Impeachment hearing heads to final phase
Donald Trump says he wants a trial, and it looks like he’ll have one.
The investigators, the lawmakers, and the man in the dock have heard enough.
With stunning testimony largely complete, the House, the Senate and the president are swiftly moving on to next steps in the historic impeachment inquiry of Donald J. Trump.
“Frankly, I want a trial,” Mr Trump declared Friday, and it looks like he’s going to get it.
SCHIFF'S "FACT" WITNESSES! pic.twitter.com/Pab2y1BVoN— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2019
Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s staff and others are compiling the panel’s findings.
By early December, the Judiciary Committee is expected to launch its own high-wire hearings to consider articles of impeachment and a formal recommendation of charges.
A vote by the full House could come by Christmas. A Senate trial would follow in 2020.
Congress’ impeachment inquiry, only the fourth in US history, has stitched together what Democrats argue is a relatively simple narrative, of the president leveraging the office for personal political gain, despite Republicans’ assertions that it’s complex, contradictory and unsupported by first-hand testimony.
House Democrats may yet call additional witnesses first, notably John Bolton, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser.
But Senate Republicans are already looking ahead to their turn, the January trial that would follow House approval of impeachment charges.
They appear to have two major options:
Should they try to dispatch with such a trial in short order, which they may not have the votes to do, despite holding 53 seats in the 100-member Senate?
Or should they stretch it out, disrupting the Democrats’ presidential primaries under the assumption it helps more than hurts the GOP and Mr Trump?
At this point it seems very unlikely the 45th president will be removed from office. And he knows it.
“The Republican Party has never been more unified,” Mr Trump declared on Friday, calling in to the appropriately named “Fox & Friends” to talk about his achievements for nearly an hour.
The Democrats have nothing to impeach him on, he claimed, adding that if the House proceeded, its work would come crashing down in the Senate.
He wants that trial, he said.
It all stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president. Mr Trump asked Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favour,” which involved investigating Democrat Joe Biden, and a theory — debunked by US intelligence — that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in America’s 2016 election.
In return, Democrats say, it was made clear to Mr Zelenskiy by others that he would get a coveted Oval Office visit.
And at the same time, Mr Trump was holding up $400 million (£311 million) in military aid the eastern European ally relies on to counter Russian aggression at its border.
For Democrats, it amounts to nothing short of a quid pro quo “bribery,” spelled out in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment.
They say they don’t need Bolton or anyone else to further a case they contend was well established by the White House’s rough transcript of the phone call — the transcript Mr Trump himself implores America to read.
“We Democrats are tired of a president who is willing to put his own personal interests above the Constitution,” said Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Judiciary Committee member. “I don’t think we should be waiting.”
Mr Trump insists he did nothing wrong. On Friday he revived the idea of electoral interference from Ukraine, on which he relied to push investigations of Mr Biden’s son Hunter, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine. Mr Trump’s former security aide Fiona Hill warned Republicans in Thursday’s hearing that it’s a “false narrative ” dangerous for the US and playing into Russia’s hands.
Now a Trump ally, Lindsey Graham, a senator from South Carolina, has asked the State Department for documents on the Bidens and Burisma, the gas company.
The Judiciary Committee chairman and other senators met with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone as Republicans considered Mr Trump’s rebuttal to whatever impeachment articles may arrive from the House.
Another Republican Senator, Ted Cruz, said if the White House wanted to call Hunter Biden as a witness, or the anonymous government whistleblower who alerted Congress to concerns about the phone call, then they “should be allowed to call them”.
Despite Mr Trump’s denials, Democrat Schiff says the testimony in the hearings has largely confirmed the accusations against the president.
“What have we learned through these depositions and through the testimony?” Schiff said as he closed the final session late Thursday. “So much of this is undisputed.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week no decisions had been made on further hearings.
“As I said to the president, if you have any information that is exculpatory, please bring it forth, because it seems that the facts are uncontested as to what happened,” she said.
In the Senate, many of the next steps will depend on Mr Trump, whose shifting views have forced GOP senators to readjust their own.