WASHINGTON — Two Louisiana congressmen will have front-row seats as the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump enters its next phase.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, are both members of the powerful Judiciary Committee, where impeachment hearings resume Wednesday with four legal scholars. Richmond and Johnson have both been vocal about their views on whether the House should impeach Trump — Richmond has supported impeachment for months; Johnson opposes it.
Both are law school graduates; they also have shown interrogator tendencies that could come through in the impeachment hearings.
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Trump is accused of attempting to leverage foreign aid and a White House visit to force the Eastern European country of Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump has denied any misconduct.
The House Intelligence Committee has held many rounds of hearings in recent weeks to gather information that resulted in a 300-page report released Tuesday. The report doesn't specifically identify articles of impeachment that Democrats might pursue or outright endorse impeachment, but sections strongly suggest that obstruction of Congress and abuse of power could be among them.
In a recent interview, Johnson said he hasn't been swayed by the information presented in those hearings and called the impeachment probe a "charade."
"It's much ado about nothing," he said. "I think we're hearing people's opinions about things — conjecture."
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But Richmond, who is a co-chairman of Biden's 2020 campaign, said he's convinced “we have overwhelming evidence that the president abused his power in order to gain an advantage in the 2020 election cycle."
"He (Trump) also jeopardized America’s national security in the process, and that much is uncontested," Richmond said. "However, if the president has exculpatory evidence, then I look forward to seeing it.”
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the committee's report credibly outlines improper acts, though he declined to say outright that he favors impeachment.
“This report chronicles a scheme by the President of the united States to coerce an ally, Ukraine, that is at war with an adversary, Russia, into doing the president’s political dirty work," Schiff said.
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Before the report's release, Republicans unveiled their own 123-page report defending Trump.
"The Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is not the organic outgrowth of serious misconduct; it is an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system," they wrote.
U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Republican who has been a close ally of the president and one of his most vocal defenders in the impeachment process, has said the impeachment probe is a “continued sham.”
“They’ve yet to bring an impeachable offense," Scalise said, listing other priorities he thinks the chamber should be focusing on. "Enough is enough. Let's get back to work."
The Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to approve Democrat's report, sending it to the judiciary panel.
The Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hear general information about constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment and the threshold that would have to be met. The hearing will feature testimony from Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt and George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley. Additional hearings are expected.
If the Judiciary Committee, which has 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans, votes to adopt articles of impeachment, the process moves to the House floor. If a majority of the Democrat-controlled chamber's members vote to impeach Trump, the process shifts to the U.S. Senate for a full trial, overseen by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
The Senate ultimately would have the final say whether the president is removed from office. Such action would require approval of two-thirds of the GOP-controlled chamber, or 67 senators, which is unlikely to happen.