The House judiciary committee released a report on the constitutional grounds for impeachment on Saturday. Shortly after that, Donald Trump once again insisted the whole thing was a “witch hunt” and “a total hoax”.
In one such call, on 25 July this year, Trump appeared to make the release of military aid conditional on Kyiv investigating Joe Biden, a political rival, and a conspiracy theory about supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election. A White House meeting with Trump was also dangled in front of Zelenskiy.
House Democrats contend the 25 July call and testimony by diplomats and Trump advisers provide evidence of serious abuse of power, and thus grounds for the impeachment of the president and his possible removal from office.
“The Framers[’] worst nightmare is what we are facing in this very moment,” the House judiciary chair, Jerry Nadler, tweeted on Saturday, after releasing the 52-page report.
In contrast to the House intelligence committee’s 300-page blockbuster released this week, which summed up bombshell testimony delivered in private and public hearings, the judiciary report was written by Democratic staffers for use in the drawing up of articles of impeachment.
It considered what those who wrote the US constitution in the 1780s meant when they provided for presidents to be removed.
“President Trump abused his power, betrayed our national security and corrupted our elections,” Nadler wrote on Twitter, “all for personal gain. The constitution details only one remedy for this misconduct: impeachment.”
A vote on articles of impeachment against Trump is expected before the end of the year. Trump’s alleged attempts to obstruct the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in 2016, and links between Trump and Moscow, may also be considered.
Though some Democrats fear the party is moving too quickly, the president would expect to lose a House vote.
But he would expect to survive a trial in the Senate, which is held by a Republican party showing few signs of deserting a man with a tight grip on its base.
Some Democrats also worry a January trial will both tie up congressional business and complicate the countdown to the Iowa caucuses, the first contest in a presidential primary in which a number of senators are running.
On Friday, through a letter to Nadler from the White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump indicated his confidence in the Senate by making clear his refusal to engage with the House.
That put him at odds with Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Nixon resigned before being formally impeached. Clinton survived his Senate trial.
In response, Nadler said the president had been given “a fair opportunity to question witnesses and present his own to address the overwhelming evidence before us”.
“After listening to him complain about the impeachment process,” he added, “we had hoped that he might accept our invitation. Having declined this opportunity, he cannot claim that the process is unfair.”
Republicans continue to claim just that, as Democrats attempt to show they are acting in accordance with the constitution.
Trump complained about the impeachment inquiry again later on Saturday, on leaving the White House for speaking engagements in Florida. He also said he did not know why former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, was currently in Ukraine.
Giuliani’s attempts to further Trump’s interests in Ukraine lie at the heart of the impeachment proceedings and are the subject of investigations by prosecutors in New York. Alarm at his extra-governmental activities loomed large in testimony to the House intelligence committee from key White House aides.
Trump also made a familiar claim, saying: “The numbers have totally swung our way. [The public] don’t want to see impeachment. Especially in the swing states they’ve swung our way. I’ve never seen a swing like this. Because people realise it’s a total hoax.”
On Saturday the statistics website FiveThirtyEight.com put support for impeachment at 47.7%, to 43.8% against.
Nadler’s committee will hold further public hearings next week. This week, it heard testimony from selected legal scholars. One, called by Republicans on the panel, said Trump should not be impeached.
On Friday, over 500 more, from leading universities and law schools, signed an open letter on the matter. It began: “We, the undersigned legal scholars, have concluded that President Trump engaged in impeachable conduct. We do not reach this conclusion lightly.”
In this case, the scholars added: “We take no position on whether the president committed a crime. But conduct need not be criminal to be impeachable. The standard here is constitutional; it does not depend on what Congress has chosen to criminalize.”
Trump is accused of seeking an investigation of Biden, whose son had a position at a Ukrainian energy company, in order to benefit his own chances at the polls next year. The former vice-president is a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
Opponents of Trump also charge that Republicans’ focus on supposed Ukrainian interference in 2016, as opposed to accepted Russian interference, leaves the US open to renewed efforts from Moscow on Trump’s behalf in 2020.
Trump spent time on Saturday heralding the strong US economy, which many observers believe could help him win a second term after surviving a Senate trial.
“Impeachment is an especially essential remedy for conduct that corrupts elections,” the legal scholars said. “The primary check on presidents is political: if a president behaves poorly, voters can punish him or his party at the polls.
“A president who corrupts the system of elections seeks to place himself beyond the reach of this political check.”