Democrats set to open new chapter in impeachment

After a two-week barrage of public hearings, Democrats are eyeing the next stage of their impeachment inquiry as they edge closer to an end-of-year goal for wrapping up their investigation into President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE’s dealings with Ukraine.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffA new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign Officers offer harrowing accounts at first Jan. 6 committee hearing Live coverage: House panel holds first hearing on Jan. 6 probe MORE (D-Calif.) and other Democrats on the panel finished their last scheduled public hearings this week with what sounded like closing arguments for impeachment. 

Schiff said lawmakers will determine their next steps “in the coming days.”

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The committees leading the fact-finding phase of the investigation are slated to write a report on their conclusions. Those committees — Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs — are also poised to publicize the last pair of unreleased transcripts from their closed-door depositions with 17 witnesses. 

Then the spotlight will move to the House Judiciary Committee. That panel would lead the process of crafting impeachment articles as soon as the first week of December, when Congress returns from its Thanksgiving recess.

“The next phase will shift from the facts to the law. The law means the Constitution,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinThe job of shielding journalists is not finished House at war over Jan. 6 inquiry, mask mandate GOP Rep. Clyde defends 'normal tourist visit' comparison for Jan. 6 MORE (D-Md.), a Judiciary Committee member.

It remains unclear if the Judiciary panel will stage hearings with additional witnesses, or move directly to marking up articles, based on the investigative committees’ recommendations, to send to the floor for a full House vote.

They’ll also have to decide whether to limit the articles of impeachment to Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents or include any additional items, such as the obstruction of justice allegations contained in the Mueller report.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Britney Spears's new attorney files motion to remove her dad as conservator MORE (D-N.Y.) declined to comment on that process this week. But others on the panel suggested a hearing or two, featuring testimony from legal experts, would help Democrats make their case to voters, who remain sharply divided over the notion of removing a sitting president from office. 

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“We are going to possibly have a couple of hearings to present to the American people what an impeachable offense is,” Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-Powell'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Stephanie Murphy won't run for Senate seat in Florida next year Hispanic Democrats slam four Republicans over Jan. 6 vote in new ads MORE (D-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told CNN on Friday.

“It's important, after the testimonies that we've heard in the past two weeks to really continue to educate the American public, what is an impeachable offense, and what is not.”

She said panel members have “had some conversations” about strategy and potential witnesses, but no decisions have been finalized. 

The private deliberations about next steps come on the heels of frenzied week in which the Intelligence Committee heard testimony from nine witnesses with a window into Trump’s handling of foreign policy in Ukraine. 

The most damning testimony came from Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Biden to mark Tuesday anniversary of George Floyd's death Trump impeachment witness suing Pompeo, State over legal fees America's practice of 'pay-to-play' ambassadors is no joke MORE, Trump’s hand-picked ambassador to the European Union, who confirmed that there was a “quid pro quo” making a White House meeting with Ukraine’s leader contingent upon the country announcing investigations into the Bidens and 2016 election interference, adding that “everyone was in the loop.”

On Thursday, Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top Russia adviser, and David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, testified that Trump and his allies pressed for investigations that did not appear to serve America’s national security interests. 

Holmes described overhearing a phone call between Sondland and Trump, who asked for an update on whether the Ukrainian government would open the investigations. Hill outlined the emergence of two divergent policies in Kyiv: one advancing official U.S. policy designed to help Ukraine fend off Russian aggression; another she described as a “domestic political errand” aimed at helping Trump’s reelection prospects.

“We were focused on bilateral relations and U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine,” Hill said, “and these two things had diverged at this point.”

As Schiff gaveled out the final hearing, the typically mild-mannered Intelligence Committee chairman delivered some of his most impassioned public remarks to date arguing how the evidence showed that Trump abused his power.

Trump’s actions, Schiff said, go “beyond anything Nixon did.”

“What we have seen here is far more serious than a third-rate burglary of the Democratic headquarters,” Schiff said.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries On The Money: Biden issues targeted eviction moratorium | GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal 'The Squad' celebrates Biden eviction moratorium MORE (D-Calif.) has nevertheless been reluctant to say if Democrats have gathered enough evidence to begin writing articles, or to specify how the next few weeks will play out. 

