House Democrats are building a Watergate-like impeachment case against President Trump based on his refusal to turn over documents or allow witness testimony lawmakers are demanding as part of their impeachment inquiry.
The articles of impeachment Democratic lawmakers will draft are poised to mirror those the party compiled 45 years ago, when the House Judiciary Committee advanced articles against President Richard M. Nixon.
“The failure to produce this eyewitnesses and these documents, we consider strong evidence of obstruction of the constitution and Congress as a co-equal branch of government,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on Tuesday after Trump blocked testimony from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Trump is engaged in a standoff with Democratic lawmakers regarding the witness and document list they have compiled in their effort to conduct an impeachment inquiry.
Democrats have strongly suggested Trump’s refusal to cooperate with subpoenas will fuel their impeachment push, much as it did in 1974, when Nixon refused to cooperate with House Democrat investigators and would not turn over presidential tape recordings and other material related to the Watergate break-in.
In 1974, Democrats running the House Judiciary Committee drafted impeachment articles in which they determined that Nixon “failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974; May 15, 1974; May 30, 1974; and June 24, 1974; and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas.”
Trump has similarly not complied with any of the subpoenas Democrats have issued since Speaker Nancy Pelosi, declared last month that the House was conducting an impeachment inquiry.
Trump has refused to cooperate with a subpoena sent Oct. 4 to the White House. House Democrats also sent subpoenas to the Pentagon and White House Office of Management and Budget. The State Department, under Secretary Mike Pompeo, has missed a deadline to turn over documents requested under subpoena by House Democrats.
Democrats are seeking information related to Trump’s effort to get Ukraine government officials to investigate Democrats and 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden for actions dating back to 2016. Democrats accuse Trump of withholding $400 million in security aid from Ukraine as part of his effort to get officials to agree to investigate Biden and the Democrats.
Trump has refused to turn over any documents and has blocked key witnesses.
“The president is obstructing Congress,” Pelosi said Tuesday. “It is an abuse of power.”
The standoff escalated Tuesday when Trump blocked testimony from Sondland, a major Republican donor and ambassador to the European Union.
Democrats said Sondland spoke to other diplomats and the president, as well as Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, about the delayed Ukraine aid. Democrats also want Sondland’s text messages that address why Trump held back the aid.
“It is hard to overstate the significance of not just Ambassador Sondland’s testimony and documents but the testimony of others as well,” Schiff said Tuesday, after Sondland failed to appear for questioning in a secure committee room.
“We consider this act today and withholding of Ambassador Sondland’s documents, or efforts to discourage other State Department witnesses, as a further acts of obstruction of a co-equal branches of government.”
Schiff said Sondland “was a player in the efforts to obtain a commitment from Ukraine to investigate a bogus conspiracy theory about the 2016 election as well Joe Biden and his son.”
The House Judiciary Committee advanced three articles of impeachment against Nixon. In addition to obstruction, the committee approved articles pertaining to abuse of power and contempt of Congress for “knowingly misusing the executive power… in violation or disregard of the constitutional rights of citizens.”
One of their impeachment articles will likely accuse Trump of abusing his power.
Democrats believe Trump abused his office by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to re-open a corruption probe involving Biden’s request that Ukraine fire a prosecutor targeting a gas company paying Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Joe Biden is among Trump’s main political rivals running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“The American people have a right to know if the president is acting in their interest, in the nation’s interest and not in his own personal interest,” Schiff said.
Republicans believe the Democrats are conducting a bogus impeachment probe.
The House never voted to open an impeachment inquiry and Democrats have ignored the protocols that dictated impeachment investigations involving Nixon and President Bill Clinton.
Democrats have conducted most of the investigation in secret and plan to conceal from the GOP the identity of a key whistleblower witness they plan to interview in a closed-door session.
“This entire process has been a scam,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Trump sent a letter to Pelosi calling on her to hold an impeachment vote before he’ll cooperate with House subpoenas.
In a letter sent to the White House last week, Democrats said they are not required to hold a vote to open an impeachment inquiry.
The House began an impeachment investigation regarding President Nixon without initially holding a vote, Democrats told the White House.
The House, however, ultimately voted 410-4 on Feb. 6, 1974 to authorize an impeachment investigation. Five months later, the Judiciary panel advanced three articles of impeachment against Nixon. The president resigned Aug. 9.
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