Trump Impeachment Inquiry Enters New Phase as Pelosi Sets Vote




 

(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved the Democrats' impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump into a new phase Monday that signals the public soon will get a look at the witnesses and evidence being assembled to build a case against the president.

Amid Republican complaints that the investigation is illegitimate, Pelosi announced that the full House would vote this week on the next steps for the existing inquiry being run by three committees.

Even before the House acts, the committees are set to get a key piece of evidence on Tuesday when an Army officer assigned to the White House National Security Council testifies that he listened to Trump's July telephone call with Ukraine's president and was so disturbed by the conversation that he reported it to the NSC's legal counsel.

"I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine," Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman said in a statement prepared for the inquiry.

Vindman is testifying voluntarily under subpoena despite White House attempts to prevent current and former administration officials from cooperating with the House probe. His account of the Trump's call largely corroborates the complaint of an intelligence community whistle-blower, who Trump and his allies have dismissed as passing on second-hand information.

Vindman said in his statement that he is not the whistle-blower.

In announcing the vote, Pelosi and her fellow Democrats are directly challenging the White House rationale for attempting to block witnesses from testifying and refusing to turn over documents."We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives," Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democratic colleagues.Pelosi acted after saying for some time that there was no need for a House vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry, as Trump and Republicans have insisted. Democrats said the vote, which could come as soon as Thursday, wasn't a response to the GOP criticism but was needed to set out the rules for a process that is all but certain to result in articles of impeachment against the president.

All but a handful of Democrats have publicly gotten behind the impeachment inquiry. The vote will test how many GOP House members are willing to risk Trump's ire to support letting the investigation proceed as polls show increasing public backing for at least an inquiry.

Republican Stance

Republicans said Pelosi's decision to hold a House vote after nearly three weeks of witness interviews conducted by the Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs committees behind closed doors was vindication for their stance that the investigation to date hasn't been legitimate.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Pelosi is "finally admitting what the rest of America already knew - that Democrats were conducting an unauthorized impeachment proceeding, refusing to give the president due process, and their secret, shady, closed door depositions are completely and irreversibly illegitimate."But there also were indications that Pelosi's tactic blunted Republican attacks on the investigation and how it was being carried out. GOP senators said the House vote could change their plans for a resolution -- sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump ally Lindsey Graham -- condemning the inquiry."Let's see exactly what they do," Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, said. "We'll decide if there's any room left that we should continue to be concerned about process in a way that the Senate should make a statement."

Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota said the House vote would change how the White House responds to what he called the current "rigged process."

The White House is "going to make decisions based on what the nature of the request is, I'm sure," Thune said. "But I suspect it would create an entirely different environment in order to have this conversation if the House was playing ball in terms of trying to make this at least a fair process where everybody has due process under the law."

Hearings Ahead

The text of the resolution had not been released as of Monday night. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California said the resolution's language would establish the format for the public hearings, and that his panel would be conducting those.

He and other Democrats have previously said they expected the public hearings to begin in a week or so. Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel of New York said the resolution doesn't set firm dates for hearings or a timeline for ending the investigative phase of the investigation.

Even with the vote there may be court battles ahead.

Charles Kupperman, a former Trump administration deputy national security adviser and a key witness, is asking a judge to decide whether he should comply with a congressional subpoena to testify or obey a White House directive not to participate in the inquiry.

He was scheduled to testify Monday. His lawyers argued that without a judicial ruling, their client would "effectively be forced to adjudicate the constitutional dispute himself, and if he judges wrongly, he will inflict grave constitutional injury on either the House or the president."

An initial court date has been set for Thursday.

Kupperman has long been associated with John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser who was forced out last month. Bolton also is a potential witness because, according to other testimony, he strongly opposed the involvement of Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in dealings with Ukraine.

Schiff said Monday that the three committees leading the probe "are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope in the courts. So, we move forward."

Even before Vindman's statement was made public, Schiff and other Democrats contend they now have enough significant evidence, even without testimony from those directly in Trump's orbit, that the president attempted to pressure the government of Ukraine for help with the president's personal political interests by withholding military aid.

Maryland Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, a member of the Oversight Committee, said the "overwhelming evidence" in the main case against Trump includes the rough transcript released by the White House of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Test Case

Still Kupperman could provide a legal test case if the House committees seek to summon Bolton, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, or other current or former high-level administration officials.

There are already as many as 10 other such officials scheduled to testify. They include Tim Morrison, the National Security Council's Russia and Europe director, who is expected on Thursday.

There have been other witnesses who have defied House committee subpoenas for testimony tied to investigations into Trump's alleged misconduct, including former White House counsel Don McGahn.

The House filed federal court action to compel McGahn to comply, but that matter remains unresolved.

"I think that everybody closer to Trump is going to be instructed not to testify under immunity," said Samuel Everett Dewey, a former congressional lawyer who led investigations in key committees in both the House and Senate. He also said the White House has a right to assert privilege.

(Corrects court date in 22nd paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Joe Sobczyk, John Harney

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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