Party-Line Vote Kicks Impeachment Probe to House Judiciary

WASHINGTON (CN) – In a closed-door party-line vote Tuesday night, the House Intelligence Committee advanced the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump to the House Judiciary Committee, one of the last stops before the full House likely votes in favor of impeaching the 45th president of the United States.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, the ranking member. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The 13-9 vote in the Capitol concluded shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday and approves a 300-page report the committee released earlier in the day that lays out Democrats’ case for impeaching Trump.

The Intelligence Committee has split starkly along partisan lines throughout the impeachment inquiry and Tuesday’s vote proved no different. Speaking to reporters after the vote, Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, expressed disappointment that not a single Republican broke ranks to approve the report.

“I’m surprised that more of my colleagues on the other side don’t recognize the fact that what’s happening in the White House right now is dangerous to our entire country regardless of what party label you might subscribe to,” Krishnamoorthi told Courthouse News.

The Intelligence Committee’s minority is led by Representative Devin Nunes, who appeared in the majority’s Ukraine report less as a peer but as a possible co-conspirator to the misconduct the Democrats allege.

Phone records showed that Nunes had been on the phone with Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani’s now-indicted associate Lev Parnas, and conservative journalist John Solomon around the time that a controversial series of editorials appeared in The Hill attacking former Vice President Joe Biden and ousted ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

Nunes declined to comment on the phone records, but his Ohio colleague Jim Jordan leapt to his defense.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking to folks on the phone,” Jordan told reporters shortly before the vote.

“Lots of members of Congress talked to Mayor Giuliani over the years,” he added. “Probably lots of Democrats talked to Mayor Giuliani. I don’t see that as a problem.”

According to the records, Nunes did not only speak to Giuliani but to three of the central figures tied to editorials that State Department officials testified to be a smear to undermine Ukraine’s ambassador. An attorney for Parnas, who faces federal charges connected to that campaign, tweeted that Nunes should have recused himself.

Representative Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, told reporters the call records validate his longstanding concerns about Nunes, dating back from when Republicans controlled the House.

“I had concerns about the ranking member’s actions as chairman,” Quigley said, citing Nunes shutting down the House Russia probe prematurely and his public release of a once-classified memo about FBI surveillance. “So, none of that has changed.”

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee will have until Thursday to provide Democrats with any dissenting views on the report’s contents. At that point, lawmakers are expected to produce a single report incorporating both parties’ perspectives.

That compilation will be thrust into the House Judiciary Committee’s purview and will be used as the basis for articles of impeachment. The House Judiciary, historically, is the sole body responsible for forwarding articles to the full House floor for a vote.

Congresswoman Val Demings, a Florida Democrat, expressed confidence in her New York colleague, Representative Jerry Nadler, to advance the inquiry.

“Chairman Nadler had an attitude where he understands the seriousness of this moment,” Demings told a reporter.  “He is serious about this matter. He’s certainly very experienced. He’s been here for a while.”

“It’s not his first impeachment inquiry,” Demings added, referring to Clinton’s impeachment.

But before there can be a full vote, the House Judiciary Committee retains the right to conduct legislative hearings more commonly known as “mark-ups.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has not yet laid out the schedule the committee will follow for its role in the impeachment process.

While the impeachment inquiry thus far has been dominated by the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, other committees that have received less attention in the fray, like the House Ways and Means and House Financial Services committees, have ongoing investigations into the president.

Under the rules authorizing the inquiry in October, additional witnesses from any committee can be called at any time.

During the impeachment mark-up sessions, lawmakers will have the opportunity to debate, amend, propose or reject amendments to the articles. With a final vote, the recommendation that Trump be impeached vaults to the House floor for a last gasp of debate.

Debate could be short-lived or it could drag for days. During former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the articles were debated over two days. It is up to Democrats to set the clock.

A simple majority win by Democrats in the House will mean one chapter of the impeachment process is closed. But a loss could mean another action could be recommended, like censure.

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