In a historic vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved Friday articles of impeachment against President Trump, setting the stage for a House floor vote to impeach the President next week.
The articles allege that the President abused his power in his scheme to pressure Ukraine to open investigations into his political rival, and that he obstructed the congressional investigation into the effort.
The articles passed out of the committee by a party-line vote, 23 yes votes from Democrats to 17 no votes from Republicans. This is the third time the committee has approved impeachment articles against a President in U.S history.
The mark-up of the articles, which spilled over three days, was as contentious as the rest of the impeachment proceedings so far, with Republican anger over the effort focused on process complaints rather than a substantive defenses of Trump’s conduct.
Democrats, meanwhile, sought to frame the event as a solemn obligation that Trump left them no choice but to pursue.
“The highest of high crimes is abuse of power,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said Thursday morning, alleging the Trump used his official powers “to serve his own personal, selfish interests at the expense of the public good.”
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) mocked Democrats’ insistence that this was a somber occasion: “Don’t give me the solemnity about impeaching a president. You’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.”
Nadler provoked GOP outrage late Thursday night when he recessed the hearing just before the committee was ready for the final vote. Democrats said they were trying to avoid a vote in the middle of the night, after Republicans dragged out Thursday’s proceedings much later than expected.
The vote comes nearly three months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally announced the opening of the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s gambit, a move that followed months of resisting the impeachment push. The current effort was kicked into gear by a whistleblower complaint alleging a Trump demand for the investigations into Democrats. The whistleblower has remained anonymous, but the bulk of his claims have been confirmed over the course of the proceedings.
The inquiry included weeks of closed depositions and then several days of open hearings in front of the House Intelligence Committee. What witnesses’ testimony revealed — and what texts messages, emails and phone records supported — was an effort by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to secure a public statement from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announcing the launch of investigations into the Bidens and into false claims that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to help Democrats.
Several witnesses testified that a coveted White House meeting for Zelensky was being withheld until the statement was made. Other pieces of evidence suggested that $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was also being frozen, under Trump’s orders, as leverage for the investigations. White House Chief of State Mick Mulvaney admitted as much in a White House press conference, though he later attempted to walk it back.
But the smoking gun of the Democrats’ impeachment case are the words of the President himself, in a July 25 call with Zelensky. On the call, Trump requested a “favor” from Zelensky in the form of an investigation into a conspiracy theory purporting that Ukraine and Democrats framed Russia for the 2016 email hacks. Trump also requested an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter, for the role Hunter played at an energy company in Ukraine while his father was vice president.
Both requests were highlighted in the impeachment articles approved by the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.
The first article accused Trump of soliciting “the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential Election,” and using “the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.”
The second article alleges that in “the history of the Republic, no President has ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representative to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors.’
“The abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and seize and control the power of impeachment.”
From the start of the inquiry, the White House pledged to fully stonewall House demands for documents and witnesses’ testimony. While several current and former administration officials defied the directive in order to testify, scores of documents that the House requested from the administration have not been turned over. The witnesses who would have the most to say about the halt on military aide, including Mulvaney, whose OMB implemented the freeze, have also defied House subpoenas. Republicans have jumped on the lack of testimony from witnesses like Mulvaney, who could speak directly to why Trump ordered the aid freeze.
Thursday’s mark-up, the third of three hearings Judiciary hosted in the impeachment proceedings, featured many of the theatrics that have propelled the inquiry.
Democrats discussed the historical underpinnings of their effort and their constitutional prerogative to do so, with at least one Democratic member brandishing her pocket sized Constitution.
“This was the highest of high crimes and President Trump must be held accountable,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA).
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) compared Republicans to the Bible’s Judas, in their willingness to defend Trump in exchange for “30 positive tweets for easy reelection.”
Republicans raged at the process — Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) claimed that Thursday was “a day that will live in infamy for the Judiciary Committee — and vowed that Democrats had set the stage for any President to be impeached if the opposing party controlled the House. He promised that their party was unified against impeachment, while predicting that Democrats were getting wobbly because their case was falling apart.
Rep. Mark Gaetz (R-FL) said the only question left in the hearing was “which will occur more rapidly, will they lose votes or will they lose the majority?”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday morning that there will be a floor vote on the articles next week.