House Judiciary Committee Opens Impeachment Hearings
The impeachment inquiry moves to the House judiciary Committee this morning.
In just a few hours from now, the House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearings in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump related to the scandal involving the withholding of military aid to Ukraine in exchange for actions that would benefit the President domestically and the process is likely to be even more contentious and partisan than the proceedings last month before the Intelligence Committee:
Defenders of President Trump often describe the impeachment inquiry as a “circus.”
But after the partisan theatrics expected during Wednesday’s first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, they might need a stronger word.
When Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) gavels the room to order at 10 a.m., some of Capitol Hill’s most aggressive and colorful characters — Republicans and Democrats — will be seated on the dais, ready to inject new friction and hostility into the second phase of the inquiry.
There could be disruptions from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the Fox News favorite who led a conservative revolt against impeachment in mid-October by storming the secure room where depositions were taking place.
There could be conspiracy theories from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who nearly named the intelligence community whistleblower during a recent speech on the House floor.
And there could be antics from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a vocal Trump critic who brought a bucket of fried chicken to a hearing in May to highlight the absence of Attorney General William P. Barr, who was scheduled to testify.
Add to these another 38 lawmakers — many Trump loyalists or pro-impeachment Democrats ready to do battle — and you have a potentially explosive mix of personalities whose excesses could dominate the proceedings.
“It’s a bunch of brawlers sometimes on the Judiciary Committee, so it should get pretty hot under the collar as we go along,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the panel, during an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
“I don’t think things have been done the way they’ve been done in the past . . . so it causes some rancor and it should be much more feisty, I would say, than the Intel Committee was,” he said.
The potential for drama underscores the rising stakes for Democrats as the spotlight shifts from the Intelligence Committee and toward Nadler’s panel. More than two months into the impeachment inquiry, public opinion remains divided, and recent polls show that few voters were swayed in either direction by last month’s public hearings. Now, with the Christmas holiday fast approaching and a possible floor vote looming, Democrats face renewed pressure to make their case while avoiding delays or partisan provocations that could alienate more moderate members of the party.
The Judiciary Committee, by its nature, makes this more difficult. Though it has a constitutional responsibility for impeachment, the panel hasn’t had the clout of other committees in recent years and tends to attract political instigators who desire a platform for advocacy on abortion, immigration and law enforcement issues. These members benefit from the panel’s role overseeing the Department of Justice, which brings widely covered hearings and ample opportunity to raise their public profiles.
Of course, we saw plenty of partisan wrangling during the Intelligence Committee hearings. However, the nature and composition of the Judiciary Committee make the likelihood of clashes even stronger. Indeed, I expect that we will see such clashes from the very beginning of this morning’s proceedings right through to the end of the hearings this afternoon as Republicans try to do everything they can to disrupt the proceedings. Of course, what else can you expect from people such as Congressman Jim Jordan, Louie Gohmert, Matt Gaetz, and Doug Collins, all of whom will be aiming to do whatever they can to please the President and the hosts and viewers at Fox News Channel?
Today’s hearing will not consist of any fact witnesses regarding the Ukraine scandal or any of the other charges of wrongdoing against the President that could potentially form the basis of charges that could be included in potential Articles of Impeachment. Instead, we’ll be hearing from a series of legal scholars and historians who will be speaking about the history of the impeachment clause in the Constitution, the types of offenses that the Founding Fathers had in mind when they defined impeachment as being for reasons of “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors,” and how that understanding should potentially be applied to the facts we know about the activities and failures to act on the part of this President. The four people scheduled to testify are:
Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law and Director, Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law
Harvard Law School
Pamela S. Karlan
Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and Co-Director, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic
Stanford Law School
Burton Craige Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence
The University of North Carolina School of Law
J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law
The George Washington University Law School
As of now, today’s hearing is the only public hearing that the Judiciary Committee has scheduled and it is unclear where the matter will proceed after the end of the day. Committee Democrats have not ruled out the possibility that they will be taking testimony from additional fact witnesses or that the committee may seek to include matters beyond the Ukraine investigation in their consideration of charges against the President. These other areas, of course, include the material covered by Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, the President’s involvement in a conspiracy to pay off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in violation of campaign finance laws, and the issues raised by the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses.
In any vase, the hearings themselves begin at 10:00 a.m. and will be covered by all of the cable news networks, C-Span, and the broadcast networks. Additionally, it will likely be available on a wide variety of streaming services.