House approves formal impeachment inquiry
The Democratic-majority House approved a measure formalizing its impeachment investigation in a partisan vote, 232-196.
No Republicans voted for the measure, and two Democrats were against it, Reps. Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who recently changed his affiliation from Republican to independent, voted for the resolution.
It was just the fourth vote to conduct an impeachment inquiry in the history of Congress. Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached but not convicted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned after an impeachment inquiry was launched.
Immediately after the vote, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., tweeted: “Fact: Pelosi’s inquiry is officially the first presidential impeachment inquiry in modern history authorized by members of only one party.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – who had shown reluctance to move forward with impeachment, recognizing the political pitfalls – initially held a voice vote on the resolution, declaring it passed. But Rep. Cole, R-Okla., requested a recording of the ayes and nays by electronic device.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham condemned the vote, charging Pelosi “and the Democrats have done nothing more than enshrine unacceptable violations of due process into House rules.”
“The President has done nothing wrong, and the Democrats know it,” she said in a statement. “Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding does not hurt President Trump; it hurts the American people.”
Grisham said that instead of “focusing on pressing issues that impact real families, like reducing gun violence, passing the USMCA, improving healthcare, lowering prescription drug costs, securing our southern border, and modernizing our aging infrastructure, the Democrats are choosing every day to waste time on a sham impeachment—a blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the President.”
Grisham said Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and their colleagues have “conducted secret, behind-closed-door meetings, blocked the administration from participating, and have now voted to authorize a second round of hearings that still fails to provide any due process whatsoever to the administration.”
“The Democrats want to render a verdict without giving the Administration a chance to mount a defense,” Grisham said. “That is unfair, unconstitutional, and fundamentally un-American.”
At a news conference of Republican leaders after the vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., recalled Pelosi telling the Washington Post in March that she was “not for impeachment.”
“Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country,” the House speaker said. “And he’s just not worth it.”
McCarthy asked what has changed since March.
“In all the hearings, there is nothing compelling, nothing overwhelming. So the speaker should follow her own words,” he said.
In March, House Democrats were focused on accusations that Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia and that after Trump’s election, he obstructed the investigation of the accusations. However, special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion and left it up to the Justice Department to decide whether or not to refer obstruction of justice charges. Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded obstruction charges were not warranted.
The current inquiry is based on a complaint by an anonymous whistleblower who, according to the intelligence community inspector general, has indicated political bias against President Trump. The whistleblower, based on second-hand evidence contends Trump used the threat of withholding aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia collusion probe and Hunter Biden’s profiting from a Ukrainian natural gas company while his father was President Obama’s point man for Ukraine policy. The White House contends the transcript it released shows there was no quid pro quo. And it argues that the aid when through and the Ukrainian president insisted he was not pressured.
Republicans also argue that the president is required to ensure that serious allegations of corruption are addressed. And they point to a treaty passed in 1998 between the U.S. and Ukraine that establishes cooperation in criminal matters.
Pelosi insisted to reporters after the vote that the rules implement in the resolution “are fairer than anything that have gone before, in terms of an impeachment proceeding.”
“This isn’t about anything personal with the president. It isn’t about politics,” she said.
‘Folks, this ain’t over. Get ready’
Collins, at the Republicans’ news conference after the vote, accused House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of playing the role of an independent or special counsel.
“If he wants to set himself up as a special counsel, then here is my challenge to Chairman Schiff: If you want to be Ken Starr, be Ken Starr. Come to the Judiciary Committee, be the first witness, take every question asked of you,” he said to applause from his Republican colleagues.
“Folks, this ain’t over. Get ready. The could that is dropping will be dropping on their heads, because process, and substance will always win out in the end, because this president has nothing to worry about on substance,” said Collins.
The Democrats argue that the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation differs from previous impeachment inquiries
The chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Jim McGovern, said that “what is unique about this particular situation is that we don’t have a Ken Starr, we don’t have a special prosecutor building the case.”
“These committees are building the case. It will be turned over to the Judiciary Committee. The president has been afforded all kinds of rights before the Judiciary Committee. It’s a fair process, and it is an open and transparent process,” he said.
Starr, the independent counsel who presented to the House Judiciary Committee 11 counts of impeachable offenses against Bill Clinton in 1998, was interviewed by Fox News after the vote Thursday.
Starr said that it appears the resolution will give Schiff continued authority and power over the process until it reached the House Judiciary Committee.
“We’ll see whether, in fact, he is much more congenial, and agreeable and accommodating to the what the Republicans are saying,” he said, referring to their demand for the authority to subpoena and question witnesses.
Starr said the “fundamental problem” is that Pelosi “jumped the gun.”
“This should not have been an impeachment inquiry until there was a full debate on the floor and then to authorize the impeachment inquiry,” he said.
Starr said it’s fair for an oversight committee to address whether or not the president did anything wrong regarding Ukraine.
“But do oversight, and then once you have all the facts say, well, we’re now focusing on impeachment,” he said.
“They got way ahead of it – about 38 days ago – when they said this is going to be a secret proceeding before the House Intelligence Committee,” said Starr. “I think that is just historically wrong.”
In debate on the resolution Thursday morning, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said Democrats have conducted a “secret process that has involved denying rights to the minority, that has involved leaking selectively things that the majority would like to have leaked, in which rights have been absolutely denied, and they cannot fix that.”
“They cannot fix what has been a tainted record and a tainted process by now suddenly pretending they are opening it up,” she said.
Cheney said the Democrats will be “held accountable to history.”
“They have absolutely no right to talk about threats to this nation if they are diverting their full attention, resources and focus on the House Intelligence Committee onto a sham process by Chairman Schiff and Speaker Pelosi,” she said.
During the debate, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., argued against the resolution next to a sign with a graphic of a hammer and sickle and Moscow’s Red Square that said, “37 days of Soviet-style impeachment proceedings.”
“Maybe in the Soviet Union you do things like this where only you make the rules, where you reject the ability for the person you are accusing to even be in the room,” he said.