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Trump Faces Deadline As Judiciary Panel Schedules Impeachment Hearing

President Trump spoke before pardoning the National Thanksgiving Turkey during a ceremony in the Rose Garden on Tuesday. Trump has until 6 p.m. on Dec. 1 to notify the House Judiciary Committee of any plans to participate in the upcoming public hearing on impeachment.
Saul Loeb
AFP via Getty Images
President Trump spoke before pardoning the National Thanksgiving Turkey during a ceremony in the Rose Garden on Tuesday. Trump has until 6 p.m. on Dec. 1 to notify the House Judiciary Committee of any plans to participate in the upcoming public hearing on impeachment.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

The House Judiciary Committee is set to take the baton in Democrats' impeachment inquiry next week at a public hearing scheduled for Dec. 4.

Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced the hearing on Tuesday and notified President Trump that he has a few days to respond as to whether the president or his team will participate in the new stage of the process.

Nadler's announcement comes one day after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said his panel would be working over the Thanksgiving holiday recess to put together a report about its findings from closed-door depositions and public hearings.

Nadler's hearing, scheduled to convene at 10 a.m., is expected to cover the historical context for previous impeachment efforts as well as legal experts. It is titled "Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment."

"As Chairman Schiff indicated yesterday, the impeachment inquiry is entering into a new phase," Nadler said on Tuesday. "Our first task is to explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct like those against President Trump."

Trump has until Sunday, Dec. 1, at 6 p.m. to alert the Judiciary Committee of any plans to participate and if so, which counsel will represent him.

It wasn't immediately clear what the White House might decide; whether White House counsel Pat Cipollone might be present, or other attorneys — or whether the administration might skip Nadler's hearings in furtherance of its long-running protest about what it has called an unfair process.

Nadler invoked the past criticism of the impeachment process by Trump and aides in his notice on Tuesday but sought to make clear that if the White House wants to participate, it may — and that Trump himself would be entitled to take part.

"I have also written to President Trump to remind him that the committee's impeachment inquiry rules allow for the President to attend the hearing and for his counsel to question the witness panel," Nadler said in the letter.

Continued the chairman: "At base, the president has a choice to make: he can take this opportunity to be represented in the impeachment hearings, or he can stop complaining about the process. I hope that he chooses to participate in the inquiry, directly or through counsel, as other presidents have done before him."

Transition period

House committees charged with investigating Trump in their months-long probe are now working on a final report of their findings.

Schiff, D-Calif., has said that report will be delivered after the Thanksgiving recess to the Judiciary Committee, which then would be responsible for drafting potential articles of impeachment.

Nadler's announcement on Tuesday followed two weeks of public hearings before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence featuring a dozen witnesses.

That, in turn, followed depositions from 17 witnesses from behind closed doors. Many but not all of the transcripts from those sessions have been released and are now public.

In all, three committees involved in the impeachment inquiry — the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs panels — issued document requests and subpoenas over a six-week period in the probe.

Along the way, investigators uncovered a "massive amount of evidence in short order," Schiff said in a letter to his colleagues Monday.

"As the evidence conclusively shows, President Trump conditioned official acts — a White House meeting desperately desired by the new Ukrainian president and critical U.S. military assistance — on Ukraine announcing sham, politically-motivated investigations that would help President Trump's 2020 reelection campaign," Schiff wrote.

One key moment in the story took place on July 25, when Trump spoke on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. In that conversation, Trump asked Zelenskiy for a "favor" — the investigations he wanted — after he and Ukrainian officials had been primed by U.S. officials and others, witnesses have said.

And according to testimony and depositions before the House Intelligence Committee, the security assistance was withheld for several weeks by the White House Office of Management and Budget. For example, a group of officials learned in a July 18 meeting there was an instruction not to release the nearly $400 million in military aid.

In a new timeline summary provided by the House Budget Committee Tuesday, a first official effort to withhold $250 million in security assistance came on July 25 in a letter signed by an OMB official. The committee summary also said that Democrats on the House and Senate Appropriations committees warned the Trump administration in an Aug. 3 letter that any such hold could constitute an "illegal impoundment" of funds.

Ultimately, the assistance was permitted to resume in September. And Zelenskiy never announced the investigations that Trump desired.

Republicans argue that the full picture of Trump's actions — in which American support for Ukraine resumed and its government did not accede to the requests Trump and others made — means there's no case here.

The president's defenders reject the metaphor of "attempted bribery" or "extortion" and argue that Democrats' impeachment case is driven entirely by partisan animus — not substance.

Schiff and Democrats say Trump's actions were a clear abuse of power for which there are now more than enough supporting facts. Critics also point to testimony that suggest knowledge about the Ukraine affair by Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others.

Earlier accounts have been "supplemented by significant evidence showing the extent of the president's abuse of power both before and after the July 25 telephone call," Schiff wrote in his letter.

"This conduct directed by the president not only became more 'insidious' over time, but was known to the vice president, the president's chief of staff, the secretary of state, and others down the line."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.