WASHINGTON – The White House declared Sunday it would not participate in the first impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee as Democrats prepared to approve their report Tuesday making the case for President Donald Trump's removal from office.
The Democratic majority on the House Intelligence Committee says its report will speak for itself in laying out possible charges of bribery or “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional standard for impeachment. After receiving the report, the Judiciary Committee would prepare actual charges.
That committee's first hearing was already set for Wednesday and was expected to feature four legal experts who will examine questions of constitutional grounds as the committee decides whether to write articles of impeachment against Trump, and if so, what those articles would be.
The White House was invited to attend the Wednesday hearing, but its counsel declined in a fiery letter released Sunday evening.
“This baseless and highly partisan inquiry violates all past historical precedent, basic due process rights, and fundamental fairness,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone, continuing the West Wing's attack on the procedural form of the impeachment proceedings. Trump himself was scheduled to attend a summit with NATO allies outside London on Wednesday.
Cipollone's letter applied only to the Wednesday hearing, and he demanded more information from Democrats on how they intended to conduct further hearings before Trump would decide whether to participate in those hearings. House-passed rules provide the president and his attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses and review evidence before the committee, but little ability to bring forward witnesses of their own.
Republicans, meanwhile, wanted Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to testify before the Judiciary Committee, though they have no power to compel him to do so, as they joined the White House effort to try to cast the Democratic-led inquiry as skewed against the Republican president.
"If he chooses not to (testify), then I really question his veracity in what he's putting in his report,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
"It's easy to hide behind a report," Collins added. "But it's going to be another thing to actually get up and have to answer questions.”
Schiff has said “there's nothing for me to testify about,” that he isn't a “fact” witness and that Republicans are only trying to “mollify the president, and that's not a good reason to try to call a member of Congress as a witness.”
Coming after two weeks of public testimony and two months of investigation, the findings of the Intelligence Committee report were not yet publicly known. But the report was expected to focus mostly on whether Trump abused his office by withholding military aid approved by Congress and a White House meeting as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch investigations into Trump's political rivals.
Democrats also were expected to include an article on obstruction of Congress that outlines Trump's instructions to officials in his administration to defy subpoenas for documents or testimony.
Democrats were aiming for a final House vote by Christmas, which would set the stage for a likely Senate trial in January.
“I do believe that all evidence certainly will be included in that report so the Judiciary Committee can make the necessary decisions that they need to,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
She said Democrats had not yet finalized witnesses for the upcoming Judiciary hearings and were waiting to hear back from Trump on his plans to present a defense.
“If he has not done anything wrong, we're certainly anxious to hear his explanation of that,” Demings said.
Trump has previously suggested that he might be willing to offer written testimony under certain conditions, though aides suggested they did not anticipate Democrats would ever agree to them.
“The Democrats are holding the most ridiculous Impeachment hearings in history. Read the Transcripts, NOTHING was done or said wrong!” Trump tweeted Saturday.
Democrats had pressed Trump to decide by Friday whether he would take advantage of due process protections afforded to him under House rules adopted in October for follow-up hearings, including the right to request witness testimony and to cross-examine the witnesses called by the House.
“If you are serious about conducting a fair process going forward, and in order to protect the rights and privileges of the President, we may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the Administration the ability to do so meaningfully,” Cipollone said in the Sunday letter.
“Why would they want to participate in just another rerun?” asked Collins, D-Ga., noting that the Judiciary Committee previously heard from constitutional scholars on impeachable offenses during special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
“This is a complete American waste of time of here,” said Collins, who is calling on the committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to expand the witness list to include those sought by Republicans. “This is why this is a problematic exercise and simply a made-for-TV event coming on Wednesday.”
Still, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, a Judiciary Committee member, said he believes Trump would benefit if he presents his own defense.
“I think it would be to the president's advantage to have his attorneys there. That's his right,” he said.
McClintock said he doesn't believe Trump did anything wrong in the July 25 call with Zelenskiy that is at the heart of the investigation.
“He didn't use the delicate language of diplomacy in that conversation, that's true. He also doesn't use the smarmy talk of politicians,” McClintock said.
To McClintock, Trump was using “the blunt talk of a Manhattan businessman” and “was entirely within his constitutional authority” in his dealings with Ukraine's leader.
Collins appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and Demings and McClintock were on ABC's “This Week.”
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.