The US House Judiciary Committee is set to take over the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump, scheduling a hearing for next week.
The Judiciary panel scheduled the hearing as the separate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released two last transcripts from its depositions, including from a White House budget official who detailed concerns among colleagues as Mr Trump ordered them, through intermediaries, to put a hold on military aid to Ukraine.
Mr Trump ordered the hold as he was pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate Democrats, the issue at the heart of the impeachment probe.
Multiple government witnesses testified in impeachment hearings held by the Intelligence panel this month that Mr Trump directed his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to take the lead on Ukraine policy and that Mr Giuliani pushed an “irregular” diplomatic channel.
The Intelligence Committee is wrapping up the investigative phase of the probe and preparing its report for the next.
Committee chairman Adam Schiff has said the report could be released soon after the House returns from its Thanksgiving break.
The initial Judiciary hearing on December 4, the day after politicians return, will feature legal experts who will examine questions of constitutional grounds as the panel decides whether to write articles of impeachment against Mr Trump — and if so what those articles will be.
Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler said on Tuesday that his panel’s hearing will “explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct”.
Democrats are aiming for a final House vote by Christmas, which would set the stage for a likely Senate trial in January.
Mr Trump, meanwhile, tried to put distance between himself and Mr Giuliani in a radio interview on Tuesday.
Asked by host Bill O’Reilly what Mr Giuliani was doing on his behalf in Ukraine, Mr Trump said, “I don’t even know,” adding that Mr Giuliani had cancelled one trip and had other clients as well.
Asked directly if he had directed Mr Giuliani to go to Ukraine on his behalf, Mr Trump said, “No.”
“Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy,” Mr Trump said to Mr Zelenskiy, according to a rough transcript released by the White House.
Mr Trump and his lawyers are invited to attend the Judiciary hearing and make a request to question witnesses, according to Democratic rules approved by the House last month.
The committee released a letter from Mr Nadler to the Republican president, saying that he hopes Trump will participate, “consistent with the rules of decorum and with the solemn nature of the work before us”.
The White House said on Wednesday that it was reviewing Mr Nadler’s letter.
“But what is obvious to every American is that this letter comes at the end of an illegitimate sham partisan process,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
“The president has done nothing wrong and the Democrats know it.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2019
Trump, who was in Florida on Wednesday, made no public comments about the impeachment process or Mr Nadler’s invitation for him to participate in next week’s hearing.
But Mr Trump tweeted an image of his head superimposed on the muscular body of a champion boxer.
Mr Trump regularly tells his supporters at campaign rallies and in videos that Democrats are “trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you and I’ll never let that happen”.
It is unlikely that the president himself would attend, as Mr Trump is scheduled to be overseas on December 4 for a summit with Nato allies outside London.
The Judiciary panel gave the White House until Sunday evening to decide whether Mr Trump or his lawyers would attend.
If Democrats stay on schedule, the committee will introduce articles of impeachment, debate them and then hold a vote, a process that could take several days.
If charges are approved by the end of the second week of December, the House could hold a formal impeachment vote the third week of the month just before leaving for the holidays.