Democrats Unveil Proposed Rules for Public Impeachment Proceedings

Democrats Unveil Proposed Rules for Public Impeachment Proceedings

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s lawyers would be allowed to present a formal defense of him and cross-examine witnesses once the House Judiciary Committee begins debate over whether to impeach him, under proposed rules House Democrats unveiled on Tuesday to begin the next, more public phase of their inquiry.

A vote on the rules scheduled for Thursday would mark the first time the full House would go on the record explicitly blessing the impeachment inquiry. Styled as a direction to continue “ongoing” impeachment investigations, the Democrats produced the resolution after weeks of complaints by Republicans about the lack of such a vote.

But while the rules would afford the president many of the rights that congressional Republicans have demanded, including allowing Mr. Trump’s lawyers or Republican lawmakers to submit written proposals to call additional witnesses, they are unlikely to satisfy his allies.

As in past impeachment inquiries, Democrats as the majority party could block subpoenas requested by the minority Republicans if they disagreed that hearing from those people was necessary. That could foreshadow a fight over whether to call such people as the unidentified C.I.A. whistle-blower who brought to light Mr. Trump’s use of his powers to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

“The evidence we have already collected paints the picture of a president who abused his power by using multiple levers of government to press a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election,” House leaders wrote in a statement. “Following in the footsteps of previous impeachment inquiries, the next phase will move from closed depositions to open hearings where the American people will learn firsthand about the president’s misconduct.”

Four committee leaders signed the statement: Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee; Jerrold Nadler of New York and the Judiciary Committee; Eliot L. Engel of New York and the Foreign Affairs Committee; and Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, the acting chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee.

Democratic leaders expressed confidence that they would have enough votes to pass the resolution this week, even if a handful of moderate Democrats vote no. Republican leaders were urging their members to vote against it, arguing that to do otherwise would be a validation of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

“This thing has been poisoned from the very beginning,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Rules Committee. “Now, we are going to have rules presented to us at the last minute that we had nothing to do with. No negotiation. No input. Not even, ‘Hey, what would you like to see in this thing?’”

Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said the resolution only confirmed that the House investigation so far had been “an illegitimate sham” and would fail to provide the due process Mr. Trump deserved until the proceedings were nearly complete.

“The White House is barred from participating at all, until after Chairman Schiff conducts two rounds of one-sided hearings to generate a biased report for the Judiciary Committee,” she said.

The resolution envisions two distinct phases. In the first, the Intelligence Committee, led by Mr. Schiff — which until now has been conducting closed-door depositions about the Ukraine scandal — would hold one or more open hearings to take public testimony about the matter. His committee would then compile its findings in a report, and transmit transcripts and additional evidence to the Judiciary Committee.

In the second phase, the Judiciary Committee, led by Mr. Nadler, would receive the Intelligence Committee report and consider whether to recommend one or more articles of impeachment. The Judiciary panel could also seek additional evidence, including hearing from witnesses. Mr. Trump’s legal team would be permitted to participate in that round.

Still, a related set of procedures unveiled on Tuesday by the Judiciary Committee for its phase sought to use that due process right as leverage to get Mr. Trump to stop stonewalling congressional subpoenas. Mr. Trump has vowed to fight all subpoenas, and his White House counsel has directed executive branch employees not to participate in the effort.

The Judiciary Committee procedures would empower Mr. Nadler to block Mr. Trump’s lawyers from cross-examining witnesses if the president continued to try to prevent any of the four committees conducting impeachment-related investigations from gathering information from the executive branch. (Republicans on the committee could still do so.)

“Should the president unlawfully refuse to make witnesses available” or produce documents, the procedures said, Mr. Nadler could “impose appropriate remedies, including by denying specific requests by the president or his counsel under these procedures to call or question witnesses.”

The House will recess late Thursday for a week, but Democratic leaders aim to begin open hearings in the Intelligence Committee as soon as the week of Nov. 11. The public hearings will most likely feature several key witnesses investigators have interviewed behind closed doors.

The rule granting Mr. Trump and his legal team some due process rights to participate once the proceedings reach the Judiciary Committee is largely modeled on the practice used by previous Congresses when they began impeachment proceedings against Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Republicans have complained that the depositions have taken place behind closed doors. Democrats have pointed out that the initial fact-finding stage against Mr. Clinton was conducted by an independent counsel who used a grand jury to question witnesses behind closed doors, and that Republican members can question the witnesses.

In both phases, the top Republican on each committee — Representative Devin Nunes of California for Intelligence, and Representative Doug Collins of Georgia for Judiciary — could propose subpoenas for witnesses or documents. But if Mr. Schiff or Mr. Nadler object, the full committee will vote, giving Democrats the ability to quash them.

The measure is also intended to pave the way for more compelling and substantive sessions than the typical, often tedious oversight hearings in which each lawmaker has a brief turn and often uses the time to speechify or try to create a viral moment. Instead, the top Democrat and Republican — or staff lawyers — will question witnesses for extended blocks of time.

The resolution also would grant explicit blessing from the full House for the impeachment inquiry, saying the committees are “directed to continue” such investigations. Republicans have called the inquiry a sham because there has been no resolution by the full House to authorize one.

Last week a federal judge backed Democrats’ contention that no such resolution was legally necessary, but this week the Trump administration filed an appeal.

And though it is focused on the Ukraine matter, the resolution effectively leaves open the possibility of a broader case that includes accusations of financial wrongdoing against Mr. Trump and obstruction of justice in relation to Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation.

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