Democrats decide on rapid timetable for Trump impeachment inquiry

Speaker Nancy Pelosi consulted about the idea amid growing sentiment that framing the inquiry around Mr Trump's abuse of powers would carry resonance - Bloomberg
Speaker Nancy Pelosi consulted about the idea amid growing sentiment that framing the inquiry around Mr Trump's abuse of powers would carry resonance - Bloomberg

House Democrats have decided on a narrow and expedited impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump that centres on his interactions with the president of Ukraine, according to an aide familiar with the matter.

The strategy means Democrats will now focus exclusively on Mr Trump's request to the Ukrainians to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden and build to a possible vote by November.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi consulted about the idea with other senior Democrats amid growing sentiment that framing the inquiry around Mr Trump's abuse of presidential powers would carry resonance.

The various House committees involved with the inquiry until recently have focused on potential obstruction of justice detailed in the Mueller report and on allegations surrounding emolument.

But to include those other lines of inquiry which have so far failed to galvanise major support for impeachment, it was argued, would muddy the message and prove a harder sell to the public.

“This has clarity and understanding in the eyes of the American people,” it is understood Mrs Pelosi told her leadership team, according to an aide directly familiar with her comments.

Democrats moved swiftly ahead with the first part of the strategy on Friday as three House panels issued a subpoena to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for records and documents relating to the call.

The Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees also scheduled depositions with five State Department officials and a Friday hearing with intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.

Democrats said further subpoenas will be issued in the next two weeks while Congress is on recess and suggested they could soon be in a position to schedule their first formal impeachment hearing.

"We're going to be trying to schedule hearings, witness interviews, subpoenas and document requests. We'll be busy," said Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Democrats have increasingly latched on the strategy to focus just on the Ukraine scandal, with some members anxious to move ahead with momentum and before the start of the 2020 primaries.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jerrold Nadler in a previous meeting urged speed in the process, and explicitly told members it should be concluded by the year's end.

With the timeline for the inquiry still unclear, members of the Judiciary panel appeared to throw their weight behind the proposal to focus principally on Mr Trump's behaviour with Ukraine.

"It's clearly the most recent and the most vivid," Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the Judiciary committee told The Telegraph. "The facts are uncontroverted so it goes to the top of the list."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler - Credit: Bloomberg
Drafting articles of impeachment would be led by the House Judiciary Committee Credit: Bloomberg

"I don't think we disappear everything else we know but it will be our task to sift through and reduce these to cognizable high crimes and misdemeanours if that's what we find," he said.

The White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to Democrats' requests. But the rapid action suggests the House could vote on articles of impeachment within several weeks.

Drafting articles would be led by the Judiciary panel, which traditionally handles impeachment proceedings, though the specific charges members might level at Mr Trump are yet to be formalised.

The Judiciary panel has so far been looking into a broader array of behaviour by the president and his administration - including their continuous refusals to cooperate with oversight efforts.

In doing so, the White House has been presented with a bruising conundrum whether to comply and turn over potentially incriminating evidence, or refuse and bolster an obstruction case.

The principal focus for Democrats, however, will revolve around the call between Mr Trump and Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky that last week sparked the impeachment inquiry.

A whistleblower complaint later released, based on information from a multiple US officials, then alleged White House officials worked to conceal evidence of Mr Trump's actions.

The president has repeatedly described his call with Mr Zelensky as "perfect", while his allies in Congress have said a rough transcript of the call shows no explicit quid pro quo over aid.