WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee is moving to the forefront of President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry, starting with a hearing Wednesday to examine the “high crimes and misdemeanors” set out in the Constitution.
It’s a moment many Democrats on the panel have been waiting for. Several had agitated for Trump’s impeachment in response to the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller in April. Then came revelations in September from an intelligence community whistleblower about Trump’s political pressure on Ukraine, a watershed event that brought most other Democrats on board.
Should Democrats draft articles of impeachment against Trump, as is expected, and approve them with a House vote, then impeachment managers would be appointed to present the case to the Senate. Traditionally, those managers have come from the House Judiciary Committee, which is stacked with lawyers and former prosecutors.
There are no set rules about who can be appointed an impeachment manager. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also could choose members of the House intelligence panel, which led the Ukraine investigation, or draw from other committees.
In 1998, 13 Republicans were picked from the Judiciary Committee to argue for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Those impeachment managers made the case at a Senate trial, but Clinton was acquitted.
An early look at members to watch as the Judiciary Committee takes over the probe:
The Judiciary panel was temporarily sidelined as the House intelligence committee and two other panels investigated Trump’s conduct on Ukraine and held public hearings. But Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is now returning to a major role, with the panel expected to help write articles of impeachment and hold hearings and votes in December.
Nadler was an earlier supporter of impeachment, declaring in August that his panel would hold impeachment hearings related to Mueller’s investigation.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a former federal prosecutor, is expected to remain in the mix. He led the investigation up to this point and would be expected to participate in a Senate trial, should the House impeach Trump.
Schiff said in a letter last week that he expects to submit a report to Judiciary “soon after” Congress returns from its Thanksgiving break.
Second in seniority to Nadler on the Judiciary panel is Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a close ally of Pelosi who has been in Congress for almost 25 years. Lofgren was an aide to a member on the Judiciary panel in the 1970s when Democrats were making the case for President Richard Nixon’s impeachment. She was one of the panel’s least vocal members on Trump and impeachment, holding off on endorsing the move until Pelosi supported it.
Reps. Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas are aggressive questioners who have sat on the panel for many years. Cohen has faced some criticism, though, for bringing a ceramic chicken to a hearing when Attorney General William Barr didn’t show up, and Lee had to give up her chairmanship of a Judiciary subcommittee earlier this year following a lawsuit from a former employee who said her sexual assault complaint was mishandled.
Another experienced lawmaker on the panel is Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
OTHER VETERANS: Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida, Karen Bass of California, Hank Johnson of Georgia.
THE IMPEACHMENT HAWKS
As Pelosi resisted impeachment in the spring and summer, a small group of Judiciary members went public with their support. Three of the most vocal impeachment backers were Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a former constitutional law professor; David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a member of Democratic leadership; and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The impeachment hawks met with other Democrats to try and get them to support the effort and saw their role as educating the caucus. Many who had been initially reluctant gradually signed on and the numbers supporting an inquiry ticked up — giving Pelosi a wide base of support when she launched the Ukraine impeachment investigation in September.
OTHER IMPEACHMENT HAWKS: Reps. Ted Lieu of California, Eric Swalwell of California, Val Demings of Florida. Swalwell and Demings sit on the intelligence panel, as well.
Pelosi could want some freshmen to represent the House if there is a Senate trial, as those new members helped Democrats win the House majority. The freshmen on the Judiciary panel were some of the sharpest questioners during hearings on the Mueller investigation.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon is the committee’s vice chairwoman, a position that has given her an elevated role. Scanlon and her Pennsylvania colleague, freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean, have been aggressive in questioning Trump administration witnesses and were early impeachment supporters.
Rep. Joe Neguse, the first African American to represent Colorado in the House, was also an early impeachment supporter, pushing Pelosi on the issue with others in a May meeting. Neguse is a member of House leadership, helping to represent the freshman class.
OTHER NEWBIES: Reps. Veronica Escobar of Texas, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida and Greg Stanton of Arizona.
THE OTHER COMMITTEES
While it has been tradition to use members of the Judiciary Committee as impeachment managers, the Constitution doesn’t require it.
Schiff and other members of the intelligence panel have become familiar faces through two weeks of impeachment hearings, and many of those lawmakers are also lawyers.
Other committees have participated in the process as well. The first phase of the impeachment investigation, closed-door depositions, was led by the intelligence panel, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Reform Committee. New York Rep. Eliot Engel is chairman of the Foreign Affairs panel and New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney took over Oversight after the October death of Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings.
House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., have also been instructed to submit investigative reports to Judiciary.