That was quick. After five days of high-profile, damning public testimony from a dozen impeachment witnesses, the House Intelligence Committee signaled it's wrapping up its inquiry and referring it to the House Judiciary Committee, which is charged with either writing the articles of impeachment or dropping the case.
Intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called the evidence as it stands now “conclusive” and said the committee could send its report as early as next week.
“We have uncovered a monthslong effort in which President Trump again sought foreign interference in our elections for his personal and political benefit at the expense of our national interest,” Schiff wrote in a letter released 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.”
What Schiff didn’t answer was whether Democrats should bring in more witnesses and potentially go to war with the White House, or crash out articles of impeachment before the end of the year.
Calling more witnesses could mean dragging out the impeachment process well into the 2020 election season, a risky move given Trump’s approval numbers are unchanged from October and only half the country thinks he should be impeached and removed from office, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday.
But Democrats on the Judiciary Committee appear split on how fast to move the process along.
“If we're going to go down the road to impeachment, I think we would have to do it before the end of the year,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). “So in some ways, it’s a judgment call. But it just seems like before the end of the year would make sense, if we do it.”
But EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony that “everyone was in the loop” has some members pushing to go to war with the White House over the legal blockade that’s prevented the House Intelligence Committee from interviewing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and potentially Vice President Mike Pence.
“You can't cut off the investigation when you're still in the middle of it”
“You can't cut off the investigation when you're still in the middle of it,” Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), the vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, told VICE News at the Capitol.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has warned that engaging in a fight with the White House will only allow the GOP to run out the clock. “We cannot be at the mercy of the courts,” Pelosi said last week, before noting that not testifying is a possible crime (and a potential article of impeachment). “It’s obstruction of justice — obstruction of Congress.”
Pelosi and her lieutenants aren’t publicly offering an impeachment timeline, and that’s making some rank-and-file Democrats restive, especially some on the Judiciary Committee.
‘We can't wait around’
“We can't wait around,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) told VICE News just off the House floor. “I think there's, like, an ongoing series of problems in our foreign policy right now, and we've learned from the ambassadors that they, too, are concerned. So we’ve got to put a stop to it ASAP.”
For others, it’s a delicate balance between having enough information to convince the ultimate jury — the voters — that high crimes and misdemeanors were committed that warrant the president’s removal, and allowing the Republican side to delay the process.
“We're not there yet, but we're close to the point where it's likely we have all the information that we're going to get without handing the Republicans a tool of constant delay,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) told VICE News while walking across the Capitol grounds.
Others say the case is already airtight, so there’s no reason to battle the White House for more witnesses.
“I think at this point the only relevance of Pompeo, [Energy Secretary Rick] Perry, Mulvaney, Bolton, is that the president is telling them not to come in, so I think that's just relevant to his own consciousness of guilt,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told VICE News on his way back into the last impeachment hearing after casting votes on the House floor. “I don't think there's any gaps, though, that we're going to have, because we don't have them.”
But the clock is ticking.
“There’s some urgency,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a former chair of the Progressive Caucus, told VICE News as he walked from the Capitol to his office across the street. “We've gone through this process, and I think there has to be a conclusion, and the articles [of impeachment] are the conclusion.”
Still, Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) and many other rank-and-file Democrats are pushing Pelosi to wrap this up sooner than later — by Christmas, if possible.
“I think that getting it done before Christmas is a real possibility”
“The case isn't that complex,” Garcia told VICE News. “Could there be additional corroborating evidence out there? I think there could. But on the other hand, I think that getting it done before Christmas is a real possibility.”
The GOP’s deploying anything they can to try to derail the impeachment locomotive that seems to be barreling down the tracks. But that’s only compelling many of their Democratic colleagues to try to speed up the pace.
“It's getting to the point where even among the Republicans, it's hard to deny what happened. The only thing they can deny is that we don't have video tape of the president saying, ‘I want to bribe Ukraine,’” Kildee said. “And that seems like their standard is a standard that they decided is necessarily high because the other facts just don't support their case.”
Still, Trump remains dismissive and derisive, even egging Democrats on. As he told the hosts of “Fox and Friends” during his 57-minute call-in last Friday, “Frankly, I want a trial.”
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump is seen after signing H.R. 2423, the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, at the White House in Washington, D.C., on November 25, 2019. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)