WASHINGTON – Now that House Democrats have wrapped their last scheduled public hearing on Ukraine, they have to decide whether to schedule more or move to the next step toward impeaching President Donald Trump.
“In the coming days, Congress will determine what response is appropriate,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said Thursday.
The Democrats head into a recess week trying to figure out if they can meet their tentative target of holding any impeachment vote before the end of the year.
Here are some of the important decisions ahead:
The two weeks of public hearings featured 12 career diplomats, civil servants and political appointees who described how Trump, through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, tried to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation into potential Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
But the testimony also repeatedly drew attention to the senior figures that Trump has blocked from appearing, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former White House national security adviser John Bolton.
“We aren’t finished yet,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “As I said to the president, if you have any information that is exculpatory, please bring it forward, because it seems that the facts are uncontested as to what happened.”
Monday could represent a key decision point on that issue.
A U.S. judge is expected to rule on whether former White House counsel Don McGahn must answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee, which could become a precedent for resolving related disputes between congressional Democrats and the White House over other witnesses. However that ruling goes, it isn’t likely to head off months of court fights over subpoenas that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.
“We cannot be at the mercy of the courts,” Pelosi said. “The courts are very important in all of this, those cases will continue. But I have never said we cannot proceed without the courts because that’s a technique on the part of the administration — just keep ratcheting up to a higher court.”
Pursuing additional witnesses would probably mean extending the Democrats’ timeline. At this point, most members don’t expect more public hearings but say that could change. The panel could also decide to hold more closed-door depositions.
Push for documents
The Trump administration has ordered federal agencies to defy subpoenas from the Intelligence Committee for a wide range of documents and e-mails. On Wednesday, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, complained that his own testimony was hampered because he couldn’t obtain records and notes he needed.
On Oct. 23, a judge ordered the State Department to begin producing within 30 days documents related to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine, as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by American Oversight, an ethics watchdog.
Some Democrats have questioned whether the department will fully comply with the order even after the deadline.
Moving to House Judiciary
When the Intelligence Committee completes its phase of the probe, it will submit a report with recommendations to the House Judiciary Committee.
Democrats and officials familiar with the committee’s activities say that drafting of the report will begin in earnest next week, with the aim of transmitting it to the Judiciary panel in early December.
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler has the option of holding his own hearings, where Trump’s representatives would have more ability to participate under the impeachment inquiry rules approved by the House.
The president’s lawyers would be able to take part and would have an opportunity to call witnesses and cross-examine them. Pelosi has said the president would be welcome to testify in person or in writing, and Trump said he will “strongly consider” the offer.
Nadler will have to decide what to do with potential impeachment recommendations transmitted from committees that have been conducting investigations of Trump on topics other than Ukraine.
Nadler’s committee would write up articles of impeachment and vote on sending them to the House floor.
Timing of a House vote
The House is scheduled to be in session late into December, but that may still not allow enough time for the House to debate and vote on impeachment articles.
If a vote slips to next year, it would delay the Senate trial on whether to remove Trump from office. That could push the entire process into the Democratic presidential primary season, a complication for the candidates, several of whom are U.S. senators.
It would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove Trump. So far, no Senate Republicans have indicated they would vote to convict him.