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House Judiciary preparing vote on impeachment hearing rules

Posted: 8:27 AM, Sep 07, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-07 08:27:08-04

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee is escalating its impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, preparing a vote as soon as next Wednesday to establish procedures for hearings the panel hopes to hold this fall.

The details are still being negotiated, but a procedural vote next week could set rules for the hearings, according to a person familiar with the plan. The person requested anonymity because the resolution is still being worked out and the person wasn’t authorized to discuss it.

The rules could include allowing staff to question witnesses; allowing some evidence to be presented in closed sessions to protect sensitive materials; and allowing the president’s counsel to respond in writing to evidence and testimony, among other guidelines. The vote would be similar to procedural votes taken at the beginning of the impeachment investigations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, according to the person.

Tentative details of the resolution were discussed on a call with members of the committee Friday as they prepare to return to Washington next week after a six-week recess. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said just before the recess that the committee is already in an impeachment investigation as it has called multiple witnesses related to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and sued the White House for blocking testimony.

The vote would make clear that the committee is indeed serious about moving forward with an impeachment probe, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged caution to members, saying earlier this month that the public still isn’t there on impeachment. But it would only be a technical step, and the committee would still have to introduce articles of impeachment and vote on them before the full House would be able to consider approving charges against Trump. And even then, the Republican-led Senate would almost certainly not vote to convict him and remove him from office.

Many moderates in the caucus, who helped win the Democratic majority last year, say they should be focused on other issues and next year’s election.

“I’ve been traveling all of August,” Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas said this week. “This is not an issue people bring up. I think a lot of people would rather just vote him out, vote the president out.”

Other Democrats argue that impeachment is a process without a payoff, since the Senate would never remove Trump.

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the Judiciary panel who has backed impeachment proceedings, said, “That’s a legitimate thing for us to think about, and it’s a political puzzle we have to solve over the next few months.”

The committee’s impeachment vote, which was first reported by Politico, will come as the panel has signaled it will broaden its impeachment probe beyond Mueller’s report. The Judiciary panel and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced Friday that they are demanding information about the spending of taxpayer money at the president’s hotels and properties, partly to inform the impeachment investigation.

The committees said there have been “multiple efforts” by Trump and administration officials to spend federal money at his properties, including Vice President Mike  Pence’s stay  this week at a Trump resort in Doonbeg, Ireland.

The Democrats describe Pence’s visit, and the possibility that next year’s Group of Seven summit will be held at Trump’s Miami-area  Doral  golf resort, as corrupting the presidency. Payments from foreign officials are particularly troubling, they say, considering the emoluments clause in the Constitution that bans the president from taking gifts from other governments.

“We have been focused on the Mueller report, and that is a very small part of the overall picture,” said Raskin. “We must get America focused on the ongoing violations against basic constitutional principles.”

Pelosi echoed the Democratic investigators, calling Trump’s properties “a cesspool of corruption” and a “black hole for taxpayers’ money.” She noted that Trump’s trips to his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago can cost millions of dollars per visit.

“The American people deserve a government that serves their interests, not one that’s being exploited to line the president’s pockets,” Pelosi wrote in a blog post.

Aside from reviewing his use of his properties, the Judiciary panel is also expected to investigate hush money payments Trump made to kill potentially embarrassing stories, and has subpoenaed the Department of Homeland Security to explore whether the president offered pre-emptive pardons for lawbreaking. More subpoenas are likely.

Other committees are investigating Trump’s financial entanglements as well. The House intelligence and financial services panels are seeking records from two banks with which he did business, probing whether there may be links to money laundering.

House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has long said Congress should focus on following Trump’s finances — a subject Mueller stayed away from. In an interview Friday, Schiff said his panel will continue on that track this fall, including Trump’s business links to the Persian Gulf region and his efforts before the 2016 election toward building a tower in Moscow.

Schiff said he thinks people’s views are “pretty well dug in” on the Russia investigation.

“These other issues are also very powerful,” he said. “This is a guy who promised to drain the swamp.”