Impeachment Hearing Updates: ‘The Evidence Is Overwhelming’ Against Trump, Democratic Counsel Says

Impeachment Hearing Updates: ‘The Evidence Is Overwhelming’ Against Trump, Democratic Counsel Says

In what amounted to the opening argument in the effort to impeach President Trump, the lawyer for Judiciary Democrats told the committee that the president’s actions were “so brazen” that there was no question that he had abused his power to advance his own political interests over those of the nation.

“The evidence is overwhelming,” said Barry H. Berke, the lawyer, repeating the phrase to emphasize the point to counter in advance Republican arguments that the impeachment inquiry has been rushed and inadequate. The facts assembled in recent weeks were “uncontradicted” and “cannot be disputed,” he added, as he played video clips from witnesses who testified last month before the House Intelligence Committee.

“This is a big deal,” Mr. Berke told lawmakers. “President Trump did what a president of our nation is not allowed to do.” Mr. Trump’s actions, he added, were just what the framers had in mind when they put impeachment in the Constitution. “They threaten our rule of law, they threaten our institutions and, as James Madison warned us, they threaten our republic.”

Mr. Berke placed the president’s actions with Ukraine in the context of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election on his behalf, as investigated by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Berke played a video clip of Mr. Trump that year publicly calling on “Russia, if you’re listening,” to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, and another of him as president telling reporters he wanted Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Rather than leave the matter to voters next fall, as some Republicans have argued, Mr. Berke said the House had to act now because Mr. Trump was trying to corrupt the 2020 election. “That’s not a reason to postpone this discussion,” he said. “That’s a reason we must have this discussion.”

The Republican presentation to the committee is focused more on the actions of the Democrats than on Mr. Trump’s, arguing that the president has been the target of an illegitimate, partisan witch hunt.

Stephen Castor, the lawyer representing Republicans on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, devoted the majority of his prepared testimony to how the Democrats have conducted their inquiry and, in his view, distorted the facts to fit their preconceived narrative.

“This unfair process reflects the degree to which Democrats are obsessed with impeaching President Trump by any means necessary,” Mr. Castor told lawmakers. “The Democrats went searching for a set of facts on which to impeach the president — the emoluments clause, the president’s business and financial records, the Mueller report and allegations of obstruction there — before settling on Ukraine.”

Mr. Castor maintained that Mr. Trump was not pursuing his own interests, but was only concerned about corruption in Ukraine. “He was asking for assistance in helping our country move forward from the divisiveness of the Russia collusion investigation,” Mr. Castor said.

He noted that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has not said he felt pressured and asserted that he did not know at the time he talked with Mr. Trump on the telephone on July 25 that the president had suspended American aid.

“If President Trump was truly orchestrating a pressure campaign to force Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden, one would think that Ukraine would have felt some pressure,” he said.

The House Judiciary Committee opened a new phase in the impeachment inquiry on Monday as Democrats accused President Trump of violating his oath of office by pursuing his own political interests above those of the nation.

“President Trump put himself before country,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said, repeating the phrase five times during his opening statement as the panel prepared to hear evidence.

His Republican counterpart, Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, said the Democrats were out to get “a president they don’t like” from the moment he took office regardless of the evidence. “They spent two years trying to figure out what do we impeach him on,” he said.

After the opening statements, lawyers for both sides will make their opening argument for and against impeachment, and separately outline and analyze the information gathered by the House Intelligence Committee during its investigation into Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to help him incriminate his Democratic political rivals. While the White House refuses to participate, Mr. Trump’s Republican allies will argue that the case is a partisan witch hunt.

The hearing may be an important factor in shaping the articles of impeachment that House Democrats are drafting against Mr. Trump amid an intense debate about how expansive the charges of high crimes and misdemeanors should be.

Democrats appear poised to accuse Mr. Trump of abuse of power and bribery for pressuring Ukraine to help him incriminate Democratic rivals while withholding American security aid. They also expect to charge him with obstructing the congressional investigation by defying subpoenas, blocking current and former administration officials from testifying, and trying to intimidate those who have.

Less clear is whether they will include charges of obstruction of justice for trying to impede the Russia investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. In his report last spring, Mr. Mueller submitted evidence of 10 instances of possible obstruction but said he could not judge whether they were illegal. Attorney General William P. Barr, a Trump appointee, declared that the president’s actions were not illegal, but Democrats dismiss his judgment as skewed and partisan.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he and his fellow Democrats would not decide the shape of the articles of impeachment until after hearing evidence on Monday.

“There are possible drafts that various people are writing,” Mr. Nadler said on “State of the Union” on CNN on Sunday. “But the fact is we’re not going to make any decision as to how broad the articles should be — as to what they contain, what the wording is — until after the hearing.”

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee intend to use the hearing to complain about how the Democrats have handled the inquiry and accuse them of rigging the process to achieve a preordained outcome rather than to get to the truth.

Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, called on Mr. Nadler over the weekend to delay the hearing because Republicans were provided with thousands of pages of documents related to the inquiry only 48 hours beforehand.

“Chairman Nadler has no choice but to postpone Monday’s hearing in the wake of a last-minute document transmission that shows just how far Democrats have gone to pervert basic fairness,” Mr. Collins said in a statement.

Some Republicans may also use the hearing to accuse Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, of inappropriately obtaining phone records that documented the dates and duration of calls involving his Republican counterpart, Representative Devin Nunes of California.

Phone records cited in the Intelligence Committee’s report indicated that Mr. Nunes was in contact with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and one of his associates, Lev Parnas, who helped Mr. Giuliani with his efforts to turn up incriminating information about Democrats in Ukraine.

The White House refused to participate in Monday’s hearing, arguing that it was tilted against Mr. Trump and part of an illegitimate effort to overturn his election. But that does not mean Mr. Trump himself will not participate — at least via social media.

Given that the president posted or reposted nearly 100 messages on Twitter on Sunday, most of which were defending his actions or attacking his accusers, he could easily do the same on Monday, weighing in from afar with his own play-by-play commentary for his 67 million followers.

“Less than 48 hours before start of the Impeachment Hearing Hoax, on Monday, the No Due Process, Do Nothing Democrats are, believe it or not, changing the Impeachment Guidelines because the facts are not on their side,” Mr. Trump wrote on Sunday. “When you can’t win the game, change the rules!” He did not explain what he meant about changing the rules. The committee released a report on Saturday discussing the constitutional grounds for impeachment.

Most of Mr. Trump’s barrage on Sunday was retweets of his supporters, but he once again made clear that he expected nothing but complete loyalty from Fox News.

“Don’t get why @FoxNews puts losers on like @RepSwalwell (who got ZERO as presidential candidate before quitting), Pramila Jayapal, David Cicilline and others who are Radical Left Haters?” he wrote, naming several House Democrats. “The Dems wouldn’t let @FoxNews get near their bad ratings debates, yet Fox panders. Pathetic!”

  • The president and his advisers repeatedly pressured Mr. Zelensky of Ukraine and his government to investigate people and issues of political concern to Mr. Trump, including Mr. Biden. Here’s a timeline of events since January.

  • A C.I.A. officer who was once detailed to the White House filed a whistle-blower complaint on Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Zelensky. Read the complaint.

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