House Democrats are going public next week with a case to impeach President Trump that is narrowly focused on his alleged abuse of power with respect to Ukraine, putting aside — for now at least — other potential high crimes and misdemeanors in hopes of making as clear an argument as possible.
The opening salvo in the public hearings will be the argument Democrats find most compelling: whether the president abused his power with his request that the Ukrainian government investigate his political rivals as he was holding up congressionally approved aid to the country.
The hearings will feature three State Department witnesses who say they witnessed an effort led by Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to influence U.S. policy with the country.
The exclusion of other issues in next week’s hearings — such as obstruction of justice or violations of the constitution’s ban on the president making profit from his office — is not a sign that those issues won’t potentially be included in articles down the road, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Beyond an article of impeachment over abuse of power, there is division among Democrats on how broad the impeachment inquiry should go. It is a division likely to come to a head as the House Judiciary Committee writes the articles of impeachment, which may not happen until December. Several Democrats say that no decision on articles has been made and that they will rely in part on evidence that comes out during public hearings.
“That will be a discussion,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight Committee.
Cautious moderates want a narrow case made around the president’s phone call with the Ukrainian president, in which Trump asked for a “favor” of a political investigation of his rivals while holding up aid to the country.
“If you start piling on with everything, you’re just going to make it very messy, very cloudy for the public,” said one moderate Democratic lawmaker granted anonymity to speak freely about internal deliberations.
While all but two House Democrats supported a vote last week to set the rules for the public phase of the inquiry, several moderates are still skeptical about supporting articles of impeachment — and they will be watching closely to see what resonates with the public and their constituents.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has insisted on the narrow approach. Several other Democrats speaking on condition of anonymity said they expect that to be the strategy unless further evidence is unraveled.
“I trust Nancy’s judgment,” the moderate lawmaker said, citing how she held Democrats back from pursing impeachment earlier over the findings in the Mueller report regarding Trump’s alleged efforts to block the special counsel’s investigation .
But progressives — many of whom supported impeachment even before learning about Trump’s actions with Ukraine — want the articles of impeachment to include other allegations of misconduct, saying it’s a dereliction of their responsibility to pursue some violations and ignore others.
“Of course we don’t want to pile every complaint we’ve ever had about the president into articles of impeachment,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “On the other hand, this is a serious matter, and if we fail to include clear violations of the constitution and clear abuses of power, then we’re not meeting the moment.”
There is some support for crafting an article around the president’s violation of the Constitution’s ban on the president profiting from his office, known as the emoluments clause. House and Senate Democrats have filed a lawsuit on the issue but it could be tied up in court for months. Democrats are weighing whether the evidence against the president on this issue is as ironclad as they believe the argument for abuse of power to be, according to a Democratic lawmaker.
There is growing consensus around including obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) has said that the White House’s instruction that witnesses, such as former national security advisor John Bolton, not testify would serve as evidence of the president’s obstruction of Congress.
And some Democrats are advocating for obstruction to include evidence documented by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in his report.
“It would be foolish of us to ignore obstruction. Obstruction is a crime. It’s documented in great detail in the Mueller report. He pretty much says it occurred at least 10 times,” Connolly said. “If we ignore obstruction we are saying to future generations, that it’s off the table when a president commits it, if you’re looking at impeachment.”
The precedent argument is likely to carry significant weight with veteran lawmakers who are most invested in protecting the power of congressional subpoenas.
But given how little support there was for impeachment over the Mueller report and how badly the report rollout went for Democrats, some Democratic aides recoil at his name, suggesting reluctance to incorporate Mueller-related charges in the articles.
The hearings next week will be in the House Intelligence Committee, but five other committees are expected to send work related to the impeachment inquiry to the House Judiciary Committee as soon as this month. It is that panel that will write articles and determine which should be voted upon by the full House, possibly by the end of the year.