Impeachment Hearing Takeaways: Democrats Allege ‘Brazen’ Trump Scheme While Republicans Lament ‘Unfair’ Process
Impeachment Hearing Highlights
The House Judiciary Committee heard evidence presented by Democratic and Republican lawyers as it considers articles of impeachment against President Trump.
“No public official, including and especially the president of the United States, should use his public office for private gain. And we agree that no president may put himself before the country.” “It’s amazing that they start with impeachment, and then they spent two years trying to figure out what do we impeach him on?” “Mr. Chairman, if this were a court of law you’d be facing sanctions right now by the Bar Association —” “The gentleman will state his point of order and not make a speech —” “Mr. Chairman, how are we supposed to process over 8,000 pages of documents that came from various committees?” “The gentlemen — that is not a point of order. That is not a point of order.” “Where’s Adam? Where’s Adam? It’s his report. His name. Mr. Goldman, you’re a great attorney but you’re not Adam Schiff and you don’t wear a pin.” “The evidence is overwhelming that the president abused his power by pressure — by pressuring Ukraine and its new president to investigate a political opponent. The evidence is overwhelming that the president abused his power by ramping up that pressure, by conditioning a wanted White House meeting and a needed military aid that had been approved in order to get that president to investigate a political rival.” “Much has also been made about President Trump’s reference on the July 25 call to Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma, a corrupt Ukrainian energy company, and the actions of certain Ukrainian officials in the run-up to the 2016 election. Democrats dismiss these conspiracy theories to suggest that the president has no legitimate reason other than his own political interests to raise these issues with President Zelensky. The evidence, however, shows that there are legitimate questions about both issues.” “My question is, why did you misquote Ms. Williams in terms of —” “I didn’t misquote her.” “Why did you do it?” “We certainly misquote her.” “So you stand — so from the standard that you apply to your fact-finding in your report, you believe that it was entirely proper to say that Ms. Williams found the call to be unusual when in fact, she found the call to be unusual, and inappropriate and of a political nature given that the former vice president is a political opponent of the president. Is that your testimony sir?” “I mean, we described what Ms. Williams said.” “Sir, is that your — no you didn’t.” Rep. Collins: “Mr. Chairman, if either, you can ask —” Rep. Nadler: “The gentleman —” Rep. Collins: “Mr. Chairman, I’m not — he can either ask or answer, he can’t do both.” Rep. Nadler: “The gentleman —” Rep. Collins: “You can ask or answer, you can’t do both.” Rep. Nadler: “The gentleman is not recognized.” “Point of order that he’s badgering the witness.” “He is not — the gentleman will continue.”
The House Judiciary Committee heard evidence presented by Democratic and Republican lawyers as it considers articles of impeachment against President Trump.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times
Democrats and Republicans agree there are four facts at the heart of impeachment, but not the same four.
Democrats and Republicans who squared off at Monday’s impeachment hearing in the House Judiciary Committee had one remarkable point of agreement: Both said that there are four key facts at the heart of the debate about whether President Trump should be impeached by the House and removed from office.
They just offered two completely different sets of facts.
Daniel S. Goldman, the chief investigator for the House Intelligence Committee, said during his presentation to the Judiciary Committee members that the Democratic case against the president can be “boiled down to four key takeaways.”
He said that Mr. Trump “directed a scheme to pressure Ukraine into opening two investigations”; that he used his office to withhold “an Oval Office meeting and $391 million in security assistance to pressure Ukraine”; that “everyone was in the loop”; and that “despite the public discovery of this scheme, which prompted the president to release the aid, he has not given up.”
When Republicans had the microphone, several offered their own four-part assessment of how best to understand what they viewed as the failure of Democrats to make the case.
Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, offered them in his usual, rapid-fire fashion: He asserted that Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with the president of Ukraine did not show evidence of pressure or a quid pro quo; that Mr. Zelensky has repeatedly denied feeling pressured; that Ukraine did not know the security aid was held up; and that the aid was eventually released without any announcement of an investigation that Mr. Trump wanted.
Democrats take issue with those four points, asserting that they are factually wrong or a questionable interpretation, just as Republicans challenge the four Democratic points. Together, they underscore how far apart both sides are in terms of agreeing on a common set of facts in the impeachment inquiry.
Chairman denies requests for Republican witnesses, including the Ukraine whistle-blower.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, during the hearing on Monday.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, denied requests for Republican witnesses, including the appearance of Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, or the anonymous whistle-blower whose complaint focused on the president’s July 25 call with the president of Ukraine.
“The committee has previously tabled motions with regard to these matters at its December 4, 2019, hearing, and I see no reason to reconsider those requests,” Mr. Nadler wrote in a letter to Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
Republicans have repeatedly demanded a hearing to feature their own witnesses, including the whistle-blower, Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; and Mr. Schiff, who they accuse of running an unfair impeachment investigation. Mr. Nadler has said for days that he would respond to their request.
