Democrats consider what articles of impeachment actually look like
Posted October 24, 2019 6:22 p.m. EDT
CNN — Democrats are discussing the scope and scale of potential articles of impeachment into President Donald Trump, lawmakers and aides tell CNN.
The explosive testimony House lawmakers have obtained in their month-old impeachment inquiry is only one aspect of the impeachment work taking place, they say. The discussion about the parameters of the articles of impeachment -- the crux of any vote to indict Trump -- has also begun among members.
"People are beginning to think of what it would look like," said Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and member of Democratic leadership. Cicilline made clear in an interview with CNN that the talks are preliminary, but both staff and members have discussed the broad shape of what the articles may look like.
Lawmakers and aides told CNN that the work is in its early stages, and ultimately is contingent on the report filed by the committees conducting the investigation. The early work also stands to form the backbone of a complicated decision looming over House Democratic leaders -- how broadly to go after the President.
"We're having discussions about what the likely articles would be, at the committee level and I think everyone is thinking about what it will be," Cicilline said. "But we're obviously going to wait until the evidence is referred to the Judiciary Committee."
Lawmakers and aides tell CNN that the focus -- at the moment -- is on the investigation itself with the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees taking the lead in almost-daily interviews with witnesses they hope can shed light on why nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine was withheld and whether Trump used his office to garner political favors from the new government there. But for members not part of those investigations, there is plenty of speculation about how to approach the next phase of the process: drafting the formal Articles of Impeachment.
"It is reasonable to say that it would be staffer malpractice not to have some of this stuff ready with the facts we already have in hand," one Democratic aide told CNN.
Rank-and-file members are also taking a closer look at exactly how to structure their articles -- reviewing the way both the Nixon and Clinton articles of impeachment were written with two divergent views developing within the caucus.
For members who were persuaded to back the impeachment inquiry only after the whistleblower's allegations, the view is to keep the impeachment articles narrowly focused on the President's alleged abuse of power: using his office to push Ukraine into investigating his political opponents.
"People understand this. This is what got us to the point of launching the inquiry," one House Democrat who didn't support opening an impeachment inquiry until the Ukraine revelations became public told CNN. "I'm wary of complicating things when this is just so clearly wrong on its own."
But, for Democrats who came out in support of impeachment after special counsel Robert Mueller's report on alleged obstruction of justice by the President, the pressure is on to write articles that address a wide range of Trump's perceived wrongdoing.
"There is a unified system of lawlessness and criminality taking place in the White House and we have to be as comprehensive as possible in describing it, but I absolutely think the Ukraine episode is the epitome of high crimes and misdemeanors and that should be the center of it," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Still, while members have been discussing the next steps, any decision will ultimately fall to leadership and the relevant chairmen including Rep. Jerry Nadler of the Judiciary Committee.
"Staff is doing a lot of work," said Nadler, a Democrat from New York, when asked what his committee was doing to prepare for impeachment.
Pressed further, Nadler responded, "I'm not going to comment on any of this."
Democrats are sensitive to any charge the party is moving ahead with too quickly on what articles of impeachment would look like while the House's investigation is ongoing. There are also crosscutting dynamics inside the caucus on just how broad any potential articles would be, ranging from members who want to keep anything narrowly focused on allegations of a quid pro quo with US assistance to Ukraine to those who want to broaden it out to other issues House Democrats have been investigating for months.
"There is nothing we are doing at this point other than just waiting for all of the investigations to be complete," said Rep. Lucy McBath, a freshman Democrat from Georgia and a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Democrats have also repeatedly said that any effort by the Trump administration to conceal information, hold back subpoenaed documents or stop witnesses from testifying will be seen as evidence of obstruction of Congress, another potential area to include in Articles of Impeachment.
"I think abuse of power covers a lot of areas, but I think that will be determined as we get through this process as far as what exactly the Articles of Impeachment should say," said Rep. Harley Rouda, a California Democrat and member of the House Oversight Committee.
The articles themselves are just the beginning of the debate for Democrats, however. Julian Epstein, the former chief counsel for the House Judiciary Committee Democrats during the Clinton impeachment, argued that there is typically a report that accompanies the Articles that acts essentially as the indictment. It's hundreds of pages and includes more detailed accounts of precisely what transpired.
"It's very common to have the report that gives an explanation," he said.
One member who spoke with CNN on background about the ongoing process said that while there could be just a few Articles of Impeachment focused on larger transgressions like abuse of power or obstruction of justice, the report itself could be an opportunity to provide Democrats room to include more specific violations including things like emoluments violations, specific incidences of abuse of office related to Ukraine or even alleged obstruction from the Mueller report.