Impeachment Hearing Updates: Republicans Call Hearing ‘Unfair’ While Democrats Accuse Trump of ‘Brazen’ Actions
The House Judiciary Committee will hear evidence presented by Democratic and Republican lawyers before it will consider articles of impeachment later in the week.CreditCredit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Republicans lash out at Democrats for revealing names of journalists and lawmakers via phone records.
Republicans seized on a new talking point Monday, accusing Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee of improperly revealing phone records of members of Congress and journalists during their investigation of Mr. Trump’s impeachment.
Representative Doug Collins of Georgia angrily demanded that Mr. Goldman, the chief Democratic investigator for the Intelligence Committee, tell the lawmakers who made the decision to reveal the names of the journalists and lawmakers after their numbers were identified as part of subpoenas of phone company records.
“Who ordered it? You or Mr. Schiff?” Mr. Collins asked Mr. Goldman, referring to Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Mr. Goldman declined to say that anyone had specifically ordered the numbers be revealed in the report.
Mr. Goldman tried to explain that such identifications occur in the normal course of the examination of phone records during an investigation.
The information was collected when Democrats subpoenaed the phone records of several people being investigated as part of the impeachment inquiry. The telephone numbers of the journalists and lawmakers — including Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee — were included because they were talking to the people targeted by the subpoenas.
But Republicans sought to make an issue of the Democratic decision to reveal the names of Mr. Nunes and the others in the committee’s public report, saying that the decision amounted to an “abuse of power” by the Democrats.
Representative James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a former Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also lashed out at Mr. Goldman, accusing him of smearing innocent people by revealing the names of the people discovered by the phone records.
“Folks, you have made Joe McCarthy look like a piker,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said, adding: “This is a major step in the surveillance state getting out of control.”
The hearing turns testy as the committee’s Democratic attorney confronts his Republican counterpart.
“This is a big deal,” Barry H. Berke told lawmakers.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Call it the clash of the lawyers. After several hours in which both sides spent more than an hour presenting their cases, largely undisturbed, Barry Berke, the Democratic lawyer took aim at Stephen Castor, the Republican lawyer from the committee, grilling him aggressively.
In one testy exchange, Mr. Berke accused Mr. Castor of mischaracterizing the testimony of Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Berke noted that the Republican impeachment report said Ms. Williams thought the call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine was “unusual.”
“Isn’t it a fact that she said the call struck her as ‘unusual and inappropriate’? Isn’t that what she said?” Mr. Berke insisted.
“It wasn’t a block quote,” Mr. Castor said, grimacing and scowling several times as Mr. Berke pressed him for an answer.
The remarkable back-and-forth between the two lawyers for the committee sparked more procedural objections from Republican lawmakers on the panel, who repeatedly tried to object to Mr. Berke’s questioning of Mr. Castor.
“Point of order, he’s badgering the witness” said Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a former Republican chairman of the committee. Mr. Nadler slammed his gavel, refusing to concede the point.
“He’s not,” Mr. Nadler said.
‘The evidence is overwhelming’ against Trump, the Democratic lawyer said.
In what amounted to the opening argument in the effort to impeach President Trump, the lawyer for Judiciary Democrats told the committee that the president’s actions were “so brazen” that there was no question that he had abused his power to advance his own political interests over those of the nation.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” said Barry H. Berke, the lawyer, repeating the phrase to emphasize the point countering Republican arguments that the impeachment inquiry had been rushed and inadequate. The facts assembled in recent weeks were “uncontradicted” and “cannot be disputed,” he added, as he played video clips from witnesses who testified last month before the House Intelligence Committee.
Another Democratic lawyer, Daniel S. Goldman, the counsel for the House Intelligence Committee that gathered the evidence being presented on Monday, said that Mr. Trump continued to try to distort next year’s election with false allegations, pointing to his weekend statements to reporters that Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, would make a report to the Justice Department about Democrats.
“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,” Mr. Goldman said.
Mr. Berke placed the president’s actions with Ukraine in the context of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election on his behalf, as investigated by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Berke played a video clip of Mr. Trump that year publicly calling on “Russia, if you’re listening,” to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, and another of him as president telling reporters he wanted Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Rather than leave the matter to voters next fall, as some Republicans have argued, Mr. Berke said the House had to act now because Mr. Trump was trying to corrupt the 2020 election. “That’s not a reason to postpone this discussion,” he said. “That’s a reason we must have this discussion.”
The Republican lawyer called Democrats ‘obsessed with impeaching President Trump,’ regardless of facts.
The Republican presentation to the committee is focused more on the actions of the Democrats than on Mr. Trump’s, arguing that the president has been the target of an illegitimate, partisan witch hunt.
Stephen Castor, the lawyer representing Republicans on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, devoted the majority of his prepared testimony to how the Democrats have conducted their inquiry and, in his view, distorted the facts to fit their preconceived narrative.
“This unfair process reflects the degree to which Democrats are obsessed with impeaching President Trump by any means necessary,” Mr. Castor told lawmakers. “The Democrats went searching for a set of facts on which to impeach the president — the emoluments clause, the president’s business and financial records, the Mueller report and allegations of obstruction there — before settling on Ukraine.”
