By: Jack Rodgers of Courthouse News Service
WASHINGTON (CN) — The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump will play out on a new stage next week, as the House Judiciary Committee said Tuesday it will hold its first public hearing in the probe.
Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., wrote in a two-page letter addressed to the president that the Dec. 4 hearing will be consistent with rules used in the Clinton and Nixon impeachments. Nadler also invited the president to attend next week’s hearings, in accordance with the House’s impeachment inquiry resolution.
“I write to ask if …you and your counsel plan to attend the hearing or make a request to question the witness panel,” the letter states. “If you would like to participate in the hearing, please provide the Committee with notice as soon as possible, but no later than by 6:00 pm on December 1, 2019.”
Nadler wrote that he “remains committed to ensuring a fair and informative process,” but noted invitations for a president to attend impeachment hearings are only a courtesy, not a right.
The House Intelligence Committee recently completed two weeks of public hearings into accusations of presidential misconduct by Trump, specifically over a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump pressured Ukraine to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 presidential election. Biden is seen as Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 election.
The inquiry began with a whistleblower complaint reported directly to Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Schiff said Monday that lawmakers on his committee will soon issue a report on evidence gathered so far, working through the Thanksgiving holiday to do so.
“Fundamentally, the question that Americans who watched the hearings must ask themselves is: Are the president’s actions compatible with the office of the presidency?” Schiff wrote in his message. “All members of the House will have to examine their conscience and their constitutional duty and decide.”
In a statement Tuesday, Nadler said Trump has a choice to make in the impeachment proceedings.
“He can take this opportunity to be represented in the impeachment hearings, or he can stop complaining about the process. I hope that he chooses to participate in the inquiry, directly or through counsel, as other Presidents have done before him,” he said.
Nadler’s letter states that the continued refusal to produce documents and preventing witnesses from testifying to the House committees helming the inquiry will have consequences.
If the administration continues to stonewall the House, “the chair shall have the discretion to impose appropriate remedies,” the letter states.
Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University, said he thinks the Judiciary Committee will work on putting all the information dumped on it by the Intelligence Committee into context. Hesaid the committee will try to decide what constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor and hear from both sides, rather than go straight to a committee vote on impeachment.
“Personally, I think that works out better than having the president rely on his proxies from the committee, although the president might be happy to leave it to those people,” Kalt said.
Kalt noted that Republican Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Steve Chabot of Ohio both presented evidence against Bill Clinton in his 1998 Senate trial. They were appointed as managers to argue the case in those proceedings.
Lawmakers from that impeachment saga will flip-flop, Kalt predicted, noting that South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham – a staunch defender of Trump – argued during Clinton’s trial that a crime was not required for impeachment.
“We’re going to have some colorful exchanges here. They tend to appoint less moderate people to Judiciary, more ideological,” Kalt said. “There are some people we can expect to hear some interesting things from.”