President Trump’s defenders are preparing to make war against House Democrats’ tightly controlled public hearings on impeachment this week, the rules of which give impeachment ringmaster Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, a distinct advantage over the White House.
Their strategy, as gleaned from the House Republican leadership team and Trump confidants, is to turn Mr. Schiff’s advantage into a liability and make the hearings as much about his crusade against the president as the charge that Mr. Trump pushed Ukraine to investigate corruption involving political rival Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.
“All of these rules are dependent on the interpretation of Schiff, who has a major bias, is a proven liar with regard to this case and is a material witness,” Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani told The Washington Times.
Mr. Schiff’s presence is a “major challenge” to the legitimacy of the impeachment inquiry, he said, adding that the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence makes matters worse by threatening contempt charges against anyone who objects to his role.
“It looks like it’s the Schiff hearings with him as judge, jury and executioner,” said Mr. Giuliani, a key figure in the inquiry as Mr. Trump’s off-the-books agent in Ukraine.
The president warned congressional Republicans on Sunday not to fall for what he called “the fools trap,” an argument by some that his phone call with Ukraine’s president wasn’t perfect but doesn’t amount to an impeachable offense.
“No, it is much stronger than that,” he tweeted before shifting into all-capital letters. “Nothing was done wrong!”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, sounded the same alarm about Mr. Schiff on Sunday. He accused the committee chairman of orchestrating a “calculated coup” to remove a legitimately elected president.
“This has been orchestrated, and if it goes out longer, we will find the lies, we will find out how they [manipulated] the truth,” Mr. McCarthy said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Mr. Schiff, who is spearheading the House inquiry, has dismissed Republican attacks as a desperate attempt to change the subject from what he sees as clear evidence of Mr. Trump’s wrongdoing.
Under the rules, which Democrats forced through the House on a party-line vote Oct. 31, Mr. Schiff and other Democratic leaders have broad authority to determine how the inquiry proceeds and what Americans see at the public hearings, which are scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Mr. Schiff quickly brought down the hammer on Republicans’ request to call Hunter Biden and the anonymous whistleblower who complained about Mr. Trump’s July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to testify at the open hearings.
Mr. Schiff said in a statement that he would not allow Republicans to use public impeachment hearings to pursue “sham investigations into the Bidens … or to facilitate the president’s effort to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm.”
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee, said he requested Hunter Biden because he would shed light on the issue at the center of the House Democrats’ impeachment case: that Mr. Trump abused his Oval Office power to get an investigation of the Bidens for political reasons. Republican defenders of the president have said he at most raised long-standing bipartisan concerns about corruption in Ukraine.
Hunter Biden landed a $50,000-a-month job on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, despite having no experience in the energy field, while his father was the point man for Obama White House policy in that country. The vice president later forced Ukraine’s leaders to fire the country’s chief prosecutor, who has since said he had been looking into graft at Burisma.
Mr. Biden, who is a top 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, and his son have insisted they did nothing wrong.
Under the inquiry rules, Mr. Schiff and the Democratic chairmen of two other House committees conducting inquiries have the authority to deny Republicans’ requests for witnesses.
The rules require Republicans to provide justification for each witness they request and for the witnesses’ testimony to conform with the scope of the inquiry set by the Democrats.
In his letter Saturday to Mr. Schiff requesting witnesses, Mr. Nunes raised numerous objections to the hearing process.
“Your failure to fulfill Minority witness requests shall constitute evidence of your denial of fundamental fairness and due process,” he wrote, later adding that “Americans see through this sham impeachment process.”
His remarks mirror claims by Democrats that noncooperation with their investigation provides further grounds for impeachment.
Mr. Nunes requested open-hearing testimony by other players in the Ukraine corruption scenario, including Devon Archer, a business associate of Hunter Biden, and Christopher Heinz, a stepson of former Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
Two other Republican-requested witnesses who could give potentially explosive testimony are Democratic National Committee staffer Alexandra Chalupa and former Democratic opposition research operative Nellie Ohr.
At the DNC, Ms. Chalupa worked with the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington to “get political dirt” on Mr. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Nunes said.
Ms. Ohr, who worked at the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which was involved in creating the unsubstantiated Trump-Russia dossier, has testified that Ukrainian officials helped former British spy Christopher Steele compile the dossier that launched the FBI and special counsel investigations that sought but failed to find Trump-Russia collusion.
Mr. Schiff signaled that few if any of these witnesses would appear at the hearings.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat on the intelligence committee, said some witnesses on Mr. Nunes’ list likely would be called.
“I can’t speak for the chairman, but I think we will end up calling some of the witnesses on that list, and here’s my test: Do these witnesses have important … knowledge or evidence about the president’s conduct,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Democrats limited the scope of the public hearings to three questions about Mr. Trump’s actions:
⦁ Did he or his agents ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival?
⦁ Did he or his agents attempt to pressure or leverage foreign leaders?
⦁ Did he or his agents attempt a cover-up?
The impeachment case against Mr. Trump hinges on accusations, first lodged by the whistleblower, that he pressured Mr. Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to investigate the Bidens. Mr. Trump also pushed for Mr. Zelensky, who was newly elected on an anti-corruption platform, to open an investigation of Ukrainian interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.
Democrats argue that Mr. Trump made $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine conditional upon Mr. Zelensky’s announcement of the investigations, which they describe as the quid pro quo of the president’s self-serving deal.
Although the military aid was put on hold for a short time, it was delivered and there is no evidence that the Ukrainians began any investigations into the Bidens at Mr. Trump’s behest or otherwise. Mr. Zelensky has said he did not feel he was being pressured or coerced on the phone call, a transcript of which the White House has released.
The public hearings Wednesday will feature State Department officials William Taylor and George Kent, who in their closed-door interviews said they were concerned that Mr. Trump’s policy in Ukraine crossed the line from diplomacy to election politics.
The impeachment panel will hear testimony Friday from Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who has said Mr. Giuliani conducted shadow diplomacy in Ukraine and worked to get her fired as ambassador.
⦁ Gabriella Muñoz and Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
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