House Democrats Eye Narrowly Focused Impeachment Of Trump
House Democrats are reportedly looking at an impeachment process narrowly focused on the President's efforts to obtain a quid pro quo from the President of Ukraine.
The Washington Post reports that House Democrats are eyeing a quick impeachment investigation process that remains focused on the newest allegations against the President regarding his efforts to obtain Ukrainian help in undermining the candidacy of a Joe Biden:
House Democratic leaders are eyeing a fast-paced investigation into the possible impeachment of President Trump, instructing the committees handling the probe to wrap up their findings within weeks in hopes of concluding before the holiday season.
Multiple Democratic lawmakers and congressional aides said there is no formal timeline for the inquiry, but the “need for speed,” as one aide put it, comes as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is under pressure from vulnerable freshmen to keep the investigation narrowly focused and disciplined.
The emerging strategy of a rapid investigation focused mainly on the accusation that Trump urged Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt about a political rival comes as lawmakers prepare to leave Washington for a two-week recess. A whistleblower complaint said unidentified White House officials tried to keep the conversation a secret within the government.
“The consensus in our caucus is that our focus now is on this allegation,” Pelosi told reporters earlier in the day, adding: “This is a coverup.”
Pelosi and other leaders huddled in a basement conference room Thursday evening with more than a dozen “front-liner” members representing the toughest districts for incumbent Democrats to discuss the fledgling probe and, in the words of multiple attendees, “get on the same page.”
Inside the room, the group urged the leadership to keep the messaging around impeachment on national security and the Ukraine probe being led by the House Intelligence Committee and Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) — not on the litany of potential Trump offenses being investigated by other panels, including the House Judiciary Committee, which traditionally takes the lead in impeachment proceedings.
“I’m very supportive of Adam Schiff and what he and his committee can do in a measured way,” said Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.), one of the freshmen who endorsed an impeachment inquiry.
Some senior Democrats are even arguing that other committees should forgo potentially explosive hearings that could distract from the intelligence panel’s work, complicating other investigative committees’ plans.
“Very few hearings, if any,” said a senior Democratic aide, who said the coming investigative work will largely take place in closed-door interviews. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly.
One exception may be Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general who handled the whistleblower complaint sparking the Ukraine inquiry. Schiff said Thursday he had asked Atkinson, who spoke to the committee behind closed doors, to return for a “subsequent hearing,” though he did not specify whether it would be public.
The timeline of the probe is a subject of internal tension. Privately, Pelosi told Democrats upon announcing her support for an impeachment inquiry Tuesday that the probe would move “expeditiously” to capitalize on public outrage over the revelation that Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate potential 2020 Democratic rival and former vice president Joe Biden.
But many of the moderate freshmen do not want to be seen as rushing to conclusions — whether on the Ukraine probe or any other aspect of potential presidential wrongdoing. Publicly, Pelosi told reporters Thursday that “the facts will determine the timeline.”
A senior Democratic aide familiar with discussions among the party’s moderate wing relayed concerns that a probe seen as moving too rapidly by the public could backfire.
“The stakes are extraordinarily high politically, and if we do this wrong and we get ahead of the majority of Americans, this could actually lead to a much worse fate, which is Trump getting reelected, Democrats lose in the House and lose in the Senate,” the aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly about private concerns. “This process is going to take time. Nobody knows how long it will take to shift public opinion.”
One of the first credible polls to test the Democratic impeachment push following Pelosi’s Tuesday announcement found the public almost evenly split. An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist Poll conducted Wednesday found Americans approving 49 percent to 46 percent of the House inquiry, with independents disapproving 50 percent to 44 percent.
The New York Times reports the same thing and has more information on the timeline the Democrats are looking at:
WASHINGTON — A crucial cache of evidence in hand, House Democrats moved quickly on Thursday with an impeachment inquiry they said would be focused tightly on President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, using an incendiary whistle-blower complaint as a road map for their investigation.
The complaint landed like a bombshell on Capitol Hill on Thursday morning after its release by the House Intelligence Committee, and Democrats quickly seized on its narrative of allegations against Mr. Trump — chock-full of potentially damning detail, intriguing threads and characters who could become witnesses in the nascent inquiry — as an outline for their work.
