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.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Impeachment, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    Here’s a reason they might not want to focus too narrowly:

    The president’s personal intervention was “highly improper,” one arms export expert says, concluding that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act “appears to have been criminally violated here.”

    Article at Breaking Defense

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  2. CSK says:

    Tom Nichols has made the point that threatening the life of a CIA officer is in itself an impeachable offense.

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  3. michael reynolds says:

    Note: That’s the same photo I’ve been using on my Twitter header.

    It’s not just a question of convict/don’t convict, it’s about the Senate vote. If it’s straight partisan vote, that’s one thing. But what if it’s majority for conviction – including a handful of Republicans – but short of two thirds? Spinning that would be tough. Winning re-election afterward would be impossible.

    This is the point at which the wise old men of the party should explain to Trump that he needs to resign before he takes them all down with him. Anyone know of any wise old men in the GOP? Pence is dirty, he’s useless. The cabinet are all co-conspirators. Former GOP presidents? That’d just be George W. Bush and. . .yeah. Senate leaders? Like, who, Lindsay Graham?

    Who has any kind of credibility or standing in the GOP? Normally when the head of a crime family becomes more trouble than he’s worth a boss puts out a contract. Seems a bit unlikely as a solution. So we have a GOP full of invertebrates, fellow criminals, racists, white supremacists and imbeciles so totally compromised and so devoid of credibility they have now no capacity to tell Trump the truth.

    One thing they can do: they can rat. Rat and hope desperately the Democrats can use the information to get rid of Trump. #ETTD.

    Pardon, resign, flee.

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  4. CSK says:

    According to his Twitter feed this morning, Trump thinks an apostrophe is a hyphen. Whom did he hire to write his term papers at Fordham and Wharton?

    His deterioration in accelerating rapidly.

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  5. Teve says:

    I doubt he was teriorated in the first place.

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  6. DrDaveT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    This is the point at which the wise old men of the party should explain to Trump that he needs to resign before he takes them all down with him. Anyone know of any wise old men in the GOP?

    Yabbut… what makes you think Trump cares what happens to the GOP? If there is anything at all clear in what passes for his ‘mind’, it is who is using whom. If/when the GOP stops being useful to Trump, he literally could not care less what becomes of it, and would probably take dog-in-the-manger pleasure in taking as many of them down with him as possible if he goes down.

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  7. CSK says:

    @DrDaveT: Yes, and his cult would back him in this.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: Honestly, I think McConnell is ruthless enough to do stand up to Trump. Trump doesn’t care about the GOP but he can be persuaded that staying President is bad for business.

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  9. Kit says:

    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.

    D’s are absolutely correct to keep this simple and fast. Were they to lard their accusations with hundreds of pages of complicated crimes, R’s would jump for joy. They would find that one sentence around which they could base their entire PR campaign. And once the dust has settled, Trump’s vindicated. Exonerated. A clean man. No, start with something simple that any idiot can understand. And after the Senate refuses to convict, move on to the next crime. No need to wait until 2020. Let Trump have the honor of being the only president to be impeached multiple times. God knows that nothing else will come out of the Legislature. If Republicans could repeatedly and with great fanfare return to the bone-dry Benghazi well, why shouldn’t Democrats treat the American public to a show of just what it takes to drain Trump’s septic tank?

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  10. Paul L. says:

    , 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 Democrats’ Rules.
    The Trump Administration is just following the Obama Administration playbook for Fast and Furious and IRS targeting of Tea Party groups.
    Dismiss this as WhatAboutism: renaming “rooting out hypocrisy and naked partisanship” to deflect criticism for applying standards to your opponents that you would never hold your allies to.
    Enjoy the shoe being on the other foot.
    IMPEACH DRUMPF!!!YEEEEEEGHHHH!!!!

  11. Hal_10000 says:

    Keeping it narrow on the Ukraine does have its advantages. But I think to a lot pfople, this is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. it’s not just the Ukraine. It’s EVERYTHING for the last three years.

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  12. Paul L. says:

    @michael reynolds:
    BTW, Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner and his convicted criminal father Charles Kushner are Jewish.
    Are they above criticism?

