House panel to hold key impeachment vote, after day of all-out sparring and intrigue

House Judiciary Committee Democrats were set to hold a key vote to adopt the two articles of impeachment against President Trump, following an ongoing all-day marathon hearing in which seemingly no topic — from Hunter Biden’s drug use to a Republican congressman’s past drunken-driving arrest — was off-limits.

In a striking moment, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looked “as if his daughter was downstairs in the basement, duct-taped” when he publicly undermined Democrats’ case by sitting across from Trump at the United Nations in September and declaring that he felt no undue pressure from the president to conduct any political investigations.

“There’s an imbalance of power in that relationship,” Johnson said, as some attendees laughed.

There was even some intrigue during breaks in the proceedings when a member of the media was caught on camera furtively taking a photograph of Democrats’ private documents. He was later escorted out of the Capitol building. (“Media spy games,” House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., wrote on Twitter.)

It remained unclear how long the markup would last. “Look, we’re gonna be here a long time tonight,” Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins, R-Ga., told reporters when asked whether the White House Congressional Ball in the evening might affect the schedule. “Don’t let anybody worry. There are plenty of balls we can go to, so if anybody thinks that’s in our midst, don’t worry about it.”

Fox News expects that, once the articles are adopted by the Judiciary Committee, likely on a party-line vote, they will find their way to the House Rules Committee, which controls access to the House floor. The Rules Committee is expected to craft a rule next week to set parameters for the impeachment debate. Then, sometime next week, the full House will debate and vote formally on the articles of impeachment of the president — which, if successful, would send the matter to the GOP-controlled Senate for a trial and virtually certain acquittal.

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All eyes have been on the 31 moderate House Democrats from districts Trump won in 2016, most of whom have remained mum on how they’ll vote, as support for impeachment has flatlined in several battleground-state polls.

During the day’s markup, as members debated the language of the impeachment resolutions, Republicans repeatedly pointed out that Trump was not accused of any offense actually defined anywhere by law: neither “abuse of power” nor “obstruction of Congress” was a recognized federal or state crime.

Early in the hearing, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., supported Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan’s amendment to strike Democrats’ “abuse of power” article of impeachment entirely, arguing, “There was no impeachable offense here.”

But, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., responded that impeachment articles did not necessarily have to include statutory crimes — and that Trump’s actions would satisfy criminal statutes such as bribery anyway.

This led Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, to retort, “Well then, why aren’t they in this impeachment document?”

Democrats had floated the idea of formally accusing Trump of bribery, after focus groups suggested voters would like that term more. But, the idea fell out of favor after news of the focus group leaked, and analysts pointed out that Trump’s conduct didn’t seem to constitute bribery.

Later in the day, Gohmert observed that the Trump administration ultimately provided lethal aid to Ukraine, unlike former President Barack Obama, who also withheld military aid to Ukraine and “just let people die over there” by providing only nonlethal assistance.

Gohmert went on to object to the “obstruction of Congress” article of impeachment as “tyrannical,” saying it violated separation-of-powers principles for Congress to impeach the president whenever he failed to cooperate fully with their investigations.

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Under Obama, the White House repeatedly refused Republicans’ document requests concerning the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scandal, leading Congress to hold then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. No impeachment proceedings were commenced.

Democrats countered that it simply was not “credible” that Trump was withholding aid to Ukraine for legitimate anticorruption evidence, even though he also withheld $100 million in assistance to Lebanon this year.

“The president has been talking about foreign corruption and the misuse of American taxpayers’ [funds]” since before the 2016 election, Louisiana GOP Rep. Mike Johnson said, emphasizing that it was in-character for the president to rein in excess spending for NATO and elsewhere.

“Everybody knows the president s concerned about the misuse of taxpayer dollars overseas. It’s one of his primary driving forces. It’s one of his main talking points… Oh, Ukraine, the third-most corrupt nation in the world, is the only one he wasn’t concerned about? It just doesn’t make sense. Let’s stop with the games.”

At a particularly heated moment in the hearing, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., brought up Hunter Biden’s admitted past substance abuse issues — and Johnson, D-Ga., shot back by alluding to Gaetz’s own past arrest for drunken driving.

Gaetz was arguing that Biden was incompetent and corrupt, citing his lucrative job on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings while his father was overseeing Ukraine policy as vice president. The impeachment inquiry began after Trump suggested the Ukrainians look into Joe Biden’s successful effort to pressure Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor by withholding $1 billion in critical U.S. aid — at a time when Burisma was under criminal scrutiny.