Mr. Castor maintained that Mr. Trump was not pursuing his own interests, but was only concerned about corruption in Ukraine. “He was asking for assistance in helping our country move forward from the divisiveness of the Russia collusion investigation,” Mr. Castor said.
He noted that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has said he did not feel pressured and Mr. Castor asserted that he did not know at the time he talked with Mr. Trump on the telephone on July 25 that the president had suspended American aid.
“If President Trump was truly orchestrating a pressure campaign to force Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden, one would think that Ukraine would have felt some pressure,” he said.
Trump had legitimate reasons to be concerned about Ukrainian corruption, a Republican lawyer argued.
Mr. Castor embraced the blame-Ukraine defense, contending that Mr. Trump had genuine concerns about corruption there when he suspended American aid and was justified in asking for an investigation into supposed efforts by Ukraine to influence the 2016 election against him.
“Democrats dismiss these as conspiracy theories to suggest that President Trump has no legitimate reason — other than his own political interests — to raise these issues with President Zelensky,” Mr. Castor said. “The evidence, however, shows that there are legitimate questions about both issues.”
Mr. Castor did not explain, however, why Mr. Trump never mentioned the word “corruption” in either of his phone calls with Mr. Zelensky if that was his concern but instead mentioned only Mr. Biden and issues associated with Democrats. And intelligence agencies and former advisers to Mr. Trump have warned against advancing claims that Ukraine interfered in the election, attributing them to an effort by Russia to shift responsibility after its operation to tilt the 2016 election.
“Let me say very clearly that election influence is not binary,” Mr. Castor said. “I am not saying that it was Ukraine and not Russia; I am saying that both countries can work to influence an election. A systemic, coordinated Russian interference effort does not mean that some Ukrainian officials did not work to oppose President Trump’s candidacy.”
While refusing to participate in the hearing, Trump weighed in from the sidelines.
The White House refused to participate in Monday’s hearing, arguing that it was tilted against Mr. Trump and part of an illegitimate effort to overturn his election. But that did not stop Mr. 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 began lobbing digital missiles on Monday as the hearing progressed.
‘President Trump put himself before country,’ Nadler emphasized.
The House Judiciary Committee opened a new phase in the impeachment inquiry on Monday as Democrats accused President Trump of violating his oath of office by pursuing his own political interests above those of the nation.
“President Trump put himself before country,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said, repeating the phrase five times during his opening statement as the panel prepared to hear evidence.
His Republican counterpart, Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, said the Democrats were out to get “a president they don’t like” from the moment he took office regardless of the evidence. “They spent two years trying to figure out what do we impeach him on,” he said.
Republicans sought to slow the hearing, raising objections and forcing votes.
Republicans have lodged repeated complaints about the way Mr. Nadler is running the hearing and the larger impeachment process, raising parliamentary points and forcing party-line votes.
Among other things, Republicans pressed Mr. Nadler repeatedly to schedule a hearing day that they would be allowed to organize, including calling witnesses of their choice. Mr. Nadler said he would think about it, but made no commitment.
They objected to the content of Mr. Berke’s presentation, arguing that it violated the committee’s rules of decorum against making disparaging remarks about the president. Mr. Nadler shut down the criticisms, noting that those rules do not apply to staff lawyers.
Republicans also complained that the lawyers making the opening presentations had not been sworn in under oath and that committee Republicans had not received until last weekend 8,000 pages of information from the House investigation, giving them little time to digest them before Monday’s hearing.
Republicans also used the moment to jab at Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for not presenting the evidence his panel gathered himself.
“The author of the Schiff report is not here,” Mr. Collins said. “Instead he is sending his staff to do his job for him. I guess that’s what you get when you’re making up impeachment as you go.”
The hearing could influence how House Democrats draft their articles of impeachment this week.
The hearing may be an important factor in shaping the articles of impeachment that House Democrats are drafting against Mr. Trump amid an intense debate about how expansive the charges of high crimes and misdemeanors should be.
Democrats appear poised to accuse Mr. Trump of abuse of power and bribery for pressuring Ukraine to help him incriminate Democratic rivals while withholding American security aid. They also expect to charge him with obstructing the congressional investigation by defying subpoenas, blocking current and former administration officials from testifying, and trying to intimidate those who have.
Less clear is whether they will include charges of obstruction of justice for trying to impede the Russia investigation by Mr. Mueller. In his report last spring, Mr. Mueller submitted evidence of 10 instances of possible obstruction but said he could not judge whether they were illegal. Attorney General William P. Barr, a Trump appointee, declared that the president’s actions were not illegal, but Democrats dismiss his judgment as skewed and partisan.
Mr. Nadler said he and his fellow Democrats would not decide the shape of the articles of impeachment until after hearing evidence on Monday.
“There are possible drafts that various people are writing,” Mr. Nadler said on “State of the Union” on CNN on Sunday. “But the fact is we’re not going to make any decision as to how broad the articles should be — as to what they contain, what the wording is — until after the hearing.”
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