Democrats push impeachment rules package through House

October 31, 2019

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., talks to reporters just before the House vote on a resolution to formalize the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

WASHINGTON  Democrats rammed a package of ground rules for their impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump through a sharply divided House Thursday, the chamber's first formal vote in a fight that could stretch into the 2020 election year.

The tally was 232-196, with all Republicans who voted opposing the resolution and just two Democratic defectors joining them: freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and 15-term veteran Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, one of his party's most conservative members. Both represent GOP-leaning districts.

The vote laid down the rules as lawmakers transition from weeks of closed-door interviews with witnesses to public hearings and ultimately to possible votes on whether to recommend Trump's removal from office.

The action also took on more than technical meaning, with each party aware that the impeachment effort looms as a defining issue for next year's presidential and congressional campaigns.

The vote, which occurred on Halloween, drew a familiar Twitter retort from Trump: "The greatest Witch Hunt in American History!"

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats of an "unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding."

During the debate, Democrats spoke of lawmakers' duty to defend the Constitution, while Republicans cast the process as a skewed attempt to railroad a president whom Democrats have detested since before he took office.

"What is at stake in all this is nothing less than our democracy," said Pelosi. Underscoring her point, she addressed the House with a poster of the American flag beside her and began her remarks by reading the opening lines of the preamble to the Constitution.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Trump had done nothing impeachable and accused Democrats of trying to remove him "because they are scared they cannot defeat him at the ballot box."

No. 3 House GOP leader Steve Scalise, R-La., accused Democrats of imposing "Soviet-style rules," speaking in front of a bright red poster depicting St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow.

Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the Republican Party earlier this year after saying he was open to considering whether Trump should be impeached, also backed the measure.

The investigation is focused on Trump's efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political opponents by withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting craved by the country's new president.

Democrats said the procedures which give them the ability to curb the president's lawyers from calling witnesses are similar to rules used during the impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Republicans complained they were skewed against Trump.

It is likely to take weeks or more before the House decides whether to vote on actually impeaching Trump. If the House does vote for impeachment, the Senate would hold a trial to decide whether to remove the president from office.

Both parties' leaders were rounding up votes as Thursday's roll call approached, with each side eager to come as close to unanimity as possible.

Republicans said a solid GOP "no" vote would signal to the Senate that the Democratic push is a partisan crusade against a president they have never liked.

Democrats were also hoping to demonstrate solidarity from their most liberal elements to their most moderate members. They argued that GOP cohesion against the measure would show that Republicans are blindly defending Trump, whatever facts emerge.

"It will show the other party has become the party of Trump. It's really not the Republican Party any longer," said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.

Republicans said they'd use the vote to target freshman Democrats and those from districts Trump carried in 2016. They said they would contrast those Democrats' support for the rules with campaign promises to focus on issues voters want to address, not on impeaching Trump.

The House GOP's campaign arm sent emails to reporters all but taunting some of those Democrats including freshman Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H. "Pappas wants to be a one-termer," one said.

GOP leaders called the rules "Speaker Pelosi's sham process designed to discredit the Democratic process" in their daily impeachment email to lawmakers.

Pelosi decided to have the vote following weeks of GOP claims that the inquiry was invalid because the chamber had not voted to formally commence the work.

The rules lay out how the House Intelligence Committee now leading the investigation by deposing diplomats and other officials behind closed doors would transition to public hearings.

That panel would issue a report and release transcripts of the closed-door interviews it has been conducting.

The Judiciary Committee would then decide whether to recommend that the House impeach Trump.

According to the rules for hearings, Republicans could only issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear if the entire panel approved them in effect giving Democrats veto power.

Attorneys for Trump could participate in the Judiciary Committee proceedings. But in a bid for leverage, panel Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., would be allowed to deny "specific requests" by Trump representatives if the White House continued refusing to provide documents or witnesses sought by Democratic investigators.

The rules also direct House committees "to continue their ongoing investigations" of Trump.

Top Democrats think that language will shield their members from weeks of Republican complaints that the inquiry has been invalid because the House had not formally voted to begin that work.

Democrats have said there's no constitutional provision or House rule requiring such a vote.


