Congressional panel to weigh Trump impeachment evidence as formal charges loom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional panel leading the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump will debate the evidence against him on Monday, with Democratic lawmakers poised to move forward with possible formal charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress this week.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives Judiciary Committee will formally review evidence from impeachment investigators at an all-day hearing scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. (1400 GMT), a key step before determining charges, known as articles of impeachment, that the full House is likely to vote on before Christmas.
The committee could vote to send them to the House floor later this week, Democratic Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on Sunday, as lawmakers sharpened their focus on charges of wrongdoing in Trump's dealings with Ukraine.
That will set up an inevitable clash with Trump and his Republican allies, who maintain that Democrats are on a partisan mission to unseat a president who did nothing to merit impeachment. No current House Republican has come out in favor of impeaching Trump.
A vote in the House in favor of impeachment would trigger a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate where a two-thirds vote of those present would be needed to remove the president from office. A conviction is considered unlikely.
It has been 20 years since Americans last witnessed impeachment proceedings, when Republicans brought charges against Democratic President Bill Clinton arising from a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern. He was acquitted in the Senate.
"It's up to us now in the House, and presumably will be up to the senators, to see if we will and if the senators will put the welfare of the country and patriotism above partisan considerations or not," Nadler said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
But on ABC's "This Week," House Judiciary Republican Matt Gaetz said the impeachment drive was "exclusively supported by Democrats."
'PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR'
After weeks of investigation into Trump's request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face the president in the 2020 election, the committee is focused on two articles charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Democrats have also accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine - a vulnerable U.S. ally facing Russian aggression - and holding back a coveted White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as leverage to pressure Kiev into investigating Biden and his businessman son, Hunter Biden.
But they appeared to back away from basing one of the articles of impeachment on former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election interference in 2016.
Instead, Democrats suggested they could use Mueller's findings to demonstrate what they describe as a pattern of behavior by which Trump has sought repeatedly to encourage foreign involvement in U.S. elections and then move to stymie investigators.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and said the inquiry is a hoax.
Democrats intend to decide which articles to bring forward after Monday's hearing, which will feature testimony from Democratic and Republican lawyers from the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
The proceedings will showcase a 300-page report by Intelligence Committee Democrats that levels allegations of sweeping abuse of power against Trump.
"What we're hoping is today we will be able to quickly lay out the facts, bring out the most compelling part of the story and ... make clear the clear and present danger to the country," U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat on the Judiciary panel, told CNN on Monday.
In a letter to the White House released late on Sunday, Nadler said he was formally providing the report and other materials related to the proceedings except for "a limited number" of items containing sensitive information that would be available for White House review at a secure location in the House.
Republicans have their own, 110-page report, which argues that the inquiry has relied on "unelected bureaucrats" who "fundamentally disagreed with President Trump's style, world view and decisions" but presented no evidence amounting to an impeachable offense.
(Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Soyoung Kim, Peter Cooney and Paul Simao)
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