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But the Speaker has made crystal clear that Democrats won’t sit around waiting for the courts to decide the fate of disputed witnesses who have refused to testify, citing executive immunity, even as recent testimony has implicated a number of prominent administration officials — including Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoNoem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis Pence v. Biden on China: Competing but consistent visions MORE, acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGiuliani rips Ukraine investigation: 'I committed no crime' Capitol insurrection hearing exposes Trumpworld delusions DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's riot lawsuit MORE and ex-National Security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Will Pence primary Trump — and win? Bolton: Trump lacked enough 'advance thinking' for a coup MORE — in Trump’s effort to press foreign leaders to find dirt on the president’s domestic political opponents. 

Such refusals, Pelosi said, were merely a delay tactic on the part of the White House, one that constitutes “further obstruction of Congress” — a charge that, itself, could emerge as a separate impeachment article. 

“We cannot be at the mercy of the courts,” she said Thursday.

Even without the testimony of key officials, many Democrats are confident that they have enough evidence of wrongdoing to move forward.

“My own feeling is that everyone who has relevant evidence should come forward and testify. At the same time, we have overwhelming evidence of potential high crimes and misdemeanors,” Raskin said.

Many Democrats, particularly those in swing districts who don’t want the entrenched fight to distract for too long from their policy agenda, are eager to move on and wrap up the inquiry in the House before going home for Christmas. That’s all the more motivation for Democrats to try to keep up their momentum and not let themselves get bogged down in lengthy court battles.

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“I'm happy that things have been moving at a pretty fast clip. And I think it should continue,” said freshman Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinHouse erupts in anger over Jan. 6 and Trump's role House passes host of bills to strengthen cybersecurity in wake of attacks Democrat unveils bill to allow only House members to serve as Speaker MORE (D-Mich.). “My preference would be to bring this to conclusion before Christmas.”

If the Judiciary Committee holds hearings, Trump and his counsel would have the chance to request witnesses and conduct cross-examinations.

“The president's going to have an opportunity to present his own evidence, to have his lawyers cross-examine, so you always want to leave room for some other explanation. But the testimony we’re hearing and the evidence we're seeing is obviously very damning,” said Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineMcCarthy jokes it'll be hard not to 'hit' Pelosi with gavel if he is Speaker Lobbying world Progressive fighting turns personal on internal call over antitrust bills MORE (D-R.I.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and Democratic leadership. 

Passage of impeachment articles in the House would toss the process to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Florida becomes epicenter of COVID-19 surge | NYC to require vaccination for indoor activities | Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates McConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal Top House Democrat says party would lose elections if they were held today: report MORE (R-Ky.) has vowed to stage a trial that lends both sides “the opportunity” to make their case. 

Trump appears thirsty for such a chance, saying Friday that while the investigation should “never” have happened, he's looking forward to the opportunity to clear his name. 

“I want a trial,” Trump said during an interview on “Fox & Friends” Friday morning. “There’s nothing there.”

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While a handful of Republicans have expressed concern with Trump’s conduct in pressuring Ukraine to open the investigation, none have offered any indication that they would side with Democrats in impeaching Trump.

And assuming all Republicans hold the party line in the House, that’s likely to make it all the more difficult for any of their Senate counterparts to vote against acquitting Trump in an impeachment trial.

“I've not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion,” said Intelligence Committee member Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFirst Democrat jumps into key Texas House race to challenge Gonzales Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel MORE (R-Texas), a centrist who is retiring next year.

Trump’s Republican allies have offered various defenses for their White House ally. For one, they argue, there could be no quid pro quo if Trump agreed to meet with Ukraine's president and release the freeze on U.S. military aid without Kyiv announcing the investigations Trump sought. They’ve also discounted the concerns from national security officials regarding a “back channel” foreign policy in Kyiv, saying Trump has the final word in such matters.

“These hearings are one career bureaucrat after another saying (without evidence) they ‘believed’ there was a political quid pro quo — while officials in the room say it never happened,” tweeted Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsMeadows says Trump World looking to 'move forward in a real way' Trump takes two punches from GOP Watchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ MORE (R-N.C.), a top Trump ally who attended the witness depositions and public hearings.

Yet Hill defended the work of the career diplomats, warning that straying from years-long efforts to protect Ukraine would only empower Russia’s hand in the region. In fact, she said, Moscow already has its sights on another target: next year's U.S. elections. 

“Right now Russian security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election,” she said. “We are running out of time to stop them.”