- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2019

House Democrats belatedly introduced a resolution Tuesday to set rules for seeking “sufficient grounds” to impeach President Trump, raising heated objections from the White House and congressional Republicans that the partisan probe has been unfair from the start.

The measure lays the groundwork for what top Democrats called “the next phase” of the impeachment probe to be opened to the public, after more than three weeks of questioning witnesses behind closed doors. The Democrats said the public will soon understand how Mr. Trump improperly pressured Ukraine for an investigation of Democratic presidential front-runner Joseph R. Biden.

“The evidence we have already collected paints the picture of a president who abused his power by using multiple levers of government to press a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election,” the Democratic chairs of four key committees said in a joint statement. “The next phase will move from closed depositions to open hearings where the American people will learn firsthand about the president’s misconduct.”

The House is expected to vote on the resolution Thursday.

The White House blasted the resolution as a scam to railroad the president.

“The resolution put forward by Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi confirms that House Democrats’ impeachment has been an illegitimate sham from the start as it lacked any proper authorization by a House vote,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “The White House is barred from participating at all, until after [Intelligence Committee] Chairman Schiff conducts two rounds of one-sided hearings to generate a biased report for the Judiciary Committee. This resolution does nothing to change the fundamental fact that House Democrats refuse to provide basic due process rights to the administration.”

The Democrats’ path forward makes it more likely that the highly charged impeachment proceedings will extend into next year’s presidential campaign and congressional elections.

“We are not bound by any timeline,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

As the Democrats’ machinery of impeachment ground on, the president met with 25 faith leaders at the White House Tuesday, including James Dobson, Ralph Reed and pastors Paula White of Florida and Robert Jeffress of Dallas.

“They took the time to pray for the president and for the nation,” said Deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere. “The leaders discussed the administration’s many accomplishments for the American people and how the communities they represent from across the country are benefitting from these important policies.”

Democratic leaders have been under intense pressure to hold a vote formally authorizing an impeachment inquiry, after weeks of secretive hearings and selective leaks building their case against the president. It culminated last week in Republican lawmakers storming into the secure hearing room, demanding an open process.

But Mrs. Pelosi has been reluctant to call for a recorded floor vote, with Democrats from districts that Mr. Trump won in 2016 worried about casting an early vote against him.

Critics said the resolution still doesn’t formally authorize an impeachment inquiry. It simply directs the three relevant committees “to continue their ongoing investigations.”

Under the resolution, Chairman Adam B. Schiff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — the president’s chief nemesis — would be given the power to call open hearings in which he and ranking Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California or their staffers could ask questions of witnesses for up to 45 minutes each. Other lawmakers would get five minutes.

The measure also spells out that the depositions of numerous witnesses who have testified privately to date — including Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the White House National Security Council staff, who testified against the president on Tuesday — will be made public. But the resolution provides for redactions of classified material and other information deemed “sensitive.”

The open-ended investigation by the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees would eventually provide a report by Mr. Schiff’s panel to the House Judiciary Committee, which would then craft its own rules for drawing up articles of impeachment and holding formal impeachment hearings. The resolution says the Intelligence committee will submit “findings and recommendations.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, called the process a “Soviet-style” inquiry and urged GOP lawmakers to vote against the resolution. His office said the measure “reaffirms and builds upon [the] tainted process by using the biased evidence obtained as the foundation for impeachment.”

“The resolution fails to provide the minority and the administration with the same due process rights which have been afforded in past presidential impeachments and is simply meant to authorize the production of a tainted document authored by Chairman Schiff,” his office said in a whip notice.

Mr. Scalise and Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, complained that Mr. Schiff shut down Republicans’ questions in the private session on Tuesday.

“It’s completely ridiculous and it’s why this should be in public,” Mr. Jordan said.

Before the resolution was introduced, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner dismissed the Democrats’ impeachment effort Tuesday as “silly games.”

“They’ve been trying to impeach the president for the last three years, or get him out of office, and they have been unsuccessful,” Mr. Kushner told Israel’s Channel 13 News in his first public comments on impeachment. “The best thing going for the president is that he hasn’t done anything wrong, and at this point, they’ve investigated him over and over and over again. I think the American people are sick and tired of it.”

The president’s son-in-law said Mr. Trump’s record of accomplishment “is unimpeachable.”

“He’s going to continue to do the things that the American people care about,” Mr. Kushner said. “If [Democrats] want to play silly games, then we’ll obviously deal with that in the appropriate manner, but we’re not going to let that distract us as an administration.”

In the secure room at the Capitol where lawmakers have questioned witnesses, Lt. Col. Vindman told lawmakers that he was concerned about the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said he warned Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland — a key player in the Ukraine incident — that the push to open an investigation into the Biden family crossed a line.

He also said he raised his concerns with the NSC lead counsel.

Col. Vindman is the first current White House official to testify. A Purple Heart recipient, he was cast as a “Never Trumper” by the president before his testimony began Tuesday morning.

The investigation is still ongoing with a packed schedule through next week, including a deposition with Timothy Morrison, who allegedly told William Taylor, a top diplomat to Ukraine, about military aid being contingent on Ukraine opening up investigations for the president.

Democrats said in a “fact sheet” that the president and his team will be able to respond in the eventual Judiciary hearings to evidence, to request additional testimony or witnesses, and attend the hearings.

The White House said it amounts to a “scam” in which Mr. Schiff, “who repeatedly lies to the American people, [will] hold a new round of hearings, still without any due process for the president.”

“The White House’s rights remain undefined, unclear, and uncertain — because those rules still haven’t been written,” Ms. Grisham said. “This resolution does nothing to change the fundamental fact that House Democrats refuse to provide basic due process rights to the administration.”

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