A resolution setting out the next steps in President Donald Trump’s impeachment have been published by House Democrats.
The motion sets out a more public phase of the inquiry and hands the lead role in hearings to the chairman of the intelligence committee, Adam Schiff.
The House, controlled by the Democrats, will vote on the measure on October 31.
A White House spokeswoman said the resolution was an “illegitimate sham”.
So far, hearings have been held behind closed doors. This vote to make the impeachment process public is about the procedure, and not a ballot on whether or not to impeach the president.
Meanwhile, Republicans have criticized Democrats for the closed hearings up to this point, in which Republican lawmakers have also taken part. However, Democrats insist they were needed to gather evidence ahead of the public stage of the inquiry, and deny allegations they have been secretive.
President Trump is accused of trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating unsubstantiated corruption claims against his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, who worked with Ukrainian gas company Burisma.
The president denies wrongdoing and calls the impeachment inquiry a “witch hunt”.
On October 29, the impeachment inquiry heard from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a White House official who had monitored a phone call on July 25 between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
That call sparked a whistleblower complaint and led to the impeachment probe.
Col. Alexander Vindman said he was “concerned” by the call as he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen”.
The eight-page document sets out a two-stage process for the next phase of the inquiry.
In the first, the House Intelligence Committee will continue its investigations and hold public hearings. It will have the right to make public transcripts of depositions taken in private.
In the second phase, a public report on the findings will be sent to the House Judiciary Committee which will conduct its own proceedings and report on “such resolutions, articles of impeachment, or other recommendations as it deems proper”.
President Trump’s lawyers will be allowed to take part in the Judiciary Committee stage.
Republicans on the committees will be able to subpoena documents or witnesses – although they could still be blocked as both committees are Democrat-controlled.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said a House vote on the resolution would take place on October 31. She has previously said such a vote is not required under the US Constitution.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, speaking before the resolution was unveiled, said the entire process was a “sham.”
Referring to the closed-door meetings and depositions he said: “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Due process starts at the beginning.”
Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, has apologized for not informing Democratic colleagues before going public with allegations about surveillance of President Donald Trump’s team.
He apologized privately and vowed to work with them on the issue, a committee aide said.
Democrats were furious that Devin Nunes went straight to the White House.
They questioned whether the committee’s inquiry into Russia’s alleged role in the election can proceed objectively.
However, when Donald Trump was asked if he now felt vindicated for his accusations against his predecessor, he answered: “I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.”
Image source Wikimedia
The US intelligence agencies regularly, and legally, monitor foreigners, and the communication of Americans is often incidentally collected. They are not usually named but can be if the context of the intelligence requires it.
Devin Nunes said the material he had seen “bothered” him and that the unmasking of individuals, and the content of some of the material gathered, was “inappropriate”.
Of his decision to go public and brief President Trump, Devin Nunes said: “It was a judgment call on my part.
“Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the wrong decision.”
A Republican intelligence committee aide told Reuters: “He apologized to the minority on the committee for going public and to the [White House] with his announcement before sharing the information with the minority. He pledged to work with them on this issue.”
Devin Nunes had also stressed that the information in the intercepts he had seen was not linked to an FBI investigation into alleged links between the Trump team and Russian officials during the election campaign.
However, Democrats said Devin Nunes’ actions could scupper the House panel’s investigation.
Democrat Jackie Speier, who serves on the committee, said: “I think over the next few days we are going to assess whether or not we feel confident that [Devin Nunes] can continue in that role.”
Democrat Adam Schiff said: “A credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.”
Devin Nunes has refused to reveal who passed him the information.
When asked whether it was the White House itself, he said he was “not going to ever reveal sources”.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said: “I don’t know why he would come up to the president to brief him on something we had briefed him on.”
Devin Nunes’ disclosure came two days after FBI Director James Comey confirmed the organization was investigating alleged links between the Trump team and Russian officials.
Adam Schiff on Wednesday told MSNBC he believed there was evidence “that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of an investigation” about the links.
He also insisted the collected information was not linked to an FBI investigation into alleged links between the Trump team and Russian officials during the election campaign.
A political row followed Devin Nunes’ announcement, with the top Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, criticizing him for not consulting the committee before going public.
Adam Schiff said: “This is not how you conduct an investigation. You don’t take information that the committee hasn’t seen and present it orally to the press and to the White House before the committee has a chance to vet whether it’s even significant.”
Image source Wikimedia
Devin Nunes said the incidental collection was legal but his main concern was that people involved had been unmasked in the reports.
However, Adam Schiff said it was “fully appropriate” to give the names of US citizens “when it is necessary to understand the context of collected foreign intelligence information”.
What Devin Nunes had revealed did not indicate that there was any flaw in the procedures followed by the intelligence agencies, Adam Schiff added.
The intelligence collection, which took place mainly in November, December and January, was brought to the attention of Devin Nunes by an unnamed source or sources.
When Donald Trump was asked if he felt vindicated for his explosive accusations against his predecessor, he answered: “I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.”
Trump campaign advisers are currently the subject of an FBI investigation and two congressional inquiries.
Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates co-ordinated with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 presidential election campaign to damage Donald Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.