House Judiciary officially moves closer to impeaching Trump

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House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler confirms that his committee is conducting an impeachment investigation.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler says there's no confusion about what his committee is doing: It's an impeachment investigation, no matter how you want to phrase it.

Nadler tried to clear up any misconceptions Thursday as the committee approved guidelines for impeachment hearings on Donald Trump. Some of Nadler's fellow Democrats — including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer — have stumbled over how to explain what they're doing.

"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 (D-NY), said as he opened the meeting. "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."

Republicans disagree with Nadler, and they argue that the House has never voted to open an official inquiry. Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, said the committee "has become a giant Instagram filter ... it's put in there to look like something, but it's really not."

Collins said Democrats are trying to have it both ways.

"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."

It's unclear whether the impeachment process will ever move beyond the committee's investigation. The committee would have to introduce impeachment articles against Trump and win approval from the House to bring charges. The Republican-led Senate is unlikely to convict Trump and remove him from office.

Still, the committee has persisted in advancing the impeachment issue, partly to bolster two lawsuits against the Trump administration as the White House has repeatedly blocked witness testimony and document production. The suits say the material is needed so the committee can decide whether to recommend articles of impeachment.

The resolution the committee approved along party lines would allow the committee to designate certain hearings as impeachment hearings, empower staff to question witnesses, allow some evidence to remain private and permit the president's counsel to officially respond to testimony. The committee says the resolution is similar to procedural votes taken at the beginning of the impeachment investigations into Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

"Under these procedures, when we have finished these hearings and considered as much evidence we are able to gather, we will decide whether to refer articles of impeachment to the House floor," Nadler said in his opening statement.

The first hearing scheduled under the new impeachment rules is with onetime Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on Sept. 17. Lewandowski was frequently mentioned in special counsel Robert Mueller's report, which the committee has been investigating. According to Mueller's report, Trump asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting that he limit Mueller's inquiry.

In addition to Mueller, the committee is investigating the spending of taxpayer money at the president's hotels and properties and hush money payments Trump made to kill potentially embarrassing stories. Nadler said all of those investigations will inform the decision on whether to vote on articles of impeachment.