By Steve Herman
U.S. Democratic lawmakers met privately Saturday to work on the investigation into President Donald Trump, inching closer to an impeachment vote, possibly before the Christmas holiday recess.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee were working through the weekend to review evidence against the Republican president and to draft charges that they could recommend for a full House vote as early as Thursday.
The legislators disclosed a 55-page report Saturday that outlined what they viewed as the constitutional grounds on which the charges, known as articles of impeachment, could be based.
On Friday, the White House said it would not cooperate with the remaining House impeachment proceedings against Trump.
“As you know, your impeachment inquiry is completely baseless and has violated basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness,” read a letter from Pat Cipollone, counsel to the president, addressed to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
The response was issued less than an hour before a Friday afternoon deadline for lawyers of the president to state whether they would represent him in the next round of the committee’s impeachment proceedings.
“You should end this inquiry now and not waste even more time with additional hearings,” Cipollone said in the letter.
The counsel reiterated the president’s tweeted words that “if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so that we can have a fair trial in the Senate and so that our Country can get back to business.”
‘He cannot claim’ unfairness
Later Friday, Nadler expressed disappointment Trump had decided not to participate.
“We gave President Trump a fair opportunity to question witnesses and present his own to address the overwhelming evidence before us. After listening to him complain about the impeachment process, we had hoped that he might accept our invitation,” the committee chairman said in a statement. “If the President has no good response to the allegations, then he would not want to appear before the Committee. Having declined this opportunity, he cannot claim that the process is unfair.”
Democrats contend the Republican president defied the norms of conduct for the office and violated his sworn obligation to uphold the U.S. Constitution by asking Ukraine to launch an investigation of Joe Biden, the former vice president running for the Democratic Party nomination to challenge Trump next year, and his son Hunter.
Trump contends his phone conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have been perfect and he did nothing wrong. Republicans have defended the president, saying Trump was right to press Ukraine to scrutinize the work that Biden’s son did for a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Republicans are also pushing a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election that Trump won. The U.S. intelligence community concluded it was Ukraine’s neighbor, Russia, that was doing the meddling.
Trump’s request to Kyiv came at a time when his administration was withholding $391 million in military assistance approved for Ukraine to fight pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. The aid was released in September without Ukraine opening investigations of the Bidens.
The request for such an investigation in exchange for military assistance is expected to be among the articles of impeachment against Trump.
Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.