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House Judiciary Committee Takes An Important Step Toward Impeachment

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today a House committee takes another step toward impeaching the president of the United States. The House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing today, and that is one move toward a result that Chairman Jerry Nadler described on NBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

JERRY NADLER: We'll bring articles of impeachment, presumably, before the committee at some point later in the week.

INSKEEP: NPR's congressional reporter Claudia Grisales is covering this story and is in our studios. Good morning.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What exactly happens today?

GRISALES: So this will look a lot like a court trial for lawyers for the Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, who will offer their opening arguments in this case. And they'll be able to speak up to 30 minutes each. They'll be followed by Democrats and Republicans for the House Intelligence Committee, who will present their findings from the witness table...

INSKEEP: Oh, interesting - because they were the committee that did the witnesses...

GRISALES: ...Investigating.

INSKEEP: ...The fact witnesses. Right. Go on. OK.

GRISALES: Exactly. And so each side for the Intelligence Committee will have up to 45 minutes each there, and Democrats are pretty confident they are presenting a solid case. Jerry Nadler said if this was an actual court trial, Trump would be convicted quickly. Let's take a listen to his comments on CNN yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

NADLER: We have a very lock solid case. I think the case we have, if presented to a jury, would be a guilty verdict in about three minutes flat.

GRISALES: Now, we should note that Judiciary ranking member Republican Doug Collins said this weekend the hearing should be delayed because the panel is moving too fast with too much information.

INSKEEP: Democratic lawyers, Republican congressional lawyers - what about White House lawyers?

GRISALES: So White House lawyers have responded to the option of participating in today's hearing. And for now, we're not expecting to hear much from them as part of the actual proceedings. This is more of the same we've heard from the White House and President Trump throughout this House process. So it's not a surprise. Friday marked a final deadline for the president to defend himself before the Judiciary Committee. And White House Counsel Pat Cipollone signaled they won't take part and said in a letter to Nadler that the inquiry was, quote, "completely baseless and should end now." But if it doesn't, Cipollone quoted the president, saying hurry up; get it over with so we can move to a Senate trial, where the president feels he has a Republican-led chamber that will be friendlier to his cause.

INSKEEP: OK. So this could be rather dramatic - couldn't it? - because you have these relatively concise arguments - rather than 12-hour hearings - relatively concise arguments for each side, a chance to sum up the case. But we don't know what the actual charges would be against the president. We don't know what the articles of impeachment would be. How does the committee turn these arguments into articles of impeachment?

GRISALES: So this is laying the final groundwork for drawing up those articles. We've had some hints. It looks like bribery and obstruction could be part of those articles. Democrats will take those presentations and could issue those articles by week's end. And we could see this historic floor vote as soon as next week. And with that, that will move the process from an impeachment inquiry to a trial in the Senate.

And already we have seen President Trump make requests for witnesses. He's looking for a very robust defense. He's been very vocal about this part of the process. But even in a Republican controlled chamber, he'll have his work cut out for him trying to convince at least 51 senators to include a long list of witnesses, such as the whistleblower or former Vice President Joe Biden, and that could lead to new delays in this part of the process.

INSKEEP: And just to be clear, the president, who has rejected participating in the Democratic-controlled House, is indicating he wants to play ball in the Republican-controlled Senate?

GRISALES: Definitely.

INSKEEP: OK. Claudia, thanks so much.

GRISALES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.