The House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing on Monday was supposed to be something like each side’s closing argument in the House’s impeachment inquiry.
Instead the meeting, which was likely the last time the House will call witnesses to discuss evidence President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, was ultimately a forgettable capstone to a process marked by major revelations, dramatic testimony and partisan fireworks.
The only witnesses on Monday were two staff attorneys, one from each party, each charged with taking the witness stand to present their side’s point of view. With nothing new to say, lawmakers took turns either asking questions they knew the answers to, or berating the attorneys—a process that took nearly 10 hours.
Now, with all their evidence already compiled into a lengthy report, Democrats are poised to move straight into the final part of the process: drawing up, considering, and voting on articles of impeachment—all possibly by the end of this week. Reports from The Washington Post and the Associated Press Monday evening indicated that there would be two articles of impeachment focusing on abuse of power and obstruction of congressional investigation.
While the impeachment hearing dragged from Monday morning into the afternoon, other activity on the Hill and beyond began to pull attention elsewhere. House Democrats—wary of GOP criticisms that they are consumed with impeachment—scheduled a vote for later in the week on their centerpiece prescription drug bill, and grew closer than ever to a deal with President Trump on a new U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement.
To some Democrats, the backburner is fine, for now. The goal of Judiciary’s proceedings, they say, is taking advantage of impeachment’s media coverage to lay out the evidence competently and without any major unforced errors—and not necessarily with a surplus of razzle-dazzle.
Members of the committee framed Monday’s hearing as important due diligence in a solemn process. A member of the Judiciary panel, Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA), told The Daily Beast that Monday’s hearing was “a presentation of evidence and a closing argument to knit the gravity of those things together.”
“The point,” said Dean, “is upholding our constitutional oath and holding the president accountable to his… We had to make this presentation of the uncontroverted facts to the American people, and we have to now do our job.”
Unlike in past impeachments, the lead investigators in the Ukraine matter weren’t special prosecutors but lawmakers, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA). Schiff himself did not testify to present his committee’s 300-page report, despite GOP demands for him to defend what they’ve dubbed the “Schiff Report.” The witnesses were instead Daniel Goldman, Schiff’s committee counsel, and Steve Castor, counsel for the Oversight Committee GOP, both of whom played leading roles in the open hearings helmed by Schiff. Also testifying was Barry Berke, a Judiciary counsel who delivered Democrats’ opening statement.
The unusual sight of staff testifying—and then also asking questions after testimony—proved to be a partisan lightning rod throughout the day, and seemed to push lawmakers to take the gloves off to pursue sharper, blunter lines of questioning. Nadler made use of his gavel loudly and often, and he largely succeeded in reeling the hearing back from the brink when frequent interruptions from the GOP edged it off the rails.
Several GOP lawmakers minced no words for Goldman, a former prosecutor and MSNBC analyst who Schiff brought to Washington earlier this year to lead investigations. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) went full attack dog, questioning Goldman over his past donations to Democratic political candidates.
Gaetz also needled Goldman over an old tweet—which Republicans displayed as a poster for full effect—in which Goldman said the so-called Steele Dossier was totally accurate. “Do you regret this tweet?” Gaetz asked repeatedly, but Goldman didn’t take the bait, staring at Gaetz dead-eyed as the Florida congressman took over both sides of the conversation he had began.
For most of the proceedings, Democrats kept their heads down and plugged away at the evidence in Schiff’s 300-page report, while Republicans poked holes in the process and slammed Democrats for tearing the country apart. Knowing the process was nearing its conclusion in the House, the GOP complained that Nadler would not schedule a hearing where they could hear from witnesses—already requested and rejected by Schiff—such as Hunter Biden.
“This will be the last hearing, because there’s no desire to hear anything from both sides,” Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said at the end of the day’s hearing. “That is the farce called the Judiciary Committee impeachment scam.”
Other Republicans seemed to have already placed their hopes on the Senate. “We can only pray,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), “that the Senate adheres to the judicial principles of our founders.”
Republicans weren’t the only ones looking ahead. During and after Monday’s procedural speed bump, Democrats frequently alluded to the “duty” they have remaining—drawing up articles of impeachment.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), a Judiciary member, argued Monday’s hearing was “necessary both from a process perspective but also from the perspective of, this is the first time we’ve laid out the full case.”
“As people talk about what happened and what the what the remedy is,” she said, “I think you will hear some of these things again.”