Ex-Trump adviser Morrison testifies on concerns over Ukraine

Former top national security adviser to President Donald Trump, Tim Morrison, arrives for a closed door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

WASHINGTON A former top White House official who raised concerns about President Donald Trump's efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his political rivals confirmed some aspects of earlier reports but contradicted others during testimony Thursday before House impeachment investigators .

Tim Morrison, who stepped down from the National Security Council the day before his appearance, is the first White House political appointee to testify and could be central to the effort to remove Trump from office.

Morrison largely confirmed much of what a top diplomat, William Taylor, said in earlier testimony, as the two had multiple phone conversations raising concerns about the Trump administration's approach toward Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the closed-door testimony. The person, who was not authorized to discuss the proceedings, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Republican lawmakers portrayed Morrison's opening remarks as shifting the debate favorably toward Trump.

They said Morrison, in his opening statement, contradicted another key witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Army officer who handled Ukraine issues at the National Security Council. Vindman testified Tuesday that he twice sounded the alarm over the Trump administration actions.

"It's a very compelling witness today that is giving testimony that contradicts some of the testimony we heard from Mr. Vindman," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Morrison's opening remarks were not publicly released.

"Mr. Morrison's testimony is very damaging to the Democrat narrative," Meadows said. "They've all of a sudden gotten quiet today because this particular witness is very credible and has given evidence that suggests some of the other witnesses have been less than candid."

Another Republican, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, said, "When you all see what he had to say, it will be interesting."

Morrison, a defense hawk well known in GOP policy circles, was the National Security Council's top adviser for Russian and European affairs until he stepped down Wednesday. A senior administration official said he had "decided to pursue other opportunities." The official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison's job and spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said Morrison has been considering leaving the administration for "some time."

Morrison was expected to be asked to explain the "sinking feeling" that he reportedly got when Trump demanded that Ukraine's president investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and interfere in the 2016 election. The national security hawk, brought on board by then-national security adviser John Bolton , has been featured prominently in previous testimony from diplomat Taylor .

It was Morrison who first alerted Taylor to concerns over Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

In fact, Morrison's name appeared more than a dozen times in testimony by Taylor, who told impeachment investigators that Trump was withholding military aid unless Zelenskiy went public with a promise to investigate Trump's political rival Biden and Biden's son Hunter. Taylor's testimony contradicted Trump's repeated denials that there was any quid pro quo.

Morrison and Taylor spoke at least five times in the weeks following the July phone call as the defense expert and the diplomat discussed the Trump administration's actions toward Ukraine, according to Taylor's testimony.

As the security funds for Ukraine were being withheld, Morrison told the diplomat, "President doesn't want to provide any assistance at all."

Their concerns deepened when Morrison relayed on Sept. 7 the conversation he had with Ambassador Gordon Sondland a day earlier that gave him that "sinking feeling." In it, Sondland explained that Trump said he was not asking for a quid pro quo but insisted that Zelenskiy "go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference," Taylor testified last week.

Morrison told Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this call between Trump and Sondland, according to Taylor's testimony.

The spotlight has been on Morrison since August, when a government whistleblower said multiple U.S. officials had said Trump was "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."

Morrison was brought on board to address arms control matters and later shifted into a role as a top Russia and Europe adviser. It was then that he stepped into the thick of an in-house squabble about the activities of Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who had been conversing with Ukrainian leaders outside of traditional U.S. diplomatic circles.

The impeachment probe has been denounced by the Republican president, who has directed his staff not to testify.

Regardless of what he says, GOP lawmakers will be hard-pressed to dismiss Morrison, formerly a longtime Republican staffer at the House Armed Services Committee. He's been bouncing around Washington in Republican positions for two decades, having worked for Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and as a GOP senior staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, including nearly four years when it was chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

Morrison told people after Bolton was forced out of his job that the national security adviser had tried to stop Giuliani's diplomatic dealings with Ukraine and that Morrison agreed, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison's role in the impeachment inquiry and spoke only on the condition of anonymity. The official said Morrison told people that with the appointment of Robert O'Brien as Bolton's successor, his own future work at the NSC was in a "holding pattern."

Bolton brought Morrison into the NSC in July 2018 as senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefence.

 

Associated Press

 

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