WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives will spend the weekend on Capitol Hill preparing for what could be the final week of their months-old impeachment inquiry that has imperilled Donald Trump’s presidency.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks through Statuary Hall with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott – RC2UPD98IFO2
The House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic lawmakers are due to meet on Saturday and Sunday behind closed doors to sift through evidence against the Republican president and draft formal charges, known as articles of impeachment, that the panel could recommend for a full House vote as early as Thursday.
On Friday, the White House told committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler it would not take part in the panel’s hearings and condemned the inquiry as “completely baseless.”
Nadler expressed disappointment in a statement: “The American people deserve answers from President Trump.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed the committee to draw up the charges on Thursday after weeks of investigation into Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face the president in the 2020 U.S. election.
Passage of formal charges in the Democratic-led House, now seen as all but certain, would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office. The Republicans who control the Senate have shown little sign of supporting Trump’s removal.
While Trump has refused to cooperate with the House probe, he has made clear his lawyers will mount a defence in a Senate trial, where he believes he will prevail.
The Judiciary Committee is focused on two possible articles of impeachment that would accuse the president of abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress for refusing to cooperate with investigating committees.
Democrats also need to settle the question of whether to draft a third article alleging obstruction of justice based on former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the federal investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“That’s something that we’ll decide this weekend,” Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell told reporters on Friday.
The probe has focused on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, and into a discredited theory promoted by Trump and his allies that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 election.
Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption. They have denied wrongdoing and the allegations have not been substantiated.
Democrats also have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine – a vulnerable U.S. ally facing Russian aggression – and holding back a coveted White House meeting with Zelenskiy as leverage to pressure Kiev into investigating the Bidens.
The Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on Monday. Republicans have also called for a full day of proceedings to examine their own evidence, including a 110-page report saying the inquiry had found no evidence of an impeachable offence.
They have presented their own list of requested witnesses, including Hunter Biden and the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry. Nadler is considered unlikely to call them to testify.
Trump is the fourth U.S. president to face impeachment proceedings. None were removed from office, although Richard Nixon resigned as he faced almost certain impeachment in 1974 over the Watergate scandal.
Reporting By Matt Spetalnick, David Morgan and Steve Holland; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall