While Democrats in the US House of Representatives prepare to vote on a resolution on the next phase of the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, Republicans sought to challenge the measure on procedural points.
The House Rules Committee was scheduled to make any amendments to the resolution on Wednesday, with a vote on it expected Thursday. Republicans pushed amendments to the resolution on Wednesday but all were rejected by the committee's majority Democrats.
The GOP questioned why the House Ways and Means and House Financial Services panels were involved in the process. Those committees, along with Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight, will conduct the inquiry.
"To me, it is unclear why these two committees are included in the list of committees directed to continue the ongoing impeachment investigations, because the only reason for them is to access President Trump's personal business papers and his IRS papers," said Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican. "It's really nothing more than a fishing expedition to see if they can't uncover something that might be useful to them should the whistleblower complaint fail, which I believe it will."
"If it's a fishing expedition, there's a lot of fish and might even be some whales out in the water," said Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat.
On Tuesday, Democrats released the text of the resolution, which includes the process for public hearings and eventual participation of Trump and his lawyers.
"Directing certain committees to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its Constitutional power to impeach Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America, and for other purposes," the introduction to the resolution reads.
"The evidence we have already collected paints the picture of a President who abused his power by using multiple levers of government to press a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election," four of the committee chairs said in a statement. "Following in the footsteps of previous impeachment inquiries, the next phase will move from closed depositions to open hearings where the American people will learn firsthand about the President's misconduct."
The impetus of the inquiry was a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which the president sought an investigation of former vice-president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that paid Hunter Biden tens of thousands of dollars to serve on its board.
Democrats say Trump made the release of $391 million in US aid contingent on an investigation of the Bidens. The aid was eventually granted.
Impeachment is a political process, and usually unfolds depending on which party controls, first the House, then the Senate. In 1998, President Bill Clinton was impeached by a Republican-led House, but he was acquitted in a Republican-majority Senate in 1999.
About 84 percent of Democrats but only 11 percent of Republicans favor impeaching Trump, according to polling website FiveThirtyEight.
As the inquiry advances, the Intelligence Committee would draft a report in consultation with the Foreign Affairs and Oversight chairs, and send it to the Judiciary Committee.
Judiciary would then lead the proceedings, following procedures previously set by the Rules Committee, which would "allow for the participation of the President and his counsel".
Finally, the Judiciary Committee would "report to the House of Representatives such resolutions, articles of impeachment, or other recommendations as it deems proper", with the full House eventually voting on whether to impeach.
The resolution directs the Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Adam Schiff of California, to hold open hearings, with equal time for questioning granted to majority (Democrat) and minority (Republican) members of the committee or staff.
The chairman and the ranking member or certain staff members would be granted 45 minutes to quiz witnesses in five-minute sessions before the other members do.
The resolution also allows Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee, to submit requests for witnesses with "a detailed written justification of the relevance of the testimony". Schiff, however, could reject Nunes' requests, and Nunes could send the request to the entire committee for a vote.
Schiff and Nunes have consistently been at odds, dating to the probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which led to the lengthy investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Top Republicans complained Wednesday about the rights Trump would have in the proceeding.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that Democrats "have denied President Trump basic due process and are cutting his counsel out of the process in an unprecedented way. … The draft resolution that has been released does nothing of the sort. It falls way short, way short."
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said allowing Schiff to lead the investigation broke with precedent.
"The intel committee is part of the process, which has never been done, and the president's counsel is not allowed to participate in the intel committee," Graham said.
"It's still a behind-closed-doors, lack-of-due-process," he said. "And they're trying to create something new that I think is just substandard and dangerous to the presidency."
Graham also minimized the testimony of Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who told House investigators Tuesday that a transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy was edited to remove a reference to Burisma.
"I have no doubt that he's doing what he thinks is right," Graham said of Vindman. "I appreciate his service, but I've read the transcript, and if you add his corrections in, it doesn't change anything for me."
Graham said the corrections proposed by Vindman "don't change the substance at all".
On Tuesday, Nunes accused Schiff of "coaching" the witness, in reference to Vindman.
In a letter released Wednesday, the Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said he was concerned for Vindman's safety.
"Although he has served our country for more than 20 years and is a recipient of the Purple Heart after being injured while serving in Iraq, he has been called a variety of derogatory terms and some have even gone so far as to call him a spy and question his loyalty to the United States," Schumer wrote.
Also, former White House national security adviser John Bolton, who was fired by Trump, has been asked to testify in the inquiry next week, according to various sourced media reports.