Here comes the circus: Raucous judiciary panel set to reclaim impeachment

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The House impeachment proceedings against President Trump are soon heading back to the Judiciary Committee, where partisan bickering and theatrics during public hearings last summer prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to shift the investigation to the House Intelligence Committee.

The intelligence panel appears to have wrapped up a series of public hearings. No new hearings or depositions have been scheduled.

Under an Oct. 31 resolution passed by Democrats, the matter is supposed to fall back to the Judiciary Committee, which will hold its own hearings and draft articles of impeachment against Trump.

Judiciary Committee hearings, an aide told the Washington Examiner, “could begin in early December,” when lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving recess.

The next step in the impeachment process will be to return the spotlight to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, who had fallen out of favor with Pelosi after he conducted a series of raucous public hearings, including several he labeled “impeachment proceedings.”

The New York Democrat held the high-profile hearings even though Pelosi had yet to formally sanction an impeachment investigation into Trump. Nadler had already held several public hearings that lawmakers in both parties said were partisan and theatrical.

At one hearing, a Judiciary Committee Democrat ate chicken on the dais after Attorney General William Barr refused to come and testify.

“Chicken Barr should have shown up today and answered questions,” Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee said as he dug into a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Nadler’s hearings, lawmakers in both parties said recently, had veered toward the ridiculous.

He summoned convicted felon and Watergate figure John Dean to testify about impeachment, and he scheduled a hearing featuring Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who said Trump paid them hush money to stay silent about liaisons.

Other Judiciary Committee hearings, including a Sept. 17 proceeding featuring ex-Trump aide Corey Lewandowski, devolved into shouting matches between lawmakers and combative witnesses.

Democrats lamented that the theatrics would make the investigation seem less than serious.

“It becomes ridiculous,” said Rep. Eliot Engel of New York. “When you have witnesses who come to the committee and refuse to answer questions, it actually shows the administration’s contempt for Congress.”

Pelosi finally endorsed an impeachment investigation into Trump in late September, but only after taking the proceedings away from Nadler and handing them over to Adam Schiff and the traditionally less partisan, more subdued Intelligence Committee.

Pelosi has heaped praise on Schiff’s handling of the investigations, which included five weeks of closed-door testimony and two weeks of public hearings.

Nadler has been mostly sidelined from impeachment, at least publicly.

His panel has been busy advancing legislation, including a bill to decriminalize marijuana and a measure that would help advance an Equal Rights Amendment.

The Judiciary proceedings, however, are poised to be far more partisan and divisive once Schiff sends over the impeachment matter.

The 41-member panel pits some of the most liberal, pro-impeachment Democrats against the many conservative GOP lawmakers who are staunch supporters of the president.

The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, sent a six-page letter to Nadler this week, demanding to know the conditions Nadler plans to set for impeachment hearings, whether panel members will have access to all unredacted transcripts, and whether Trump’s White House lawyer, Pat Cipollone, will be allowed to call witnesses.

“The Democrat impeachment crusade lacks the due process protections afforded in all past presidential impeachments, including those afforded to President Clinton by Republicans,” Collins wrote to Nadler.

Under the Oct. 31 resolution that set the rules for the impeachment proceedings, Nadler would have the first opportunity in the formal investigation to allow Trump to defend himself through the participation of Cipollone.

But it’s not clear yet whether Nadler will hold a hearing that would allow Cipollone to participate. The Oct. 31 resolution “establishes opportunities” for Trump or Cipollone to participate but does not appear to require it.

The judiciary panel could skip a hearing and instead hold a proceeding to vote on articles of impeachment.

Such a move would break with precedent.

The House Judiciary Committee in December 1998 held a two-day hearing that included the participation of Clinton’s counsel on impeachment, Gregory Craig.

Democrats are poised to draft several articles of impeachment against Trump, including obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.

Pelosi, speaking to reporters in the Capitol before the Thanksgiving recess, said Democrats were assessing the evidence they have gathered so far and are determining if they should call more witnesses.

“Well, we’re moving at the pace that truth takes us,” Pelosi said. “And when more evidence unfolds, if that requires more time, that’s when we’ll go.”

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