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Trump team on Capitol Hill amid 'serious misconduct' probe

AP  |  Washington 

The House Judiciary Committee opened its first impeachment hearing Wednesday, moving swiftly to weigh findings by fellow lawmakers that President Donald Trump misused the power of his office for personal political gain and then obstructed Congress' investigation as possible grounds for removal from office.

The panel responsible for drafting articles of impeachment convened as Trump's team was fanning out across Capitol Hill.

Vice President Mike Pence was meeting behind closed doors with House Republicans and Senate Republicans will huddle midday with the White House counsel as GOP lawmakers stand lockstep with the president and Democrats charge headlong into what has become a strictly partisan drive to impeach him.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats "haven't made a decision" yet on whether there will be a vote on impeachment. She was also meeting privately with the Democratic caucus. But a vote by Christmas appears increasingly likely with the release of a 300-page report by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee that found "serious misconduct" by the president.

"The evidence that we have found is really quite overwhelming that the president used the power of his office to secure political favours and abuse the trust American people put in him and jeopardize our security," Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif, told The Associated Press.

"Americans need to understand that this president is putting his personal political interests above theirs. And that it's endangering the country."

The Judiciary Committee will hear from legal experts to determine whether Trump's actions stemming from a July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president rose to the constitutional level of "high crimes and misdemeanours" warranting impeachment. The report laid out evidence of Trump's efforts to seek foreign intervention in the US election.

New telephone call records released with the report deepen Trump lawyer Rudy Guiliani's involvement in what House investigators called the "scheme" to use the president's office for personal political gain by enlisting a foreign power, Ukraine, to investigate Democrats and Joe Biden, and intervene in the American election process.

Trump told reporters in London, where he is attending a NATO meeting, he really doesnt know why Guiliani was calling the White House's Office of Management and Budget, which was withholding USD 400 million in military aid to the ally confronting an aggressive Russia at its border.

"'You have to ask him," Trump said. "Sounds like something that's not so complicated... No big deal."


Wednesday's session with legal scholars will delve into possible impeachable offenses, but the real focus will be on the committee, led by Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, and made up of a sometimes boisterous, sharply partisan division of lawmakers.

In a 53-page opening statement obtained by the AP, Republican witness Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, will say that the Democrats are bringing a "slipshod impeachment" case against the president based on secondhand information. Still, Turley doesn't excuse the president's behaviour.

"It is not wrong because President Trump is right," according to Turley. He calls Trump's call with Ukraine "anything but 'perfect", as the president claims. "A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record," he says.

The remaining three witnesses, all called by Democrats, will argue for impeachment, according to statements obtained by the AP.

Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill argues, "If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning."

The political risks are high for all parties as the House presses only the fourth presidential impeachment inquiry in US history.

In a statement, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, "Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump."

She said the report "reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing." Trump has called the impeachment effort by Democrats "unpatriotic" and said he wouldn't be watching Wednesday's hearing.

The "Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report provides a detailed, stunning, account of a shadow diplomacy run by Giuliani, resulting in layers of allegations that can be distilled into specific acts, like bribery or obstruction, and the more amorphous allegation that Trump abused his power by putting his interests above the nation.

Based on two months of investigation sparked by a still-anonymous government whistleblower's complaint, the report relies heavily on testimony from current and former U.S. officials who defied White House orders not to appear.

The inquiry found that Trump "solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection," Schiff wrote in the report's preface.

In doing so, the president "sought to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election process, and endangered US national security," the report said. When Congress began investigating, it added, Trump obstructed the investigation like no other president in history.

Along with revelations from earlier testimony, the report included previously unreleased cell phone records raising fresh questions about Giuliani's interactions with the top Republican on the intelligence panel, Rep Devin Nunes of California, and the White House.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, December 04 2019. 21:30 IST
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