In the letter, Mr. Nadler noted that Republicans had previously asked for the same witnesses to appear during hearings of the Intelligence Committee. “I concur in Chairman Schiff’s assessment and also find that these requests outside of the parameters of the impeachment inquiry,” Mr. Nadler wrote.
Under the rules of the impeachment inquiry, Republicans have the right to request a meeting of the Judiciary Committee to consider an appeal of Mr. Nadler’s decision, though because Democrats control the committee, it’s all but certain that the committee would support the chairman’s decision. In the letter, Mr. Nadler said he was willing to call such a meeting if the Republicans request it.
The hearing could influence how House Democrats draft their articles of impeachment this week.
House Democrats are likely to use the testimony in Monday’s hearing as they begin drafting later this week the articles of impeachment 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 for pressuring Ukraine to help him incriminate Democratic rivals while withholding American security aid. They are also expect to charge him with obstructing the congressional investigation by defying subpoenas, blocking witnesses from testifying and denying documents.
It is less clear whether Democrats will include charges of obstruction of justice for trying to impede the Russia investigation by Mr. Mueller, whose report last spring included evidence of 10 instances of possible obstruction.
Republicans lash out at Democrats for revealing names of journalists and lawmakers via phone records.
Republicans seized on a new talking point on Monday, accusing Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee of improperly revealing phone records.
Representative Doug Collins of Georgia angrily demanded that Mr. Goldman tell lawmakers who made the decision to reveal the names of journalists and lawmakers in the Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report 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 answer but tried to explain that such identifications occur in the normal course of the examination of phone records.
The telephone numbers of the journalists and lawmakers — including Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee — were included because they had been talking to the people being investigated as part of the impeachment inquiry.
But Republicans said the decision amounted to an “abuse of power” by the Democrats.
“Folks, you have made Joe McCarthy look like a piker,” said Representative James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a Republican and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “This is a major step in the surveillance state getting out of control.”
The hearing turned testy as the committee’s Democratic attorney confronted his Republican counterpart.
Monday’s hearing began with both sides presenting their cases largely undisturbed. But once questioning began, Barry H. 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, by writing in a report that she found a July 25 call between Mr. Trump and the president of Ukraine merely “unusual.” Mr. Berke noted that she actually called it “unusual and inappropriate.” Mr. Castor denied misquoting her, saying it “wasn’t a block quote.”
The back-and-forth between the two lawyers caused Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a former Republican chairman of the committee to accuse Mr. Berke of “badgering the witness.” Mr. Nadler slammed his gavel. “He’s not,” Mr. Nadler said.
‘The evidence is overwhelming’ against Trump, the Democratic lawyer said.
The headline from Democrats at Monday’s hearing was from the opening statement by Barry H. Berke, the top lawyer for Judiciary Democrats, who told the committee that Mr. Trump’s actions were “so brazen” that there was no question that he had abused his power to advance his own political interests.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” Mr. Berke said, repeating the phrase to counter Republican arguments that the impeachment inquiry had been rushed and inadequate. He said the facts were “uncontradicted” and “cannot be disputed.”
Mr. Goldman later said that the president had tried 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 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 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.
The Republican lawyer called Democrats ‘obsessed with impeaching President Trump,’ regardless of facts.
During Monday’s hearing, Republicans focused more on the actions of the Democrats than Mr. Trump’s, arguing that the president has been the target of an illegitimate, partisan witch hunt.
Mr. Castor devoted the majority of his prepared testimony to how the Democrats have conducted their inquiry and, in his view, distorted the facts.
“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,” he said.
Mr. Castor maintained that Mr. Trump was not pursuing his own interests, but was only concerned about corruption in Ukraine. And he noted that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has said he did not feel pressured, saying that “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.”
Trump had legitimate reasons to be concerned about Ukrainian corruption, a Republican lawyer argued.
A central theme pushed by Republicans during Monday’s hearing was the blame-Ukraine defense, in which they contended that Mr. Trump was justified in asking Ukraine for investigations because had genuine concerns about corruption there.
“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. Intelligence agencies and former advisers to Mr. Trump have warned against advancing such claims, attributing them to an effort by Russia to shift responsibility after its operation to tilt the 2016 election.
“I am not saying that it was Ukraine and not Russia,” Mr. Castor said. “I am saying that both countries can work to influence an election.”
Republicans sought to slow the hearing, raising objections and forcing votes.
Monday’s hearing provided another venue for Republicans to lodge repeated complaints about the way Mr. Nadler is running the impeachment process, raising parliamentary points and forcing party-line votes.
Republicans pressed Mr. Nadler to schedule a hearing day that they would be allowed to organize, including calling witnesses of their choice. Later in the day, Mr. Nadler denied the request.
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.
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.
They also used the moment to jab at Mr. Schiff, for not presenting the evidence his panel gathered himself, prompting Mr. Collins to say: “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.”
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