WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Committee is escalating its impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, preparing a vote as soon as next Wednesday to establish procedures for hearings the panel hopes to hold this fall.
A procedural vote next week could set rules for the hearings, according to a person familiar with the plan who requested anonymity.
The rules could include allowing staff to question witnesses; allowing some evidence to be presented in closed sessions to protect sensitive materials, and allowing the president's counsel to respond in writing to evidence and testimony, among other guidelines. The vote would be similar to procedural votes taken at the beginning of the impeachment investigations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, according to the person.
Tentative details of the resolution were discussed on a call with members of the committee Friday as they prepare to return to Washington next week after a six-week recess. Just before the recess, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said that the panel is already in an impeachment investigation, having called multiple witnesses related to former special counsel Robert Mueller's report and sued the White House for blocking testimony.
The vote would make clear that the committee is indeed serious about moving forward with an impeachment probe, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged caution to members, saying earlier this month that the public still isn't ready for impeachment. But it would only be a technical step, and the committee would still have to introduce articles of impeachment and vote on them before the full House would be able to consider approving charges against Trump. And even then, the Republican-led Senate would almost certainly not vote to convict him and remove him from office.
Many moderates in the caucus, who helped win the Democratic majority last year, say they should be focused on other issues and next year's election. "I've been traveling all of August," Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas said this week. "This is not an issue people bring up. I think a lot of people would rather just vote him out, vote the president out."
Other Democrats argue that impeachment is a process without a payoff, since the Senate would never remove Trump. Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the Judiciary panel who has backed impeachment proceedings, said, "That's a legitimate thing for us to think about, and it's a political puzzle we have to solve over the next few months."
The impeachment vote will come as the panel has signaled it will broaden its impeachment probe beyond Mueller's report. The Judiciary panel and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced Friday that they are demanding information about the spending of taxpayer money at the president's hotels and properties, partly to inform the impeachment probe.
The committees said there have been "multiple efforts" by Trump and administration officials to spend federal money at his properties, including Vice President Mike Pence's stay this week at a Trump resort in Doonbeg, Ireland.