WASHINGTON — House Judiciary Committee Democrats on Thursday adopted procedures to intensify their investigation into whether President Donald Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors, and declared that, yes, it is an impeachment investigation.
The resolution to allow staff questioning of witnesses, confidential treatment of documents, empowering subcommittees to hold hearings and allowing the president to respond to evidence passed along a party-line vote after lengthy debate.
But the confusion over the status of that investigation continued as Republicans questioned the committee’s authority without a full House approval of an impeachment inquiry and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the committee’s work had not changed.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), the committee chairman, sought to put to rest the matter of what to call the probe into Trump’s potential impeachable offenses.
“Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature,” Nadler said in his opening statement.
“But let me clear up any remaining doubt. The conduct under investigation poses a threat to our democracy. We have an obligation to respond to this threat, and we are doing so,” he said.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the panel’s ranking Republican, dismissed the procedures as redundant with existing committee rules and scoffed at the investigation because, unlike previous impeachments, the full House has not authorized a formal impeachment inquiry.
“The Judiciary Committee has become a giant Instagram filter to make it appear that something's happening that’s not,” Collins said.
“My colleagues know very well they don’t have the votes to authorize impeachment proceedings on the House floor, but they want to impeach the president anyway,” Collins said. “So, they are pretending to initiate impeachment.”
Trump reacted to the committee’s approval of the resolution by retweeting others' objections and took a poke at Democrats by quoting Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.), whose measure to open a formal impeachment inquiry suffered a lopsided loss in a House vote earlier this year.
“We can’t beat him, so let's impeach him!” Democrat Rep. Al Green,” Trump tweeted.
Judiciary Committee Democrats aim to step up their investigation into Trump — broadening the focus from the Mueller report to Trump’s hush money payments to accusers of affairs and Trump profiting from U.S. and foreign officials patronizing his hotels and resorts.
The new procedures will allow hearings specifically on impeachable offenses, will allow committee staff to question witnesses, will treat some evidence and documents -- such as grand jury material -- as confidential, and allow the president to respond to testimony and information.
Pelosi, who has cautioned against diving into impeachment without the support of the public, later insisted at her news conference that the procedures the committee adopted would simply help the committee do the investigation it already has been doing for months.
“There is nothing different from one day to the next. We’re still on our same path,” she said. “We are legislating, we are investigating, as six committees have done for months,” she said, “and third, we are litigating.”
Pelosi added she supported the party-line approval of the procedures because “it enables them to do their process of interrogation and their investigation.”
But she denied there is confusion about impeachment, despite the statement that there is no “impeachment inquiry” and a backtrack later by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday, and insisted the American people know what is going on.
“They understand that impeachment is a very divisive measure. But if we have to go there, we’ll have to go there. But we can’t go there unless we have the facts,” Pelosi said.
“And we will follow the facts and we will follow the obstruction that the president is making in our getting of the facts and make our decision when we’re ready,” she said.
But near the end of the two-hour debate and before the final vote, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) asked his Democratic colleagues directly if they are conducting an impeachment investigation.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) interjected, “Yes, we are engaged in an impeachment investigation.”
And Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) added, “I, too, would answer: Yes, we are in an impeachment investigation. Have you not been reading the proceedings? I don't think there's a question. It's an investigation.”