    One thing they can do: they can rat. Rat and hope desperately the Democrats can use the information to get rid of Trump. #ETTD.

    Pardon, resign, flee.

    You said the same thing in April of 2018

    We will be deluged with tell-all books from ex-Trumpies spilling their guts and telling horror stories of their time in the White House. Just about everything the media has reported will be shown to be true.
    The entire Trump phenomenon will be seen as a cautionary tale in the danger of a careless and uninformed electorate. You, Eric, and you Paul, and all you ‘base’ Trumpaloons, will be a national embarrassment. We’ll all be trying to pretend people like you didn’t really exist. We’ll need that pretense to regain some shred of national pride.
    And a few dozen angry old white guys with too many guns and not enough Metamucil will decide to water the tree of liberty by murdering some people. They’ll give themselves some melodramatic name and assemble in Waco. I hear there’s a somewhat fire-damaged compound available, cheap.
    Pardon, Resign, Flee. That’s the closest thing to a good move for Trump now.

    Still waiting after old man Mueller failed you because Trump blackmailed him by threatening to release Obama administration documents on Fast and Furious and IRS targeting of Tea Party groups.

    HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA,HA
    IMPEACH DRUMPF!!!YEEEEEEGHHHH!!!!

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  13. wr says:

    @CSK: “Trump thinks an apostrophe is a hyphen.”

    And beyond that, seems to believe that a single “hyphen” carries the same meaning as closed quotes.

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  14. grumpy realist says:

    @Paul L.: Ivanka and the rest of Trump’s brood have in fact been embroiled in a lot of pretty sleazy actions either for their own “businesses” or in helping out Dear Old Daddy.

    Soros has been accused of stuff he hasn’t been involved with.

    I’d ask if you understand the difference, but I think we know what the answer is.

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  15. CSK says:

    @wr: Yeah, I know. He’s illiterate.

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  16. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    Remember what I told you yesterday? Fk off?

    You’re a bore. You have nothing to contribute, we already know your programming, we know you’re in a cult, and what you say has zero value. Cult members are just Xerox copies of each other.

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  17. Paul L. says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Soros has been accused of stuff he hasn’t been involved with.

    Same go for Ben Shapiro?
    Or he misgendered a trans women is a sleazy enough action to justify any attack?
    @michael reynolds:
    I am enjoying the projection from the Obots here about Cult45/MAGA.

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  18. charon says:

    @Paul L.:

    I am enjoying the projection from the Obots here about Cult45/MAGA.

    This thinking is standard with all cults, the idea they know the truth, outsiders are liars or fooled by lies. It’s why all cults isolate their members from outside information. Rush Limbaugh makes it a point to warn against the libral media, every show.

    It’s why my RWNJ sibling is so proud he does not read the NYT or WashPo.

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  19. Gustopher says:

    @Paul L.:

    BTW, Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner and his convicted criminal father Charles Kushner are Jewish.
    Are they above criticism?

    Again, because you just don’t seem to understand or want to understand….

    The claim that Jews are the evil puppet masters behind everything is an old antisemetic trope. The seven Jews who rule the world, etc.

    You happily quote things that contain this trope — a reference to “Soros funded left wing Media Matters”, where Soros is not mentioned before or after. Nothing changes logically in the article if it was simply “left wing Media Matters”, the “Soros” is just put in to point out the Jews.

    Structurally. it’s like a brief flash of boobs in a horror movie — a little something extra for half the audience.

    But, it’s a little something extra that reinforces prejudices that go back hundreds of years, and that have led to violence many times and genocide once.

    There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Soros in and of itself, or Netanyahu, or Micheal Reynolds, or Sammy Davis Jr. There’s a lot to criticize about many of them. There’s value in an article about everything Soros funds, or how the US foreign policy is too tightly bound to a Israel in the Middle East.

    Some of the criticisms might fall into the same areas as the antisemetic tropes, even. And that’s where context and judgement matter. Is it required, or is it extraneous?

    Good (assuming on topic): Netanyahu’s actions are tying the US foreign policy to blah blah blah
    Bad: (((Netanyahu))) has his crooked nose in our foreign policy, and he didn’t even tip the last time he bought some missiles.

