WASHINGTON, D.C. — A House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing opened Monday with shouting matches that reflected the deep partisan divide as House Democrats moved toward a likely full House vote to impeach President Donald Trump as early as next week.
Democrats say Trump’s campaign to get Ukraine’s president to investigate a potential 2020 Democratic rival and a debunked theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, while withholding nearly $400 million in congressionally mandated security aid and a promised White House meeting, constitutes an impeachable offense.
Democrats are likely to also seek an article of impeachment for Trump’s refusal to honor subpoenas, and his instructions to aides not to cooperate. Democrats are weighing whether to also include parts of the special counsel investigation that concluded in the spring.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in his opening remarks that the framers of the Constitution included impeachment for just such a situation.
“They warned us against the dangers of would-be monarchs, fake populists, charismatic demagogues. They knew that the most dangerous threat to the country may come from within, in the form of a corrupt executive who put his private interests above the interests of the nation,” Nadler told the panel.
“President Trump put himself before country,” Nadler said. “The integrity of our next election is at stake. Nothing could be more urgent.”
Republicans have dismissed the inquiry as a partisan effort to overturn the 2016 election and influence the 2020 election. They say Trump acted properly by withholding U.S. aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the senior Republican on the committee, called it “a farce.”
“Where’s the impeachable offense? Why are we here?” he said.
Collins called the hearing a waste of time because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., already called for articles of impeachment.
“The speaker undercut you. She took the thrill out of the room,” Collins said.
Monday’s hearing was immediately more contentious than previous proceedings, with a protester screaming about committee treason and the president being innocent as he was hurried from the room by Capitol Police.
Republican members repeatedly pressed Nadler about why he has not scheduled a hearing for them to call their witnesses as required by committee rules.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., shouting over Nadler pounding the gavel, decried having lawyers present the evidence at the hearing rather than requiring Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to appear.
“You’re going to try to overturn the results of an election with unelected people,” he said.
Nadler shut him down. “The gentleman will not yell out and he will not attempt to disrupt the proceedings.”
The House resolution that outlined the rules for the impeachment inquiry specified that staff would present the report.
Nadler had invited Trump to participate in the House hearings, or send an attorney to question witnesses and present evidence, but his lawyer rejected the offer on Friday.
In advance of the hearing, Nadler sent a letter to the White House late Sunday officially forwarding the Intelligence Committee’s report, along with additional evidence supporting impeachment. It also invites White House officials to review sensitive materials in a classified setting.
During the hearing, Judiciary Committee members will formally receive a report of the evidence the Intelligence Committee collected in its investigation, and a report about the historical precedent for impeachment.
The committee is still discussing what articles of impeachment to present to the House, with Nadler suggesting Sunday that members could vote this week on two or more charges against Trump.
Though Democratic leaders insist they have no timetable, they appear on track to ensure the full House can vote before Christmas. If Trump is impeached, the Senate would then hold a trial, probably in January. If he is acquitted, which appears likely in the GOP-controlled chamber, Trump would remain in office.