WASHINGTON - The White House promised to respond to a Friday deadline set by U.S. House of Representatives Democrats for President Donald Trump to decide whether to take part in proceedings as lawmakers consider what articles of impeachment to bring against him.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday asked the Judiciary Committee to draw up articles of impeachment - formal charges - against the Republican president. The committee could draft and recommend the articles by next Thursday and the full Democratic-led House could vote on them by Christmas.Pelosi in September launched the impeachment inquiry into Trump's request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face the president in the 2020 U.S. election.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, has given Trump until 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Friday to decide whether he or his legal counsel will participate in upcoming committee proceedings by calling witnesses, introducing evidence and making a presentation. Committee Republicans have been given the same deadline to request witnesses, including any they might want to subpoena.
Asked if he expected the White House to respond to Nadler's request by the Friday deadline, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters, "I expect us to respond by the end of the day, yes." Gidley did not specify what the response would be.
Trump, who denied any wrongdoing, thus far has refused to cooperate with the inquiry and ordered current and former administration officials not to testify or provide documents demanded by House committees.
Nadler has scheduled a committee hearing for Monday. His committee is responsible for drafting articles of impeachment and would have to approve them before sending them to the full House for a vote.
Passage of formal charges would lead to a trial in the Republican-led Senate on whether to remove Trump from office. Senate Republicans have given little indication that they would support Trump's removal.
Pelosi accused Trump of abusing his power by asking a foreign government to interfere in an American election for his own political benefit at the expense of U.S. national security. The articles of impeachment could include abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.
Democratic Representative Ted Lieu, a Judiciary Committee member, told reporters that if Trump opts not to participate in the inquiry, "it will be a problem for the White House because if they had exculpatory evidence, they would present it. We're giving them every opportunity to do that."
Republicans accuse Democrats of conducting a politically motivated witch hunt aimed at ousting Trump using an unfair impeachment process. Asked if it would be in the White House's interest to take part in Monday's hearing, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told Reuters, "Not if it isn't a fair process."
The probe is focusing on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, and into a discredited theory promoted by Trump and his allies that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption. They have denied wrongdoing and the allegations have not been substantiated.
Democrats also have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in congressionally approved security aid to Ukraine - a vulnerable U.S. ally facing Russian aggression - and holding back a coveted White House meeting with Zelenskiy as leverage to pressure Kiev into investigating the Bidens.
Lawmakers and congressional aides said Judiciary Committee Democrats were drafting articles of impeachment with input from people including Pelosi and the heads of five other House committees that have investigated Trump.
A question facing Judiciary Committee Democrats as they hold Saturday and Sunday meetings is whether to craft a separate article of impeachment accusing Trump of obstruction of justice relating to his actions to impede the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as detailed in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report.
Another option would be to use Mueller's findings to support articles that accuse Trump more broadly of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
"That's something that we'll decide this weekend," said Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Judiciary Committee Democrat, who said Mueller's findings show a pattern of misconduct that Trump repeated in his dealings with Ukraine.
Representative Joe Cunningham, a centrist Democrat, indicated he preferred that Mueller's report not be a focus in the articles of impeachment, saying, "I never jumped to pursue impeachment based on that report. I think the allegations on the Ukraine issue are significantly different."
Democratic Representative Jackie Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee that held a series of impeachment hearings, said she did not think the articles of impeachment should be widened to include issues stemming from the Russian election interference investigation.