US lawmakers clashed over the next stage of the impeachment inquiry targeting Donald Trump, which is set to begin this week, as Democrats tried to ramp up the pressure on the US president and break entrenched Republican resistance to the probe.
With Mr Trump preparing to fly to London for the 70th anniversary of Nato, Democrats in the House of Representatives set a deadline of Friday for the White House to present its defence in the impeachment proceedings on Capitol Hill.
So far, Mr Trump has resisted engaging with the committees investigating allegations that he put aid to Ukraine on hold in exchange for actions intended to damage Joe Biden, the former vice-president and a potential Democratic challenger in next year’s election. Although a string of sitting Trump administration officials have testified in the proceedings so far, other key officials have declined.
“We want to give the president every opportunity to present exculpatory information,” Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the House judiciary committee, said on Fox News on Sunday.
“We need to be guided by the truth. If they come forward with relevant witnesses, we all may want to hear from John Bolton [the former national security adviser], we all would like to hear from Mick Mulvaney [the acting White House chief of staff], we’d like to hear from the secretary of state [Mike Pompeo],” Mr Jeffries said.
Tom McClintock, a Republican member of the judiciary committee, said that the testimony of witnesses such as Mr Bolton or Mr Mulvaney would be to Mr Trump’s “advantage”. But he added that Mr Trump would not allow it because it would betray confidential discussions among his top officials.
“He has to weigh [their potential testimony] against the enormous catastrophic damage that would do to the doctrine of executive privilege that assures that when policy is being developed within the administration, those discussions are unfettered, are candid, are thinking outside of the box,” Mr McClintock said on ABC News.
After hours of televised hearings in the House intelligence committee last month in to whether Mr Trump sought to pressure Ukrainian officials to unearth damaging information against his domestic political opponents, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee, will this week present its findings.
The judiciary committee, led by Jerrold Nadler, which is charged with drawing up articles of impeachment against Mr Trump, will hold its first hearing on the impeachment probe on Wednesday, with constitutional scholars testifying about what qualifies as an impeachable offence.
Mr Trump criticised the decision to hold a hearing on the same day as his London trip in a tweet on Saturday. “I will be representing our Country in London at NATO, while the Democrats are holding the most ridiculous Impeachment hearings in history. Read the Transcripts, NOTHING was done or said wrong! The Radical Left is undercutting our Country,” he said.
Doug Collins, the top Republican on the judiciary committee, said he wanted Mr Schiff — a frequent target of Mr Trump’s wrath — to testify publicly on his findings, and insisted the US president should be cleared. “This is a complete American waste of time right here,” Mr Collins said on Fox News Sunday. “Chris, he did nothing improper.”
Democrats are trying to move quickly to wrap up the impeachment inquiry as they struggle to reap political gains from the probe. Although public support for impeachment jumped after the initial allegations related to Ukraine surfaced, they have since flatlined.
Meanwhile, Republican members of Congress continue to stand by Mr Trump, with no signs that the president could suffer big defections within his party’s ranks.
For Mr Trump to be removed from office, 20 Republican senators would have to vote for impeachment after a trial in the upper chamber expected early next year.
Val Demings, a Democratic congresswoman from Florida, attacked the Republican stance on ABC News, in a sign of growing Democratic frustration.
“Their refusal to hold this president accountable and to clearly go into their partisan corner and protect this president . . . is troubling for me and I believe it’s troubling to the American people,” she said.