After months of plodding investigating to determine whether they had grounds to impeach Mr. Trump, Democrats were working feverishly to build a case on the Ukraine matter, with some lawmakers saying they could move within a month or six weeks, possibly drafting articles of impeachment by the end of October.
The speaker said the growing impeachment case would be centered around the Ukraine matter and investigative action mostly lodged in the House Intelligence Committee, which first received and publicized the complaint.
That means the House Judiciary Committee, which had been leading the charge on impeachment for months, will temporarily idle the public aspects of its inquiry. The panel had been working on its own investigation of the findings of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who investigated Russia’s election interference in 2016, and the president’s attempts to disrupt his work. Those topics could still come into play if and when Democrats draft impeachment articles.
The Intelligence Committee was quickly lining up investigative targets. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Representative Adam B. Schiff, the committee’s chairman, said that the complaint provided a clear “road map” for congressional investigators in the coming weeks and that his committee would work through Congress’s two-week recess that begins on Friday.
Following this strategy would mean that Democrats would forego, for now, a wide-ranging impeachment inquiry that covers other topics, all of which are being investigated in one way or another by either the House Judiciary Committee or other committees. This would mean foregoing, for now, impeachment proceedings that include anything covered by the Russia investigation, the allegations regarding the President’s efforts to conspire with Michael Cohen to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in apparent violation of campaign finance laws, the emoluments clause issues, the Administration’s continued efforts to block Congress from gaining access to documents and witnesses necessary to its oversight responsibilities that arguably amounts to contempt of Congress, or any of the other myriad of issues that have arisen regarding this President. The investigations regarding these matters will continue, of course, but they apparently will not be part of any impeachment that may take place in the short term.
One of the advantages of this approach is the fact that keeping the process focused on one narrow issue, at least for now, means that the process can be relatively short. According to several reports yesterday, the preference among Democratic leadership would be for an impeachment inquiry that can effectively wrap itself up by the end of 2019, which would suggest a Senate trial at some point early in 2020. Politically speaking, this would be ideal since it would be taking place roughly at the same time that Americans are beginning to focus on the election. Putting the facts of this case out before the American people at that time could, if the impeachment process itself does not result in removal by the Senate, still end up enuring to the benefit of Democrats since it would likely focus the attention of the nation on this President’s misdeeds.
The second advantage of focusing the impeachment process on the Ukraine issue is that it is a relatively easy issue to explain, and a relatively easy issue for Americans to understand. More importantly, the most important pieces of evidence —- the summary of the President’s phone call of President Zelensky, the whistleblower’s complaint, and the report of the Inspector General for the intelligence community to the Acting Director of National Intelligence — have all been made public and are all relatively easy to read and to understand. To the extent there are witnesses necessary in the case, they would be limited to the whistleblower and certain White House officials who were involved in the apparent evidence to keep the record of the July 25th phone call from becoming public. As I’ve said several times this week, any fair reading of the relevant documents in the case make it clear what the President was attempting to do, namely that he was seeking to get a quid pro quo from the leader of a foreign country by tying access to American military aid to cooperation in the investigation of Hunter Biden and former Vice-President Biden’s alleged, but debunked, effort to put a halt to an Ukranian investigation of his son. All of this is strictly prohibited by U.S, law, including 50 U.S.C. 30121(2) which states that “It shall be unlawful for… a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation [of a thing of value] from a foreign national.” Additionally, there would be potential violations of 18 U.S.C. 371(1) which states:
If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both
Finally using the power of the Presidency for personal gain in this manner is a clear violation of the President’s oath of office.
There is, of course, a risk for Democrats putting all their impeachment eggs in one basket. If the Senate declines to convict and remove Trump, which as James Joyner notes this morning is still the most likely outcome, then he and his supporters could will no doubt try to spin this as a victory. Whether that would be enough to create the kind of momentum that leads to another narrow election win for the President in 2020 is unclear at this early point, but it’s certainly a possibility. At that point, Democrats could end up being in a position where they got their shot at Trump and missed, thus making it harder to try for a second shot. A second attempt to impeach the President after the 2020 election, for example, could end up coming across as a case of “sour grapes,” and would depend in no small part on whether or not Democrats are able to maintain control of the House. If they aren’t, then any hope of pursuing impeachment on the numerous other potential grounds against the President would evaporate into thin air.