First Trump impeachment hearing for House committee

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, right, and his lawyer Peter Chavkin, left, arrive to meet behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As they investigate President Donald Trump, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee will hold their first official hearing in what they are calling an impeachment investigation.

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s outspoken former campaign manager, is scheduled to appear Tuesday to discuss former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

But it’s unlikely that Democrats will get much new information. A devoted friend and supporter of the president, Lewandowski isn’t expected to elaborate much beyond what he told Mueller’s investigators last year. Mueller himself testified this summer, with no bombshells. Two other witnesses who were subpoenaed alongside Lewandowski — former White House aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter — won’t show up at all, on orders from the White House.

The hearing underscores what has been a central dilemma for House Democrats all year — they have promised to investigate Trump, aggressively, and many of their base supporters want them to move quickly to try and remove him from office. But the White House has blocked their oversight requests at most every turn, declining to provide new documents or allow former aides to testify. The Republican Senate is certain to rebuff any House efforts to bring charges against the president. And moderate Democrats in their own caucus have expressed nervousness that the impeachment push could crowd out their other accomplishments.

Still, the Judiciary panel is moving ahead, approving rules for impeachment hearings last week. Among those guidelines is allowing staff to question witnesses, as will happen for the first time with Lewandowski.

Lewandowski was a central figure in Mueller’s report, which said Trump could not be exonerated on obstruction of justice charges. Mueller’s investigators detailed two episodes in which Trump asked Lewandowski to direct then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit Mueller’s investigation. Trump said that if Sessions would not meet with Lewandowski, then Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired.

Lewandowski never delivered the message but asked Dearborn — a former Sessions aide — to do it. Dearborn said he was uncomfortable with the request and also declined to deliver it, according to the report.

Porter, a former staff secretary in the White House, took frequent notes during his time there that were detailed throughout the report. He resigned last year after public allegations of domestic violence by his two ex-wives.

In letters to the committee on Monday, the White House said that Dearborn and Porter were “absolutely immune” from testifying. White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote that the Justice Department had advised, and Trump had directed, them not to attend “because of the constitutional immunity that protects senior advisers to the president from compelled congressional testimony.”

In a separate letter, Cipollone said that Lewandowski, who never worked in the White House, should not reveal private conversations with Trump beyond what is in Mueller’s report. He wrote that his conversations with Trump “are protected from disclosure by long-settled principles protecting executive branch confidentiality interests.”

Democrats say the White House’s rationale isn’t legally sound. In a statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the White House’s position is “a shocking and dangerous assertion of executive privilege and absolute immunity.”

He added: “The President would have us believe that he can willfully engage in criminal activity and prevent witnesses from testifying before Congress — even if they did not actually work for him or his administration.”

In an effort to try and pry documents and testimony from the Trump administration, the Judiciary panel has filed two lawsuits — one against former White House counsel Donald McGahn, who also defied a subpoena earlier this year on Trump’s orders. But the lawsuits could take months to resolve and Nadler has said he wants to make a decision by the end of the year on whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump.

Nadler, D-N.Y., made his own views clear in an interview Monday with a New York radio station, saying that in his personal opinion “impeachment is imperative” in order to “vindicate the Constitution.”

But he also acknowledged that it won’t be easy, echoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by saying they will have to have greater consensus than they do now in order to vote on impeachment. He said the hearings will decide whether American people get there or not.

“No. 1, you don’t want to tear the country apart,” if the public sentiment isn’t there, Nadler said. “No. 2, you need 218 votes on the House floor.”

One of the main reasons that the votes aren’t there yet is because moderates in the caucus — many of whom are freshmen who handed Democrats the majority in the 2018 election — are worried it will distract from other accomplishments. A group of those freshmen met with Nadler last week to express concerns.

“There’s far too much work left to be done and we are in danger of losing the trust of the American people if we choose partisan warfare over improving the lives of hardworking families,” wrote New York Rep. Max Rose, a Democratic freshman, in a Friday op-ed in the Staten Island Advance newspaper.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

House Committee ready for first Trump impeachment vote

ouse Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., prepares for a markup hearing on a series of bills on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The House Judiciary Committee is preparing for its first impeachment-related vote, set to define procedures for upcoming hearings on President Donald Trump even as some moderates in the caucus are urging the panel to slow down.

The vote Thursday, while technical, is an escalation as the Judiciary panel has said it is examining whether to recommend articles of impeachment. It would allow the committee to designate certain hearings as impeachment hearings, empower staff to question witnesses, allow some evidence to remain private and permit the president’s counsel to officially respond to testimony.

As the committee moves forward, some moderate House Democrats — mostly freshmen who handed their party the majority in the 2018 election — are concerned about the committee’s drumbeat on impeachment and the attention that comes with that continued action. Several of the freshmen met with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Wednesday and expressed concerns about the path ahead.

“It’s sucking the air out of all the good stuff that we’re doing, so that’s our concern,” said Florida Rep. Donna Shalala, a freshman Democrat who attended the meeting. She said very few constituents in her swing district asked her about impeachment over the August recess.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a freshman Democrat from New York who was also at the meeting, said that the people in his district “are calling for action on prescription drug prices, health care, border security and infrastructure — not clamoring for impeachment probes and investigations. Congress should be focused on getting things done that can improve the lives of working people.”

The vote signals that the Judiciary Committee, which is comprised of some of the caucus’ most left-leaning members, is serious about moving forward with an impeachment process. But it’s still very unclear whether that process will ever move beyond the panel’s work, given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged caution. She has told her colleagues that the public still isn’t supportive of taking those steps.

The committee would still have to introduce impeachment articles against Trump and win approval from the House to bring charges against the Republican president. The Republican-led Senate is extremely unlikely to convict him and remove him from office.

Still, the committee has persistently advanced the impeachment issue — partly to bolster two lawsuits against the Trump administration as the White House has repeatedly blocked witness testimony and document production. The lawsuits say the material is needed so the panel can decide whether to recommend articles of impeachment.

Pelosi has said she wants to see what happens in court before making any decisions on impeachment. But she said Monday that she had signed off on the Judiciary vote, saying that “it’s a logical thing for a committee to establish its rules of procedure.”

The committee says the resolution is similar to procedural votes taken at the beginning of the impeachment investigations into Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

“The adoption of these additional procedures is the next step in that process and will help ensure our impeachment hearings are informative to Congress and the public, while providing the president with the ability to respond to evidence presented against him,” Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “We will not allow Trump’s continued obstruction to stop us from delivering the truth to the American people.”

The resolution that the committee will consider would set parameters for the panel’s impeachment hearings in an attempt to give lawmakers more powers to investigate the president. It would allow committee lawyers to question witnesses for an additional hour — 30 minutes for each side — beyond the five minutes allowed for committee lawmakers. Evidence would be allowed in private session to protect the confidentiality of sensitive materials, and any full committee or subcommittee hearing could be designated by Nadler as part of the committee’s probe into whether to recommend articles of impeachment.

The first hearing under the new impeachment rules would be with Corey Lewandowski on Sept. 17. Lewandowski was frequently mentioned in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which the committee has been investigating. According to Mueller’s report, Trump asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to limit Mueller’s probe.

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Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved