U.S. judiciary committee debate on impeachment articles begins

The Democratic-led U.S. House judiciary committee began debating the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Wednesday evening, as the panel moves toward a vote to recommend the charges of misconduct to the full House of Representatives.

The start of debate sets in motion a process that will probably move to a trial in the U.S. Senate.

The session, which is expected to be a two-day process, went into recess late Wednesday evening and will reconvene Thursday morning. Each of the 41 committee members had a chance to state their position on the articles, which charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to his dealings with Ukraine.

What they said

House judiciary committee chair Jerrold Nadler opened the prime-time hearing by saying the committee should consider whether the evidence shows that Trump committed these acts, if they rise to the level of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanours and what the consequences are if they fail to act.

“When his time has passed, when his grip on our politics is gone, when our country returns, as surely it will, to calmer times and stronger leadership, history will look back on our actions here today,” Nadler said. “How would you be remembered?”

Republicans are also messaging to the American people — and to Trump himself — as they argue that the articles show Democrats are out to get the president. Most Republicans contend, as Trump does, that he has done nothing wrong, and all of them are expected to vote against the articles.

The top Republican on the panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, argued that Democrats are impeaching the president because they think they can’t beat him in the 2020 election.

Democrats think the only thing they need is a “32-second commercial saying we impeached him,” Collins said.

“That’s the wrong reason to impeach somebody, and the American people are seeing through this,” Collins said. “But at the end of the day, my heart breaks for a committee that has trashed this institution.”

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a campaign rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., on Tuesday. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Other Democrats spent much of the evening denouncing Trump’s conduct and shaming Republicans for defending him, while Republicans railed against what they see as a partisan and unjust inquiry.

“President Trump’s high crimes threaten our democracy,” said Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson. “I’m a black man representing Georgia, born when Jim Crow was alive and well. To me, the idea that elections can be undermined is not theoretical,” referring to the era of racial segregation.

Republican Jim Jordan contended the process was being driven by animus toward Trump and his allies.

“They don’t like us — that’s what this is about,” Jordan said. “They don’t like the president’s supporters, and they dislike us so much they’re willing to weaponize the government.”

The articles of impeachment

Article 1

In the impeachment context, abuse of power is generally defined as using the vast powers of the presidency for personal benefit.

Abuse of power is not specifically listed as an impeachable offence in the U.S. Constitution, which states that a president can be removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”

But the founders of the United States intended the phrase “other high crimes and misdemeanours” to broadly encompass abuses of power, legal scholars said.

Article 2

Democrats levelled the obstruction charge based on Trump’s stonewalling of the House’s impeachment inquiry.

The White House has refused to provide documents to congressional investigators and has instructed top advisers and government officials to defy subpoenas and refuse to testify.

Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanour crime under U.S. law, which defines the offence as wilfully failing to provide testimony or documents to Congress.

The White House has argued that the Constitution does not require senior presidential advisers to appear for compelled testimony before Congress. A judge rejected that argument on Nov. 25 in a dispute over a subpoena issued to former White House counsel Don McGahn.

What to expect

Thursday, Dec. 12

After making opening statements at the late session Wednesday, lawmakers on the House judiciary committee will reconvene at 9 a.m. ET Thursday to further debate the articles, consider any amendments and vote on whether to recommend them to the full House for a final impeachment vote.

Week of Dec. 15

The House is expected to vote on the charges, possibly after holding a daylong debate that could involve all 431 of its current legislators. If the full House voted to approve the articles, Trump would become only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. He would remain in office, however, pending a trial in the Senate.

If the impeachment is approved, the House would select lawmakers known as managers to present the case against Trump at a Senate trial. House Democrats say most of the managers are likely to come from the judiciary committee, and possibly from the intelligence committee that led the investigation.

Early January

Trump would face a trial in the Senate to determine whether he should be convicted and ousted from office. The Senate is controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, who have shown little sign they will find him guilty. A two-thirds majority of those present in the 100-member chamber would be needed to convict Trump.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts would preside over the trial. House managers would present their case against Trump, and the president’s legal team would respond. Senators would act as jurors. A trial could involve testimony from witnesses and a gruelling schedule in which proceedings occur six days a week for as many as six weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday a majority of the Senate could approve a shorter process by voting on the articles of impeachment after opening arguments, without witnesses.

Read more at CBC.ca

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