Vote moves impeachment proceedings to next phase
Posted December 4, 2019 1:11 a.m. EST
CNN — The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines Tuesday night to approve a 300-page report summarizing weeks of investigation, which it will send to the House Judiciary Committee as that panel considers moving forward on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the "constitutional grounds for Presidential impeachment," with a panel of expert witnesses testifying.
Norm Eisen, a consultant hired by the Judiciary Committee earlier this year, will lead staff questioning for Democrats at the hearing, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry.
The judiciary hearings are following the same format as the Intelligence Committee hearings: Staff counsel will get as much as 45 minutes to question witnesses. Wednesday's hearing includes four constitutional scholars who are testifying for the first Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing.
The hearing is scheduled to start at 10 am ET. Watch live on CNN or on CNN.com.
Impeachment report details 'overwhelming' misconduct
House Democrats say evidence of Trump's misconduct and obstruction of Congress is "overwhelming" in the report released Tuesday, which will form the backbone of the formal impeachment proceedings. The report from the House Intelligence Committee sets the stage for the impeachment of a US president for just the third time in history.
Here are some early takeaways, courtesy of CNN's Phil Mattingly:
This report is the articles of impeachment road map
A simple look at the table of contents makes clear that this product was intended to serve as the basis for articles of impeachment. Section One lays out, in extensive detail, abuse of power. Section two lays out, in extensive detail, efforts to obstruct the inquiry. The 19 "Key Findings of Fact" that follow track along these lines as well, and would conceivably fold quite well, verbatim, into draft articles.
The new -- and significant -- information
Much of the narrative in the report was well known, but the document does contain new information, notably a batch of phone logs that Democrats say were obtained by subpoenaing third-party phone records.
The committee subpoenaed call records, dozens of them, to lay out timelines of contacts between key players. It's also clear the committee obtained call records tied to US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, laying out his calls to the White House.
Democrats accused Trump's allies of coordinating with conservative journalist John Solomon to peddle "false narratives" about then-US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as part of his multi-pronged pressure campaign.
The role of Devin Nunes
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the intelligence panel, has been a central player in the impeachment inquiry due to his role on the committee. Through the call records it is also clear that Nunes, along with two of his top aides, was in repeated contact with the players at the heart of the investigation, including Ukrainian American businessman Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer.
More on the report from CNN's Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb.
Remember -- The document release is only the start of what's poised to be a frenzied month in the House, with Democrats on track to potentially vote on impeaching Trump by Christmas.
Podcast: Democrats' impeachment strategy
While the report paints a damning portrait of the President, little of it is new, prompting some questions about the House impeachment investigators' strategy:
Are Democrats making a mistake by failing to force testimony from additional witnesses like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney?
Plus, are Democrats pursuing a moral victory at the expense of their political fortunes?
CNN political director David Chalian dives into the impeachment news of the day on the Daily DC Impeachment Watch podcast with CNN national security analyst Sam Vinograd and the host of "SE Cupp Unfiltered,'" S.E. Cupp.
Barr laments DOJ watchdog report
Attorney General William Barr "disagrees" with a forthcoming report by the Justice Department's inspector general that says the FBI had enough information in 2016 to launch an investigation into President Donald Trump's campaign, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The Post, citing conversations with people familiar with the matter, said Barr has also privately told associates that he thinks other federal agencies, "such as the CIA, may hold significant information that could alter (Inspector General Michael) Horowitz's conclusion on that point."
And CNN's Evan Perez and David Shortell reported Tuesday that Barr is telling conservative allies that the inspector general's report will not be the last word on the subject. He says they should wait for the investigation by John Durham, a Connecticut federal prosecutor he appointed earlier this year to conduct what he said was a broader investigation, reviewing actions by the CIA and other intelligence agencies that provided information to the FBI probe.
