WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is plunging into a landmark impeachment week, with Democrats who once hoped to sway Republicans now facing the prospect of an ever-hardening partisan split over the question of removing President Donald Trump from office.
Lawmakers were getting their first look at the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment report Monday night behind closed doors. The findings are expected to forcefully make the Democrats' case that Trump engaged in what Chairman Adam Schiff calls impeachable "wrongdoing and misconduct" in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrats and Joe Biden while withholding military aid to the ally.
For Republicans offering an early rebuttal ahead of the report's public release, the proceedings are simply a "hoax," with Trump insisting he did nothing wrong and his GOP allies in line behind him.
With the Judiciary Committee set to launch its first hearing Wednesday, the impeachment proceedings are presenting a historic test of political judgment in a case that's dividing Congress and the country.
Departing for a NATO meeting in London, Trump criticized the House for pushing forward Monday with proceedings while he was heading overseas, a breach of political decorum that traditionally leaves partisan differences at the water's edge.
He predicted Republicans would actually benefit from the entire impeachment effort against him, though "it's a disgrace for our country."
For the Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a critical moment of her leadership as she steers the process ahead after resisting the impeachment inquiry through the summer, warning it was too divisive for the country and required bipartisan support.
Speaking to reporters at the international climate conference in Madrid, Pelosi declined to engage with impeachment questions. "When we travel abroad, we don't talk about the president in a negative way," she said. "We save that for home."
Possible grounds for impeachment are focused on whether Trump abused his office as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call to launch investigations into Trump's political rivals. At the time, Trump was withholding $400 million in military aid, jeopardizing key support as Ukraine faced an aggressive Russia at its border.
The report, which the Intelligence panel will vote on today and make public, also is expected to include evidence the Democrats said suggested obstruction of Congress, based on Trump's instructions for his administration to defy subpoenas for documents and testimony.
The next step comes when the Judiciary Committee gavels open its own hearing with legal experts to assess the findings and consider potential articles of impeachment ahead of a possible vote by the full House by Christmas. That would presumably send it to the Senate for a trial in January.
The Democratic majority on the Intelligence Committee said its report, compiled after weeks of testimony from current and former diplomats and administration officials, will speak for itself in laying out the president's actions toward Ukraine.
Republicans pre-empted the report's public release with a rebuttal in which they claim there's no evidence Trump pressured Zelenskiy. Instead, they say Democrats just want to undo the 2016 election. Republicans dismiss witness testimony of a shadow diplomacy being run by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and they rely on the president's insistence that he was merely concerned about "corruption" in Ukraine.
Trump on Monday pointed to Zelenskiy's recent comments as proof he did nothing wrong. The Ukrainian president said in an interview he never talked to Trump "from the position of a quid pro quo," but didn't say Trump did nothing wrong. In fact, he had strong criticism for Trump's actions in the Time magazine interview.
With Ukraine at war with Russia, he said, its partners "can't go blocking anything for us."
The finished Intelligence Committee report sets up the week's cascading actions.
Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment against the president in a matter of days, with voting in the Judiciary Committee next week.
Republicans on the committee, led by Rep. Doug Collins, of Georgia, plan to rely on procedural moves to stall the process and portray the inquiry as a sham.
The White House declined an invitation to participate, with Counsel Pat Cipollone denouncing the proceedings as a "baseless and highly partisan inquiry" in a letter to Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.