- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2019

House Democrats accelerated the drive toward impeachment Thursday by forcing through a vote to put a stamp of approval on the inquiry and scheduled more closed-door interviews about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, but they didn’t say when the hearings will be public.

The House voted along party lines 232-196 to set new rules for the impeachment inquiry that has been proceeding behind closed doors for over a month.

The vote highlighted the partisan nature of the effort, with no Republicans voting in favor and two Democrats casting no votes. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a Republican who quit the party because of Mr. Trump’s conduct and is now an independent, voted with the Democrats.

SEE ALSO: Trump, GOP develop impeachment strategy, hit ‘desperate’ Democrats for advancing probe

“We take no joy in having to move down this road and proceed with the impeachment inquiry,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat and intelligence committee chairman who is spearheading the probe.

House Republicans were quick to note that the only bipartisanship was on the side against moving forward with the impeachment probe.

“Not only did every single Republican reject the Soviet-style impeachment process but we were also joined by Democrats who couldn’t stand it any more,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican.

The accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, of falling short of her vow earlier this year that an impeachment process had to be taken up on a bipartisan basis.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham called the Democrats’ impeachment process a “sham.”

“The president has done nothing wrong, and the Democrats know it. Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding does not hurt President Trump; it hurts the American people,” she said.

The Republican leadership circulated Mrs. Pelosi’s comments from March in an interview with Washington Post Magazine.

“Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it,” she said in the interview.

In a floor speech before the vote, Mrs. Pelosi called it a “solemn occasion.” She said her party was seeking the “truth” to determine whether Mr. Trump deserved to be impeached.

“What we are fighting for [is] defending our democracy for the people,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Republicans countered that the Democrats had predetermined the outcome and were determined to impeach Mr. Trump at all costs.

“This is a travesty. No one should vote for this,” Rep. Doug Collins, Georgia Republican, declared in a floor speech. “They are simply after a president.”

Democratic Reps. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey voted with Republicans. Both represent districts that Mr. Trump won easily in 2016.

Mr. Van Drew said impeachment was unnecessary with the 2020 election just 13 months away, when voters can toss out Mr. Trump.

“I don’t think that he will be convicted in the Senate, and so we will have all this time, all this money, all this energy, all this effort for a failed impeachment.”

Articles of impeachment could pass the House on a party-line vote. The bar is much higher in the Senate where it would take a two-thirds vote to remove the president and Democrats don’t have a simple majority.

The resolution was purely procedural but it put lawmakers on the record as for or against pursuing impeachment over allegations Mr. Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate corruption involving former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, one of the front-runners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The vote put Democratic lawmakers from swing districts on the spot, as the question of impeachment divides the country as well as the House.

A Suffolk University poll for USA Today underscored the divide, with 37% of Americans saying the House should drop the investigation, 36% saying the House should impeach and 22% backing the probe but not impeachment.

House Democratic leaders were careful to keep a lid on fiery rhetoric about Mr. Trump during the debate. Members given time for floor speeches did not include any of the far-left Democrats known as “The Squad” who have attained national celebrity status with their socialist-style agenda and outspoken opposition to the president.

Republicans have long objected to the closed-door hearings, to their lack of participation and the absence of due process for Mr. Trump. They said the new rules changed nothing.

The new rules give Mr. Schiff broad power to determine the course of the proceedings, including when to open hearings to the public, and directs him to deliver a report to the Judiciary Committee that would decide on articles of impeachment.

Rep. Jerold Nadler, New York Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, could then launch public impeachment hearings, during which the president and his counsel would be able to participate, including calling witnesses and cross-examining witnesses.

There is a catch, however. Mr. Trump’s participation depends on his complete cooperation with the probe.

The new rules also allow the ranking Republican members of the Intelligence and the Judiciary committees to request and subpoena witnesses, but the request needs approval from the panels’ Democratic chairmen.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who is part of the Ukraine investigation as the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, said the new rules did not give the American public a clearer view of the proceedings.

“What does this resolution do? It gives even more power to run this secret proceeding in a bunker in the basement of the Capitol,” he said.

Democratic leaders did not say when public hearings would be held. Some rank-and-file Democrats said they expected open hearings in about three weeks, which would coincide with Congress’ Thanksgiving recess.

The inquiry stems from a July 25 phone call in which Mr. Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” in investigating Mr. Biden and other corruption allegations. A whistleblower believed to be a CIA official assigned to the White House accused the president of abusing his power for personal gain, including withholding U.S. military aid from Ukraine to force the investigation.

A rough transcript of the call did not show a quid pro quo with the investigation request, but Democrats argue the threat was understood and part of an ongoing pressure campaign of “shadow” foreign policy conducted by Mr. Trump’s private lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

The testimony provided so far, which has been gleaned from leaked copies of prepared opening remarks and accounts by congressional staff in the room, has largely centered on people’s opinions about what the president was doing when pressing for an investigation.

Mr. Trump wanted an investigation into accusations of corruption involving Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, who got a high-paying job on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company, while his father was the point man for Obama White House policy in the country, which is notorious for corruption, especially in the energy industry.

Mr. Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into a missing Democratic National Committee server that was hacked by Russia during the 2016 presidential campaigns. An American cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike examined the server to probe the hack but it disappeared before it could be handed over to the FBI. Mr. Trump pushed for a probe on the theory the server ended up in Ukraine.

Democratic leaders had until this week resisted putting the impeachment inquiry to a vote, saying the complaints about the process masked Republicans’ inability to defend Mr. Trump’s action, which they describe as an abuse of his office for personal political gain.

The closed-door investigation continued even as the House voted to formalize the rules.

Lawmakers heard from Timothy Morrison, who just stepped down as his position as a National Security Council expert on Russia. He said a top diplomat in Ukraine believe the administration was using the promise of a White House visit and U.S. military aid as leverage on Ukraine.

Mr. Morrison said he told the White House counsel that he was concerned about leaks on the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky and how they would appear. He said he was “not concerned that anything illegal was discussed,” according to his prepared opening statement that was obtained by CBS News.

Mr. Morrison also said he was not aware that military aid was possibly tied to Ukraine investigating Burisma until Sept. 1, but had “no reason to believe” the foreign officials knew about the delay until Aug. 28, when it was reported by a news organization.

He confirmed most of what William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told lawmakers Wednesday in a closed-door session, including the concern about a side foreign-policy channel peddled by a handful of individuals, including Mr. Giuliani.

Democrats this week asked John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, to testify next week. They also called National Security Council lawyers John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis to testify.

Mr. Bolton has the potential to deliver the most damaging testimony regarding Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

He was involved in some of the key events with that Eastern European country and, according to other witnesses in the investigation, attempted to push back on the push for investigations before his ouster in September.

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