House Democrats are laying the groundwork for the next phase of their impeachment inquiry with a vote this week on a resolution to affirm the investigation, set rules for public hearings and outline the potential process for writing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a vote on the resolution, which would be the first formal House vote on the impeachment inquiry. It aims to nullify complaints from Trump and his allies — amplified last week when Republicans stormed a secure room used for impeachment interviews — that the process is illegitimate, unfair and lacking in due process.
Despite the move toward a vote, Democrats insisted they weren’t yielding to Republican pressure. Pelosi dismissed the Republican arguments against the inquiry, including that impeachment can’t begin without formal approval from the House.
“I do not care. I do not care. This is a false thing with them,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. “Understand it has nothing to do with them. It has to do with how we proceed.”
Trump has cited the lack of a House vote as a reason to refuse cooperation with the impeachment investigation. In the wake of Pelosi’s announcement, the White House said nothing had changed.
Pelosi “is finally admitting what the rest of America already knew — that Democrats were conducting an unauthorized impeachment proceeding, refusing to give the President due process, and their secret, shady, closed door depositions are completely and irreversibly illegitimate,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.
Pelosi did not release the text of the resolution but said it would establish procedure for public hearings, authorize the disclosure of closed-door deposition transcripts and set forth “due process rights for the President and his Counsel.”
It’s unclear if that means that White House lawyers will be able to interview witnesses, or if Republicans will be able to call their own. Republicans have noted that the minority had those powers in previous impeachment investigations.
House critics of the process were unmoved. Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, said Pelosi is “admitting guilt” by holding a vote. “The problem is, they are already starting a tainted process,” he said.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, took a wait-and-see approach. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said it was a “good thing” the House was considering a vote. But when asked if Trump should cooperate fully once it passes, he replied, “I’ll leave that up to the White House.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said the impeachment process had been “disreputable from the beginning.” Like other Republicans, he wanted the full details.
Many government officials have cooperated with the inquiry despite Trump’s orders. But Pelosi’s announcement came just hours after a former White House national security official defied a House subpoena for closed-door testimony, escalating the standoff between Congress and the White House over who will testify.
Earlier Monday, Charles Kupperman, who was a deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton, failed to show up for the scheduled closed-door deposition after filing a lawsuit asking a federal court in Washington to rule on whether he was legally required to appear. In a statement, Kupperman said he was awaiting “judicial clarity.”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said Kupperman’s suit has “no basis in law” and speculated that the White House didn’t want him to testify because his testimony could be incriminating. Democrats are investigating Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian government to pursue politically motivated investigations as the administration was also withholding military aid to the country.
“If this witness had something to say that would be helpful to the White House, they would’ve wanted him to come and testify,” Schiff told reporters. “They plainly don’t.”
Schiff said the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry will move forward, with or without testimony from Kupperman and other witnesses. Democrats have indicated that they are likely to use no-show witnesses to write an article of impeachment against Trump for obstruction of justice, rather than launching potentially lengthy court battles to obtain testimony.
“We are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope in the courts, so we will move forward,” Schiff said.
Two current National Security Council staff members, Alexander Vindman and Tim Morrison, are scheduled to appear this week and would be the first White House employees to testify in the inquiry. Morrison’s attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, said in an email Monday that if Morrison is subpoenaed, he will appear.
The argument advanced by Kupperman’s lawyers turns on his status as a close adviser to the president and may not be available for other administration officials who are lower down the executive branch organization chart or who did not have regular contact with Trump.
Kupperman, his lawyers say, met with and advised Trump on a regular basis and therefore cannot be compelled to testify.
Schiff said over the weekend that he wants Bolton to testify, though that has not yet been scheduled. He told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that Bolton, who, according to other witnesses, had concerns about the Ukraine policy, “has very relevant information.” But he predicted that the White House would fight a Bolton appearance.
In turning their focus to the White House, lawmakers say they are hoping to get more answers about what aides close to Trump knew about his orders on Ukraine policy.
“They’re much closer to where the policymaking supposedly was supposed to happen with regard to the Ukraine, and they can really shine a light on whether it was happening properly or not,” said Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, on the National Security Council witnesses.
Several of the State Department officials have already told lawmakers of their concerns as Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani took charge of Ukrainian policy and as Trump pushed out the U.S. ambassador there.
William Taylor, the current top diplomat in Ukraine, testified last week that he was told aid to the country would be withheld until it conducted investigations into Trump’s potential 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden and his family, and into Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.