WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee on Monday was the scene of bitter partisan sparring, as lawmakers questioned staff attorneys who presented the evidence so far gathered in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Over the course of more than eight hours, Republican lawyer Steve Castor and two Democratic staff lawyers, Barry Berke and Daniel Goldman fielded sharp questions from more than three dozen committee members.
The hearing likely represented the last time that public arguments would be made over whether or not to impeach the president over his alleged abuse of power in conditioning both a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in foreign aid to Ukraine on that country’s willingness to open investigations into Trump’s political opponents.
The Judiciary Committee is expected to meet later this week to draw up articles of impeachment charging Trump with “high crimes and misdemeanors” that include abuse of power, obstruction of Congress and potentially obstruction of justice.
“The scheme by President Trump was so brazen, so clear — supported by documents, actions, sworn testimony, uncontradicted contemporaneous records — that it’s hard to imagine that anybody could dispute those acts, let alone argue that that conduct does not constitute an impeachable offense or offenses,” Barry Berke, the majority counsel for the Judiciary Committee, said in his prepared remarks.
He added: “President Trump did what a president of our nation is not allowed to do.”
Berke’s Republican counterpart then made the opposite argument. “Very simply, the evidence in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry does not support the Democrats’ conclusion that President Trump abused his power for his own personal, political benefit,” Castor testified.
Following approximately three hours of opening statements from Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-NY, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the committee’s top Republican, and the three lawyers, committee members were permitted to question Goldman and Castor, who presented the Intelligence Committee’s two opposing reports.
From the start, Republicans came to the hearing primed to introduce procedural motions and objections designed to interrupt the flow of arguments and to fluster Nadler and the Democratic lawyers. But Nadler was ready for most of these motions, and quickly either denied or voted down the GOP’s requests.
Certain interactions grew particularly heated, however. At one point, Democratic Judiciary counsel Berke was permitted to question Castor, and pressed him for inaccurately quoting the testimony of an aide to Vice President Mike Pence in his minority report.
Castor cited the aide, Jennifer Williams, as having called Trump’s July 25 request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden “unusual.” But Williams had actually testified that the request was “unusual and inappropriate,” as well as “political in nature.”
Berke asked Castor several different ways why the report had “misquoted” Williams.
“We didn’t misquote her,” Castor said repeatedly. The exchange only ended when GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner loudly accused Berke of “badgering the witness,” to which Nadler responded, “sharp cross-examination of a witness is not badgering the witness.”
Several Republicans took issue with the fact that Berke, a renowned white collar defense attorney on a temporary assignment to the committee, was allowed to give an opening statement from the witness table at the start of the hearing, then cross examine Castor from the dais later on.
“I’ve been a judge, and I know you don’t get to be a witness and a judge in the same case,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, meanwhile, used part of his allotted time to attack Goldman over the majority lawyer’s political donations.
“Are you here as a partisan advocate for the Democrat position, or are you here as a nonpartisan investigator of the facts?” Gaetz asked Goldman.
“I’m here to present the report that we did on our investigation, which was totally and completely reliant on the actual evidence that we uncovered,” Goldman responded.
Gaetz pressed Goldman about what he said were “tens of thousands of dollars” that Goldman had donated to Democratic candidates.
“I think it’s very important to support candidates for office,” Goldman replied.
Ultimately, it’s not clear what impact the day’s proceedings will have on the forthcoming vote on whether to approve articles of impeachment against Trump.
Nadler has signaled that the committee will convene later this week to vote on individual articles. After these are approved by a majority of the Democratic-controlled House, a Senate trial would take place, most likely during January of next year.