House passes rules for public impeachment hearings

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The impeachment probe into Donald Trump is about to go public.

The House on Thursday passed an outline of how the public phase of the impeachment inquiry will work, designating the House Intelligence Committee as the main body to conduct open hearings and setting rules for how evidence and witnesses can be introduced.

The rules passed on a near party-line vote, 232-196. Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican who became an independent after criticizing Donald Trump, voted for the rules, while two Democrats voted against the resolution.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) — chair of the Rules Committee that drafted the impeachment ground rules — said the format of the impeachment proceedings is fair.

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"As much as this president flaunts the Constitution, we are going to protect it," McGovern said.

Democrats took the vote because Republicans complained that the impeachment proceedings were going on in secret.

"This is a solemn occasion," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a speech on the House floor. "Nobody, I doubt anybody in this place, or anybody that you know, comes to Congress to take the oath of office, comes to Congress to impeach the president of the United States unless his actions are jeopardizing honoring our oath of office."

The GOP complaints were disingenuous, however, as this is exactly how the House GOP's yearslong Benghazi probe was conducted. There were few public hearings in that investigation — which ultimately found no wrongdoing but was a political victory for the GOP — aside from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's infamous 11-hour testimony.

As for these rules, transcripts and summaries of the depositions that have taken place behind closed doors will be released to the public — negating Republican complaints. Those transcripts will show how members of both parties questioned the witnesses behind closed doors.

For the impeachment inquiry, Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff will run the show. Republicans in the minority can request to introduce evidence and issue subpoenas, but only with sign-off from a majority of the committee. That's exactly the power minority parties were awarded in past impeachment inquiries of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress.

Republicans are still decrying the process, however, as they have yet to find a way to excuse Trump's behavior in withholding critical military aid to Ukraine in order to force the country to investigate his political rivals.

"It's not a fair process, it's not an open process, it's not a transparent process," Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said Thursday on the House floor.

And according to multiple reports, Republicans are worried that there are no good ways to defend Trump, and they fear looking bad doing so as more and worse evidence comes out.

"Some on the other side will never be satisfied with any process that uncovers the truth of what the president did," McGovern said Thursday on the House floor as he introduced the rules.

"At the end of the day this resolution isn't about Donald Trump, it isn't about any of us, it's about our Constitution, it's about our country," McGovern said.

Published with permission of The American Independent.