WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee plans to vote this week to formalize procedures for a growing impeachment inquiry, clarifying its investigative authorities and granting President Donald Trump new due process, a draft resolution shows.
The Judiciary Committee took similar steps in the 1970s and 1990s when it conducted impeachment inquiries into Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Now, as then, Democrats believe the resolution, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times, will allow the panel to speed up its work and potentially elicit more information than it otherwise could about instances of possible obstruction of justice and abuses of power by Trump.
The development carries significant symbolic weight, as well.
Although the committee has already informed federal courts and the public that it is in the midst of a full-scale impeachment inquiry, the three-page resolution will be the first time lawmakers have recorded a vote to that effect. Committee leaders hope the move will send a signal to Congress and the White House that their investigation is not only proceeding but intensifying, even as the broader Democratic Party caucus remains divided over the merits of ultimately voting to impeach Trump.
Based on the committee’s investigative plans, the procedures could be put to the test quickly in the coming weeks.
The committee is preparing to rapidly broaden the substance of the inquiry this fall beyond the investigation into any role by Trump associates in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. On the agenda for new scrutiny are Trump’s role in illegal hush payments to women who said they had affairs with him, reports that he dangled pardons to immigration officials and questions about whether his hotels and resorts have illegally profited from government spending.
If adopted, the procedures would allow the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, to designate hearings of either the full Judiciary Committee or its subcommittees to be a part of the inquiry and subject to special rules. Although it sounds inconsequential, including the smaller, nimbler subcommittees in the inquiry would allow Democrats to speed up their work or steer less significant witnesses to the smaller panels.
Another provision says that after lawmakers themselves have exhausted time for questioning, committee staff members would be allowed to question a witness “for an additional hour equally divided between the majority and minority.” Democrats hope the arrangement will allow for more detailed, uninterrupted questioning.
The resolution also sets out standards that say information collected by the committee from witnesses or grand jury information shared by the courts should be kept private unless Nadler chooses otherwise.
And, for the first time, Trump and his legal team would be afforded specific due process by the committee, allowing them to regularly offer input on the findings of the investigation.
“The president’s counsel may respond in writing to information and testimony presented to the committee in open session,” the resolution says, adding that Trump’s lawyers may also be invited to review and respond to information kept secret if the chairman chooses.
One of the aides involved in drafting the resolution said that the president’s lawyers could yet play a larger, in-person role, as well, if they requested it.
There may be other benefits to taking a procedural vote, too. Although the resolution does not mention matters of decorum, Democrats believe the vote to adopt it will allow lawmakers to get around normal House rules that limit their ability to accuse the president of crime, the aide said.
The Judiciary Committee plans to finalize the resolution Monday, the aides said, and could vote as soon as Wednesday to adopt it. Details of the procedures were first reported Friday by Politico after Judiciary Committee aides briefed lawmakers on the planned vote, but the draft text has not previously been reported.
Lawmakers from the president’s party have oscillated between criticizing the mechanics of Democrats’ investigation and dismissing their’ impeachment efforts as a pathetic and futile hunt for nonexistent evidence to oust Trump. But without the votes to overpower the Democrats, they have little recourse but to vocally object.
“If they really want to do this, they have to bring impeachment to the floor,” the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, said on Fox News on Sunday. “This is simply a show. It is a travesty. And, frankly, they should be ashamed.”
The Judiciary Committee has been edging toward a full-scale impeachment inquiry since the spring, when Democrats began calling witnesses and demanding evidence related to a range of potential presidential misconduct.
But only in July, after testimony from Robert Mueller, the special counsel, did the committee formally declare to a judge that what had begun as a regular congressional oversight inquiry was now mainly focused on whether to recommend articles of impeachment.