Democrats quietly debate expanding impeachment articles beyond Ukraine
WASHINGTON - House Democrats are quietly debating whether to expand articles of impeachment to include charges beyond abuse of power in the Ukraine controversy, setting up a potential internal clash as the party races to impeach President Donald Trump.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee and other more liberal-minded lawmakers and congressional aides have been privately discussing the possibility of drafting articles that include obstruction of justice or other "high crimes" they believe are clearly outlined in special counsel Robert Mueller's report - or allegations that Trump has used his office to benefit his bottom line.
The idea, however, is running into resistance from some moderate Democrats wary of impeachment blowback in their GOP-leaning districts, as well as Democratic leaders who sought to keep impeachment narrowly focused on allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely.
The debate is expected to play out in leadership and caucus meetings this week, as the House Intelligence Committee prepares to hand the impeachment inquiry to the House Judiciary Committee. The Intelligence panel is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on its final report on Ukraine, allowing Judiciary to then work on writing articles of impeachment based on that document.
But the Judiciary Committee also has asked other investigative panels to send any findings of Trump-related misdeeds that they believe are impeachable. And many of the committee members are hoping articles will refer to and cite their own months-long investigation into the Mueller report, which described 10 possible instances of obstruction by the president.
"One crime of these sorts is enough, but when you have a pattern, it is even stronger," said Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a House Judiciary Committee member and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She said there is a strong case to be made for citing Mueller's report in impeachment articles but cautioned that no decision has been made. "If you show that this is not only real in what's happening with Ukraine, but it's the exact same pattern that Mueller documented . . . to me, that just strengthens the case."
The discussions heated up Monday as Trump lashed out at impeachment investigators as he left Washington for a NATO meeting in London, then aboard Air Force One promptly took to his favorite social media platform - Twitter - to declare "case over." Trump inaccurately portrayed fresh comments by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky as proof that impeachment was unnecessary. Although Zelensky denied being engaged in a "quid pro quo," he also questioned the fairness of Trump's decision to freeze nearly $400 million in congressionally appropriated military aid when his country was at war with Russia.
"[Y]ou have to understand. We're at war," Zelensky said. "If you're our strategic partner, then you can't go blocking anything for us. I think that's just about fairness. It's not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying."
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, sniping between Democrats and Republicans over the impeachment process escalated after the holiday break. Republicans issued a prebuttal of the Intelligence Committee report that is expected to lay out how Trump abused his power, refusing to acknowledge that Trump did anything wrong with Ukraine.
In a 123-page document, GOP investigators assert that Democrats failed to make the case that Trump committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by withholding military aid and a highly sought-after White House meeting to compel Ukraine to launch investigations into his political rivals. Nor, the Republicans say, do Democrats have a basis for impeachment in Trump's decision to spurn House document requests and witness subpoenas pertaining to Trump's Ukraine dealings.
Instead, the GOP document contends, the impeachment effort is "an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system" - one "based on the accusations and assumptions of unelected bureaucrats who disagreed with President Trump's policy initiatives and processes."
"The evidence presented does not prove any of these Democrat allegations, and none of the Democrats' witnesses testified to having evidence of bribery, extortion, or any high crime or misdemeanor," the GOP said.
Separately, Rep. Douglas Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, criticized Democrats for moving toward impeachment proceedings "without any evidence for us to review." Collins was referring to the Intelligence Committee report, which members of the panel were able to review beginning Monday night, though the committee has held a series of public hearings and released transcripts.