That report from the House Intelligence Committee is due as early as next week — a chance for Democrats to make a cogent case against the President after weeks of testimony and document collection.
Nadler has offered the White House the chance to defend the President’s conduct head on. It could attempt to sway public opinion by questioning witnesses, introducing its own witnesses — if approved by the chairman, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California — and giving a concluding presentation that would offer Americans a succinct argument for Trump’s side.
“You have denied the President the right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans.”
White House lawyers could potentially offer Americans alternative theories for the President’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. They could bring in their own witnesses to better explain why nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine was withheld; and they could create enough doubt about the President’s intentions to give a few swing-district Democrats pause before the full House votes on impeachment.
But they also would be playing that game under Democratic rules. Already the timing of the hearings conflicts with the President’s schedule. One administration official told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Friday not to expect Trump to participate in Wednesday’s House Judiciary hearing since the commander in chief will be in London that day attending the NATO summit.
“Kind of hard when Nadler scheduled his hearing when the President is in London,” the official told Acosta. “He [Nadler] has the audacity to ask whether the President will attend.”
Overall the White House has not decided whether to have its attorneys at the hearing: “The letter is being reviewed and options are under consideration,” the official told Acosta on Friday.
Using his bully pulpit and his Twitter account, Trump has succeeded in convincing most Republicans that the Democrats have overreached in their zealous pursuit of criminality by the President.
Public opinion barely budges
Even after a tremendous effort by the Democrats to convince Americans that Trump abused his power in pursuit of a political favor, the President’s approval numbers are steady at 42%, and CNN’s new poll found that only 10% of Republicans favor impeachment and removal (up from 6% in October).
Trump adopted a new line of defense this week to try to distance himself from maneuverings in Ukraine by telling conservative talk radio host Bill O’Reilly that he had no idea what his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine.
There is another compelling reason why Trump and his lawyers might skip the House Judiciary proceedings, and that is because if the House impeaches him, the trial will then start in the Senate — which is friendlier territory.
Once the inquiry moves to the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, will be steering the process, giving the White House more control.
In that early meeting, a source told CNN, the leaders talked about allowing Democrats to lay out their case over a two-week period before Republicans make a move to dismiss it. But those talks are still in early days. Moreover, McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, are expected to attempt to negotiate a bipartisan resolution setting rules and procedures for the Senate trial.
It’s hard to know what that trial would look like, but the White House clearly may look more favorably on an arena where it could lay out its case without being forced to abide by the enemy’s rules.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Lauren Fox, Jeremy Herb and Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.