WASHINGTON (AP, REUTERS) - House Democrats laid out their impeachment case against President Donald Trump on Monday (Dec 16), a sweeping report accusing him of betraying the nation and deserving to be ousted, as key lawmakers began to signal where they stand ahead of this week's landmark votes.
What Democrats once hoped would be a bipartisan act - only the third time in US history the House will be voting to impeach a president - is now on track to be a starkly partisan roll call on Wednesday (Dec 18). No Republicans are breaking with the president, and almost all Democrats are expected to approve the charges against him.
Senior House Democrats expect to win any impeachment vote, albeit with the possibility of some defections from moderates facing tough re-elections next year in Trump-leaning districts.
A raucous town hall on Monday in the Detroit suburbs put on display the nation's wrenching debate over the unconventional president and the prospect of removing him from office.
Freshman Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin was both heckled and celebrated as she announced her support for impeachment. "There's certainly a lot of controversy about this," Slotkin acknowledged to the crowd of 400. "But there just has to be a moment where you use the letter of the law for what it's intended."
Trump faces two articles of impeachment brought by Democrats. They say he abused the power of his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election and obstructed Congress by aggressively trying to block the House investigation from its oversight duties as part of the nation's system of checks and balances.
The president "betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections," says the 650-page report from the House Judiciary Committee. He withheld military aid from the ally as leverage, the report says, and "Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office."
The report says the president then engaged in an unprecedented attempt to block the investigation and "cover up" his misconduct. "In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry," it says.
Trump, tweeting from the sidelines after instructing the White House not to participate in the House inquiry, insisted he has done nothing wrong. He is promoting lawyer Rudy Giuliani's investigation of Biden and a widely debunked theory that it was actually Ukraine not Russia that interfered in the 2016 election, a conspiracy-laden idea that other most other Republicans are actively avoiding. "He knows what he's doing," Trump said of Giuliani at the White House.
Sticking to the language he has relied on for months, he tweeted on Monday, "The Impeachment Hoax is the greatest con job in the history of American politics!" As the House prepares for Wednesday's vote, more than a dozen Democrats announced they would be voting for impeachment. A handful or even fewer are expected to break ranks as Speaker Nancy Pelosi marches the majority toward a vote she hoped to avoid having Democrats take on their own.
Representative Jeff Van Drew, a conservative Democrat from New Jersey who opposed impeachment, is planning to become a Republican, media reported over the weekend. The news prompted a mass resignation of staffers in his office.
As the House was detailing its case against the nation's 45th president, attention was turning to the Senate where the top Democrat, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, called anew for fresh evidence and testimony from key White House officials for the Senate impeachment trial. "What is President Trump hiding?" Schumer said Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hoping to avoid a drawn-out spectacle in his chamber, though Trump, a former reality TV show host, has signalled that is what he prefers as he seeks vindication. Republicans, who hold the majority, are expected to acquit Trump of the charges during a trial starting in January.
In a letter to McConnell, Schumer proposed hearing testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and two others as part of a detailed offer he made to Republicans as an opening offer for negotiations.
Several Senate Republicans rejected that idea late on Monday, saying the House should have gone to court to force those witnesses to testify over the White House's objections if Democrats wanted to hear from them."We don't need to clean up their sloppy job," said Iowa GOP Senator Joni Ernst.
Democrats want to hear from Bolton, who once labelled the alternative foreign policy orchestrated by Trump lawyer Giuliani a "drug deal" he wanted no part of. Bolton left the White House in September.
The Democrats also want to hear from Mulvaney, who has acknowledged the military aid to Ukraine was being held up, as well as two other White House officials who defied House subpoenas to testify. The aid was later released as Congress raised questions about the hold-up.
McConnell is facing criticism for saying he's taking his "cues" from the White House as he ensures Trump there will not be the 67 votes needed in the Senate to convict the president. Democrats complain that he and other Republicans are not operating as impartial jurors.
The GOP leader is planning to meet soon with Schumer to discuss the contours of next month's trial, McConnell's office said.
The report released Monday by the House Judiciary Committee, a historic marker like those produced during impeachment proceedings for Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, formally lays the groundwork for the vote.
It outlines the panel's findings and includes those from the Intelligence Committee's months-long investigation that was sparked by a still-anonymous government whistleblower's complaint about Trump's July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. It also includes Republican rebuttals.
The House Rules Committee will meet Tuesday in what is expected to be a marathon session to set the parameters for Wednesday's debate.
No US president has been removed as a direct result of impeachment.
Nixon resigned in 1974 before he could be removed, while Andrew Johnson and Clinton were impeached by the House, respectively in 1868 and 1998, but not convicted by the Senate.
Democrats argue that impeachment is an urgent necessity because Trump has continued his alleged misconduct, endangering the integrity of the 2020 election.
Republicans have defended Trump and accused Democrats of a partisan effort aimed at overturning his upset 2016 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.