting president.
The Judiciary Committee sought testimony from Don McGahn, a former White House counsel, who is described in several episodes. But McGahn defied a May subpoena and the Justice Department appealed after a U.S. District Court judge ruled that he had to testify.
The episodes included Trump calling McGahn at home in June 2017 and telling him Mueller should be removed because he had conflicts of interest, according to the Mueller report.
McGahn decided he would rather resign than carry out that order. He feared a repeat of the “Saturday Night Massacre,” which happened when top Justice Department officials resigned rather than carry out former President Richard Nixon’s order to fire the Watergate prosecutor.
Trump met with McGahn in the Oval Office and pressured him again, according to the Mueller report. McGahn refused.
McGahn later told Trump’s then-chief of staff, Reince Priebus, that the president had asked him to “do crazy s—,” according to the report.
After news broke in early 2018 about Trump’s efforts to have Mueller fired, the president told White House staffers to tell McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to remove Mueller, according to the report.
McGahn, again, refused. He later told Mueller’s investigators that the news stories were accurate.
McGahn resigned in October 2018.