    I will now expect you to either stop quoting antisemitic tropes, or say “whoops” when one slips by (it happens). Otherwise you are either an antisemite or you’re just happy to peddle in antisemitism which is really a distinction without a difference and we might as well just call you a nazi.

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  20. charon says:

    House Democrats Eye Narrowly Focused Impeachment Of Trump

    Even restricting to stuff directly related to Ukraine and the whistleblower, it’s hard to see how this investigation does not develop impeachable grounds against Barr, Pence probably others.

    A lot of misconduct by a lot of people will come out even with a narrow focus.

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  21. michael reynolds says:

    @charon:
    It’s not just the NYT or WaPo. Most of what cretins like Paul believe can be quite easily checked against official records. They manage to convince themselves that Trump is responsible for an economy that’s been growing for ten years – that is the mental gymnastics of the cultie. They have to actively avoid the truth.

    Paul is a self-made moron – he could very easily learn the truth about things, but he’s performed the intellectual auto-castration required of cult members.

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  22. Paul L. says:

    @Gustopher:
    I see the right mentioning Soros with Media Matters to be the same as the left mentioning the Koch brothers with the Cato Institute.

    michael reynolds is just a Obot loon who will not admit he was wrong about the Mueller investigation.

    1
  23. charon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Being smart from an I.Q. standpoint is totally compatible with gaslighting oneself into believing utter bullsh!t.

    4
  24. Gustopher says:

    @Paul L.: It’s the difference between pointing out that George W. Bush’s big ears make him look like Curious George, and Obama’s big ears make him look like Curious George. One has hundreds of years of bigotry attached to it.

    But if you want people to think you’re a Nazi, far be it for me to say otherwise.

    Sieg Heil, mein Nazi friend.

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  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: @CSK: True, but it is all about draining the swamp amirite?

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  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: How is Trump’s staying as President bad for his personal business? The only thing he’s got to sell is his name, and I don’t see that he cares about business at large–or ever has as far as that goes. He’s as likely to see going down fighting as good for his image as any other option.

  27. Teve says:

    RWNJs are now claiming George Soros is Greta Thunberg’s grandfather.

    You think I’m kidding,

  28. Teve says:

    Brian Tyler Cohen
    @briantylercohen
    ·
    27m

    BREAKING: Mark Amodei (R-NV) becomes first Republican House member to support an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

  29. DrDaveT says:

    @Paul L.:

    The Trump Administration is just following the Obama Administration playbook for Fast and Furious and IRS targeting of Tea Party groups.

    Cool! I win the office pool on who would be the first moron to try to draw an equivalence between Ukrainagate and the IRS Cincinnati office. Thanks, Paul L!

    For the record…
    1. Obama did not know anything about how the Cincinnati office was triaging 501(c)(4) applications. He probably didn’t even know that they did that. He might not even have known what 501(c)(4) is.
    2. When he learned what the office was doing, instead of backing them and doubling down on there being nothing wrong, much less illegal, about their triage rules — which happens to be true — he instead threw them under the bus. Exactly the opposite of Trump.
    3. The IRS office was the part of the federal government legally charged with the duties they were performing. Trump and (especially) Giuliani have no legal role whatever in either foreign military sales contracting or investigation of alleged crimes by US citizens.
    4. Obama did not invite any foreign governments to investigate the Cincinnati office’s behavior.
    5. The Cincinnati office’s actions were not aimed at any candidate for office.

    So, to sum up: Trump did the crime himself while Obama was ignorant of the alleged malfeasance at the time; Trump directly attacked a political opponent who is currently campaigning against him, while the IRS case involved no such attacks; Trump defended the crime while Obama conceded impropriety; the Cincinnati case did not involve improper involvement of a foreign government; Trump and Giuliani (and probably Barr) were acting outside their authority while nobody in the government was acting outside their authority in the Cincinnati case. Also, Trump is orange, while Obama is brown. Otherwise, yes, these cases were exactly the same.

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  30. An Interested Party says:

    michael reynolds is just a Obot loon who will not admit he was wrong about the Mueller investigation.

    Ahh, but the end of the Mueller investigation led to this even tastier morsel…so perhaps all that hope that Mueller would bring Trump down wasn’t completely misplaced…