WASHINGTON (CN) – The evidence of whether President Donald Trump extorted a foreign ally to launch a disinformation campaign that could influence the outcome of the 2020 U.S. election will be heard Monday as lawmakers open a new week of proceedings in the historic impeachment inquiry gripping the White House.
Monday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing will be akin to a trial as counsel for Democrats and Republicans deliver opening arguments, present findings and field questions from members of the committee, its chairman Jerry Nadler and ranking member Representative Doug Collins of Georgia.
Expected to stretch over several hours, the presentations represent another ticking of the procedural boxes for Democrats who, over the weekend, also published a 55-page report explaining in depth the constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment.
The report is a road map that does double duty: it draws on the black letter law of the Constitution to explain impeachment – and possible removal – of a president while also giving lawmakers guidelines on how to assess and separate truth and intent from “lawyerly tricks” carried out by an unrepentant leader.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi directed lawmakers to begin drafting articles for impeachment last week. It is widely anticipated they will include charges of obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress, abuse of power and potentially bribery.
The evidence during Monday’s hearing is expected to primarily focus on Trump’s engagement with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky in July when, according to the whistleblower complaint which triggered the inquiry, Trump pressured the U.S. ally to investigate his likely 2020 election opponent Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter and the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings where Hunter sat on the board.
Trump sought a public announcement from Zelensky about the opening of the political investigation into his rival while the U.S. was actively withholding $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine, a nation caught in a hot war with neighboring aggressor Russia. Those same funds had been certified for release to Ukraine by the Defense Department for weeks before the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.
These factors alone are reason enough to impeach, according to Saturday’s report from Democrats.
“The Framers principally intended impeachment for three overlapping forms of Presidential wrongdoing: abuse of power, betrayal of the nation through foreign entanglements and corruption of office and elections,” the report states. “Any one of these violations of the public trust justifies impeachment; when combined in a single course of conduct, they state the strongest possible case for impeachment and removal from office.”
Lawmakers have been tightlipped about whether former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report – which itself included 10 findings of obstruction by President Trump – will factor into the drafted articles.
During CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff was a bit cryptic about including findings from the Mueller report into the articles. Instead, he emphasized that with the Ukraine matter, the evidence Trump tried to “interfere in our own election” by “essentially seeking to cheat in the next one” was overwhelming.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler towed a similar line on Sunday during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union. The chairman did not rule out using the Mueller report, instead saying the factors under consideration were numerous and “all of these things have to be taken into account.”
Another Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, also appeared on the Sunday news circuit to discuss the inquiry.
Lofgren is a woman with considerable impeachment experience. She was a staffer to the House Judiciary Committee when President Richard Nixon faced the possibility of impeachment and then a sitting committee member when President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House.
Lofgren told ABC’s This Week the inquiry would be wise to proceed on “direct evidence” alone.
“And there’s a lot of direct evidence related to abuse of power and Ukraine and the Russians, relative to the Biden investigation,” she said.
The president is expected to sit out Monday’s hearing, though he had the committee’s full invitation to participate. White House counsel Pat Cipollone fired off a dismissive rebuke of the inquiry in a sharply-worded letter last week. In effect, Cipollone argued, the president refuses to recognize the House’s authority to oversee the executive branch in this matter because the very premise of the inquiry is a “sham.”
This response offers a preview of what to expect from the president once a trial is underway in the Senate but Saturday’s report by Democrats offers a preview of its own: how “reasonable officials and persons of honor” can deal with a president’s obstruction and base their decision making not on political fealty but constitutional duty.
“The question is not whether the President’s conduct could have resulted from innocent motives,” the report states. “It is whether the President’s real reasons – the ones actually in his mind as he exercised power – were legitimate. The Framers designed impeachment to rout out abuse and corruption, even when a President masks improper intent with cover stories.”
There are only few steps left in the inquiry – including a debate on the articles on the House floor – before impeachment culminates with a likely party line vote.
Throughout Sunday night, Trump took to Twitter to lash out at the inquiry, at Speaker Pelosi, at CNN and other individuals or groups he deems unfriendly to his presidency.
The president also shared articles on social media suggesting some level of vindication for himself come Monday since the Justice Department’s inspector general report on potential surveillance abuses by the FBI on members of Trump’s campaign is expected to be published that same day.
That report eventually evolved in the Mueller probe and while Inspector General Michael Horowitz has already hinted that the report would be critical of the FBI, ultimately, it is expected to back up the intelligence community’s unified position that a probe into the campaign was justified.