CNN reported last month that the report will say the FBI probe was properly launched but lower-level employees made a series of mistakes, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Horowitz is due to release his report on the FBI probe next week, which has caused "disagreement" at the department because of his "central conclusions" about the nearly two-year-long Russia investigation, according to the Post. Trump, Barr and many conservatives have long accused the FBI of wrongdoing in its investigation into connections between Russian election interference and the Trump campaign.
Remember -- Barr is at the center of the Ukraine controversy. When Trump pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into Joe Biden, a leading 2020 rival, he suggested his counterpart work with Barr to get to the bottom of it.
"There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great," Trump told Zelensky on the call, according to a rough transcript released by the White House.
Conspiracy in the crosshairs
Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine on Tuesday lambasted the Trump-backed conspiracy theory on Ukraine election meddling while responding to a new CNN report that the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee had looked into allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and found no evidence to support the claims.
"Well, I want to clear one thing up right away. There was no specific hearing or briefing on Ukraine per se. There's been some reporting on that. I want to clarify that. On the other hand, we must -- I bet I sat through 25 hearings, briefings, meetings, probably more, on the question of what happened in 2016," King told CNN's John Berman on "New Day."
"In none of those meetings was there ever a hint, a breath, a suggestion, a word that somehow Ukraine was involved in the 2016 election in the interference or the influence campaign. It was Russia. And it was Russia in a systematic, widespread way."
July 25, deconstructed
Trump will soon become the third president in American history to face impeachment by the House -- and it's all because of what he did on July 25.
That's the day he spoke on the phone with Zelensky and pressed him to investigate Democrats, including Biden. House Democrats are poised to cast historic votes this month impeaching Trump, triggering a Senate trial.
The public is still learning new information about what happened on July 25, which was just a day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified to Congress about the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia in the 2016 election.
As Trump moved on from that scandal, he waded right into another one. Democrats say the July 25 timeline provides a damning account of presidential abuses of office. Trump maintains his behavior was "perfect."
Here's a minute-by-minute breakdown of one of the most consequential days in modern US political history. All times are listed in Washington time, though some key players were in Ukraine. Marshall Cohen and Will Houp did this one and it's worth the click.
The fact pattern is incomplete
There are still some big unknowns as Democrats move ahead. One of them: Did Trump and Sondland talk on September 9? Maybe not. And it's important.
The impeachment inquiry report, the website Just Security and The Washington Post all separately looked at the available testimony and concluded that Sondland's recollection of talking to President Trump on September 9 may in fact be faulty. CNN's Holmes Lybrand took a look Tuesday.
These close examinations are important because there are numerous sources to back up the idea that Trump actually made his declaration to Sondland that there should be no "quid pro quo" on September 7.
Memories better than Sondland's
If that's right, as Just Security argues, it could mean Trump said those words in the context of Sondland asking if the prosecutor general and not President Zelensky could announce the investigations Trump wanted. He was saying "no quid pro quo" while simultaneously refining the requirements for the trade.
Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council official, was relying on his recollection of what Sondland had told him when he discussed the September 7 call during congressional testimony. But he was also preserving his memory at the time since he told Bolton and the National Security Council lawyers about the call and his concerns.
"[T]his was a conversation where Gordon related that both — the President said there was not a quid pro quo, but he further stated that President Zelenskyy should want to go to the microphone and announce personally -- so it wouldn't be enough for the Prosecutor General, he wanted to announce personally, Zelenskyy personally, that he would open the investigations," Morrison said.
And it seems to have worked that way. Plans were in place for Zelensky to announce the investigations during an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. That is, until Congress was told of the whistleblower report and the aid was released shortly thereafter.
These elements may seem small, but it's important to remember that we're hurtling toward impeachment without a full knowledge of the facts.
However, it's also important to recognize that even the facts we continue to learn have further implicated the President rather than cleared him.
And that's a convenient byproduct of his decision to block the impeachment inquiry.
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats want to impeach him for it. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what's acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.
Keep track of congressional action with CNN's Impeachment Tracker. See a timeline of events. And get your full refresher on who's who in this drama.