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The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee will move to the forefront of President Trump’s impeachment inquiry Wednesday morning with a hearing featuring four legal scholars, but no fact witnesses.
In the same pillared room that hosted last month’s House Intelligence Committee hearings, lawmakers will hear from Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, Harvard law professor and Bloomberg columnist Noah Feldman, University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt, and George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
All are Democrat witnesses except for Turley — a point that did not escape the notice of the president Tuesday evening.
“They get three constitutional lawyers … and we get one,” Trump said during a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in London. “That’s not sounding too good, and that’s the way it is. We don’t get a lawyer, we don’t get any witnesses — we want Biden, we want the son Hunter, where’s Hunter? We want Schiff. We want to interview these people. Well, they said no. We can’t do it.”
Following opening statements from Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and ranking member Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the witnesses will be sworn in and give opening statements of ten minutes apiece, followed by questioning.
The Judiciary Committee could approve articles of impeachment against the president within days. However, a senior member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team told Fox News Tuesday evening that it seems unlikely the full House can vote on impeaching Trump before Christmas, saying it’s “too complex” a process.
“I just don’t see it,” the source said. “It’s too big.”
In the meantime, Democrats are trying to pass the annual defense bill. Congress has to fund the federal government by Dec. 20 or risk another shutdown. The House and Senate are expected to approve several of the annual 12 spending bills and then pass an interim spending bill for the remainder – or perhaps glom the remainders together and approve them for the rest of the fiscal year.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) also looms large. If the decision is made to forge ahead with the USMCA this calendar year, then there is almost no way Congress can tackle impeachment. Democrats would face both a messaging problem and a floor traffic problem. Fox News has been told repeatedly in recent days that the USMCA is not ripe and action on that will likely take place after the turn of the year.
Nevertheless, Democrats have moved aggressively on impeachment. Late Tuesday, the intelligence committee voted to adopt and issue its scathing report on the findings from its impeachment inquiry, accusing Trump of misusing his office to seek foreign help in the 2020 presidential race.
The 13-9 party-line vote on the 300-page report was a necessary step before the document could be transferred to the Judiciary Committee. The report included call logs documenting apparent conversations involving Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes R-Calif., and Soviet-born businessman Lev Parnas, who was arrested in October.
“We have Americans and foreigners contact us every single day with information,” Nunes told Fox News’ “Hannity” on Tuesday night. “I was talking with Rudy Giuliani, and we were talking about how [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller bombed out.”
Nunes added that it was possible he had spoken to Parnas. Separately, Republicans called for phone records belonging to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who has acknowledged that he should have been “more clear” about his communications with the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
While invited to participate in the opening Judiciary hearing, the White House declined. “This baseless and highly partisan inquiry violates all past historical precedent, basic due process rights, and fundamental fairness,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to Nadler on Sunday.
Cipollone accused Nadler of “purposely” scheduling the proceedings to coincide with Trump’s attendance at the NATO Leaders’ Meeting in London. He also said Nadler provided “vague” details about the hearing, and that only then-unnamed academics — and not “fact witnesses” — would apparently be attending.
Wednesday’s hearing is expected to mirror the format used by the House Intelligence Committee last month. The proceedings start with a 45 minute period for the Democrats, most likely led by Judiciary Committee counsel Norm Eisen. Republicans will then get 45 minutes.
Then, the hearing will go to five-minute rounds for each of the 41 members. The five-minute round alone should consume three hours and 25 minutes.
Fox News expects the House to hold a vote series around 1:30 p.m. ET, forcing a recess in the committee. There will probably be some parliamentary fighting and stunting, which could delay proceedings further.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham and other administration officials have long argued that Democrats are wasting valuable legislative time with their impeachment probe.
“At the end of a one-sided sham process, Chairman [Adam] Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump,” Grisham said Tuesday, adding that Democrats’ impeachment report “reflects nothing more than their frustrations” and “reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”
During a press conference Tuesday, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy called on Democrats to end the impeachment “nightmare,” saying “They’re concerned if they do not impeach this president, they can’t beat him in an election.”
The Schiff-led Intelligence Committee conducted extensive interviews with witnesses connected to the Trump administration’s relationship with Ukraine after an anonymous whistleblower filed a complaint alleging that during a July 25 phone call, Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help Rudy Giuliani investigate Democratic activities in 2016 as well as former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
“The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage,” the Democrats’ report said. “In doing so, the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”
Schiff also tweeted: “The impeachment inquiry uncovered overwhelming and uncontested evidence that President Trump abused the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference in our election for his own personal, political gain.”
Schiff’s committee held closed-door sessions before opening up the inquiry to public hearings, which featured testimony from witnesses including National Security Council official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
The report concluded that Trump withheld nearly $391 million in military aid from Ukraine, conditioning its delivery as well as a White House visit for Zelensky on a public announcement that Zelensky was conducting the investigations. It also accuses Trump of committing obstruction by instructing witnesses not to comply with congressional subpoenas.
Republicans drafted a report of their own, which rejected the Democratic majority’s claims.
“The evidence presented does not prove any of these Democrat allegations, and none of the Democrats’ witnesses testified to having evidence of bribery, extortion, or any high crime or misdemeanor,” the GOP report said.
If the House should vote to impeach, the Senate would hold a trial, where a two-thirds majority would be needed to convict.
A Senate trial could also dig deeper into at least one of the issues Trump once sought to have investigated: Joe Biden’s role ousting a Ukraine prosecutor who had been looking into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings, where his son Hunter had a lucrative board role.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Ronn Blitzer, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.