WASHINGTON (PM) — The House Judiciary Committee is examining President Donald Trump to resolve whether to file articles of impeachment against him, members of the committee announced on Friday.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) verified that the committee’s inquiry into whether Trump obstructed justice is the beginning of an impeachment inquiry.
A new lawsuit has been filed against the Department of Justice to attempt to obtain Robert Mueller’s grand jury materials.
“Because Department of Justice policies will not allow prosecution of a sitting president, the United States House of Representatives is the only institution of the federal government that can now hold President Trump accountable for these actions,” the lawsuit states.
Nadler said the filing would affirm that the House needs to obtain these documents to determine “whether to exercise its full Article I powers,” including recommendations for articles of impeachment. Various legal scholars have stated that courts will be more respectful to congressional inquiries for testimony and documents when Congress addresses those requests under its impeachment power.
The House Judiciary Committee can proceed with this new strategy without an official impeachment inquiry because there is no single way for Congress to impeach a president.
There are some specific rules laid out in the Constitution. The House of Representatives must vote to impeach a president first. Then the Senate, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding, must determine, by a two-thirds vote, whether to convict or not. The House can arrive at that impeachment vote in any way it determines, while the Senate can establish its own rules for its impeachment trial.
When the House impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868, there was no official impeachment inquiry. The House voted to impeach him and then the largest of the action took place within the confines of the Senate trial.
The only exact historical example of a full-on impeachment inquiry was the 1974 inquiry into President Richard Nixon. The House Judiciary Committee started to hire staff for an impeachment inquiry in December 1973. In a nearly universal vote, the House voted to authorize the committee to launch such an inquiry. To do so, the committee put together a dedicated staff that operated across party lines to examine and delineate articles of impeachment. The committee reached three articles of impeachment. Nixon quit before the full House could vote.
The House did formally vote to generate an impeachment inquiry ahead of impeaching President Bill Clinton in 1998. The Judiciary Committee, however, only held superficial hearings before the House voted to impeach shortly after the midterm elections. Then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) urged Republicans to impeach Clinton quickly to appease the party’s conservative base.
Currently, the House Judiciary Committee’s method is going through the courts. Nadler will file a suit to obtain Mueller’s grand jury testimony on Saturday. He will subsequently file a lawsuit to implement the committee’s subpoena for ex-White House counsel Don McGahn’s testimony. The committee’s ability to enforce this would allow it to show the American public what acts the House Judiciary Committee and Democrats believe Trump carried out which warrant impeachment.