WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Tuesday invited President Donald Trump to its first impeachment hearing, scheduled for Dec. 4, starting the next phase in a process that could lead to formal charges against the president.
FILE PHOTO: A protester holds placard outside of the Longworth building as the House Intelligence Committee holds the first public impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
The hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), will have legal experts as witnesses. They have not yet been identified.
A House Democratic aide declined to comment on whether the Judiciary Committee expected to receive a formal report on the Intelligence Committee-led investigation into the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine before the hearing.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the committee, said in a statement that he had written to Trump to remind him that the committee’s rules allow the president to attend the hearing, and for his counsel to question the witnesses.
“At base, the president has a choice to make: He can take this opportunity to be represented in the impeachment hearings, or he can stop complaining about the process. I hope that he chooses to participate in the inquiry, directly or through counsel, as other presidents have done before him.”
Nadler said in his letter that the hearing was intended as an opportunity to discuss the historical and constitutional basis of impeachment, as well as the meaning of terms like “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The inquiry centers on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden as well as a discredited conspiracy theory promoted by Trump that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Hunter Biden had worked for a Ukrainian energy company.
Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to put pressure on a vulnerable U.S. ally to interfere in an American election by digging up dirt on his domestic political opponents.
“We will also discuss whether your alleged actions warrant the House’s exercising its authority to adopt articles of impeachment,” Nadler wrote.
Nadler gave Trump until 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT) on Sunday, Dec. 1, to advise the committee on whether he would attend the hearing, and to indicate by then who would be his counsel.
The Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff, said on Tuesday the committees leading the impeachment probe – Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight – would issue their report on the investigation shortly after lawmakers return to Washington on Dec. 3 from their break for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.
The intelligence panel last week wrapped up two weeks of public hearings, after several weeks of closed-door witness interviews, in the inquiry, setting the stage for the report lawmakers are working on now and action by the Judiciary Committee.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment or respond to Nadler’s letter.
If the articles of impeachment are approved by the Democratic-controlled House, the Senate, controlled by Republicans, would then hold a trial on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office.
Republicans have shown little inclination toward removing Trump, their party’s leader, who is seeking re-election in 2020. Trump denies wrongdoing and, echoed by many congressional Republicans, has dismissed the inquiry as a sham, hoax or effort by Democrats to overturn the result of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Jonathan Oatis