Tensions boiled over at the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing Monday when Republican lawmakers accused the Democratic majority of writing their own rules and then breaking them to choreograph a takedown of President Trump.
The squabbles highlighted the deep partisan divide over impeachment as Democrats prepare to put forward at least two articles of impeachment Tuesday, one for abuse of power and another for obstructing Congress, The Associated Press reported, citing sources familiar with the discussions.
The fast-track process tees up an impeachment vote possibly before Christmas and helps kick the partisan showdown into high gear.
“You weren’t elected by anybody,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, shouted at Daniel Goldman, a House Democratic counsel who was testifying about evidence supporting impeachment charges, including abuse of power, obstruction and inviting foreign interference in the 2020 election.
Mr. Gaetz’s sharp words were part of a series of confrontations over the unusual setup of the hearing before the Judiciary Committee. Congressional staff such as Mr. Goldman acted as both witnesses and interrogators, and the proceeding lacked any of the fact witnesses who testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which conducted an inquiry before sending the impeachment case to the Judiciary Committee.
Republicans repeatedly objected to the proceedings, but Chairman Jerrold Nader, New York Democrat, overruled them each time.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican who was speaking over Mr. Nadler’s calls that he was out of order, objected to Democratic counsel Barry Berke’s dual roles of testifying from the witness panel and then asking questions from the dais.
“I’ve been a judge, and I know that you don’t get to be a witness and a judge in the same case. That’s my point of order. He should not be up here,” Mr. Gohmert said.
Mr. Nadler said Mr. Berke was not serving as a witness but more of a presenter when he explained the impeachment evidence to the committee.
Republicans railed about being denied a minority hearing, which is guaranteed under House rules.
They objected to the absence of Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence committee. Mr. Schiff led the impeachment inquiry and oversaw the drafting of the 300-page report outlining the evidence against Mr. Trump.
The report laid the groundwork for the articles of impeachment stemming from Mr. Trump’s request for Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
“It is extraordinary that the president’s conduct was a trifecta, checking all three boxes” of impeachment offense in the Constitution, Mr. Berke said.
The hearing focused on the Schiff report, but the congressman did not present the findings. Testifying would have exposed him to Republican questions about his office’s early contact with the whistleblower who launched the impeachment inquiry and whether he helped direct the whistleblower’s actions.
“Where’s Adam?” demanded Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the committee.
Rep. Collins: "Where's Adam? It's his report, his name. Mr. Goldman, you're a great attorney but you're not Adam Schiff and you don't wear a pin." pic.twitter.com/6oNR89yevY
— ForAmerica (@ForAmerica) December 9, 2019
Republicans also expressed outrage that the report included subpoenaed phone records for Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, White House officials, a journalist and Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee.
Democrats said the timing of the calls suggested coordination of a pressure campaign against Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden, which is the crux of the impeachment case.
The names of the targets were listed in the public report.
“It was a drive-by. It was a gratuitous drive-by,” said Mr. Collins. “That was nothing more than a smear campaign. It’s beneath you, and it’s beneath this Congress.”
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said the Democrats were creating a surveillance state.
“You’ve made Joe McCarthy look like a piker,” he said.
At the White House, Mr. Trump dismissed the hearing as “a hoax.”
“It’s a disgrace,” he told reporters during a meeting on school choice with students and educators.
High school student Myles Bowers of Pennsylvania told the president that he wants to become a psychiatrist.
“That’s good. I could use you,” Mr. Trump said to laughter.
Democrats said the complaints that the process was partisan and unfair, which have been a mainstay of Republican challenges to impeachment, served as a smokescreen for Mr. Trump’s wrongdoing.
“We surely agree that no public official, including and especially the president of the United States, should use his public office for private gain,” Mr. Nadler said.
He said both sides should be able to agree on the fact of the case if Republicans remove “their blinders.”
The impeachment case stems from a July 25 phone call in which Mr. Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” by investigating Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, as well as purported Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
A whistleblower, who is believed to be a CIA official assigned to the White House, accused the president of abusing his power for personal gain on the call, including withholding $391 million in U.S. military aid from Ukraine as leverage.
The whistleblower also is believed to have ties to the Democratic Party and Mr. Biden. Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, who received the complaint, acknowledged that the whistleblower had “possible political bias” but that the bias did not make his complaint noncredible.
Sparks flew again when Mr. Sensenbrenner accused Mr. Berke of “badgering” Republican counsel Stephen R. Castor, who presented the Republican rebuttal to the Democratic report.
“We have to have some decorum here. You have your rules of decorum, which aren’t comporting with everybody else’s rules,” Mr. Sensenbrenner told the chairman.
Mr. Nadler shot back: “Sharp cross-examination of a witness is not badgering the witness.”
The sparing snowballed when Republicans took over the questioning of witnesses.
Mr. Collins scolded Mr. Goldman for appearing to disparage Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, for donating about $1 million to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee before his appointment.
“The implication being he either got his job because he bought it or the implication being he was loyal to the president and say anything about him,” Mr. Collins said. “Be very careful about how you throw around dollars and giving because you and Mr. Berke are real heavy donors to the Democratic Party, and I’m not going to say it questions your motives or your position here today.”
“What are you trying to say? What is the implication here?” Mr. Goldman said. “By the way, I didn’t give anything close to a million dollars.”
Mr. Gaetz cut off Mr. Goldman. “The implication is we want Schiff in that chair. Not you,” he shouted.
“The gentleman does not have the time, and the gentleman has been warned before,” said Mr. Nadler, banging his gavel.
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
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