Dueling Counsel Will Take Focus at Next Impeachment Hearing

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., joined at left by Democratic counsel Norm Eisen, arrives at a Wednesday hearing on the constitutional grounds for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Attorneys representing both sides of the aisle will present evidence, but no witnesses, when the House Judiciary Committee holds its next hearing in the impeachment inquiry Monday.

News of the hearing arrived Thursday morning, a scant hour after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a surprise announcement of her own in which she directed chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees to get the article-drafting process underway.

According to the rules authorizing the inquiry passed in October, attorneys for both the Democratic and Republican parties will have a chance during the 9 a.m. hearing Monday to give written statements explaining the scope of evidence they wish to put forward for articles, as well as a “detailed presentation” of that evidence “other than the testimony of the witnesses.”

This point of order over witnesses is likely to be a subject of contention for Republican lawmakers. It could also give them a chance to obstruct proceedings on Monday.

During the House Judiciary Committee’s inaugural impeachment hearing on Wednesday — as legal scholars discussed the constitutional framework to impeach and potentially remove Trump based on his engagement with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky — Representative Doug Collins, the Republican ranking member, voiced frustration over the GOP’s inability to call witnesses.

Just a few of the figures Republicans seek to question are House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky triggered the underlying inquiry.

Monday’s hearing is not going to be a rehash of public testimony that unfolded in the House Intelligence Committee last month. Instead, the hearing is more like a discovery phase of a trial. This hearing will also give the House Judiciary Committee time to lay out how President Trump or his attorneys will be involved – if at all – going forward.

It is very unlikely Trump will participate in Monday’s hearing. The White House has until Friday to determine its role at this stage in the inquiry.

The three articles that are mostly likely to be drafted are abuse of power, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of Justice.

Democrats indicated during Wednesday’s hearing that these articles would be the foundation for impeachment, as they pored over Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter and Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy firm where Hunter once sat on the board.

Coupled with his leveraging of military aid to Ukraine and his refusal to cooperate with congressional requests and subpoenas for testimony and documents related to the assistance hold, the push by the president to have a foreign ally investigate his political opponent is expected to be neatly folded into the articles of impeachment when finally written.

Whether Democrats will also include evidence from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is not yet clear, but Monday would be the opportune time to introduce them.

During her press conference Thursday, when asked directly if evidence from Mueller’s investigation would be considered, Speaker Pelosi responded: “I won’t answer that.”

Pelosi instead emphasized that the next phase of the inquiry – the presentation of evidence — is in the hands of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committee leadership.

President Trump responded to new developments Thursday on Twitter.

“The Do Nothing Radical Left Democrats have just announced that they are going to see to Impeach me over NOTHING,” Trump tweeted. “They already gave up on the ridiculous Mueller ‘stuff,’ so now they hang their hats on two totally appropriate (perfect) phone calls with the Ukrainian President.”

A representative for the House Judiciary Committee did not immediately respond to request for comment Thursday.

Monday’s hearing at the House Judiciary Committee will collide with the release of the Department of Justice’s inspector general report on potential surveillance abuses by the FBI. This report is commonly referred to as the FISA report, a moniker stemming from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that guides secret surveillance issues. The report, due out Monday morning, is largely focused on claims that the FBI was politically motivated in spying on Trump’s former foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

The wiretap surveillance on Page was approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court after the emergence of the Steele dossier – a file containing a litany of claims about the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia compiled by former British Intelligence official Christopher Steele.

This surveillance eventually evolved into Mueller probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump has predicted that the report by the Justice Department’s independent watchdog will vindicate him of the “witch hunt” he says Democrats have perpetrated against him since the early days of his election.

But vindication is likely not on tap given the U.S. intelligence community’s unified front that Russia did in fact meddle in the 2016 election and that investigations were necessary, not driven by political bias that the president argues has tainted the surveillance process.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz did indicate, however, that the report would hold at least some criticism for the FBI’s methods.

“Recent and past reviews have found that the department faces challenges in using these sensitive authorities consistent with its policies and in a manner that safeguards individuals’ statutory and constitutional privacy rights,” Horowitz said in a statement on Nov. 20.

According to a Monday report first published by the Washington Post, Attorney General Bill Barr has told those in his closest circles at the department that he disagrees with the inspector general’s conclusions.

If Barr objects, it would be standard for the attorney general to release a formal letter rebutting the report or he could simply offer a statement.

The publication of this report on Monday, since it coincides with the House Judiciary Committee’s evidentiary hearing, could result in major fireworks from inside the Longworth building where the next phase of the impeachment inquiry will unfold.

A final vote by the House Judiciary on articles of impeachment is expected sometime between Dec. 10-13. A final vote in the House is expected before Christmas.

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