By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee announced on Monday that it will consider steps this week to formalize its investigation to determine whether to impeach President Donald Trump.
The panel, which hopes to determine whether to recommend Trump’s impeachment to the full House by the end of the year, will meet on Thursday at 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) to consider a resolution that would open the door to the more aggressive questioning of witnesses at hearings and allow the White House to respond in writing to evidence and testimony.
The five-page measure also sets procedures for reviewing sensitive material, including grand jury evidence in closed-door sessions.
“The adoption of these additional procedures … will help ensure our impeachment hearings are informative to Congress and the public, while providing the president with the ability to respond to evidence presented against him,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement.
The panel has already rebranded what was originally an oversight probe of Trump’s presidency as an impeachment investigation.
But the approach has been criticized by Republicans for avoiding a precedent set during impeachment inquiries against then-President Richard Nixon and then-President Bill Clinton.
In those cases, inquiries were formally authorized by the full House. This time, Democrats have steered clear of a House vote that could prove risky for Democratic freshmen from swing districts where impeachment is unpopular with voters.
Legal experts have said that a more formal investigation could strengthen separate committee lawsuits seeking court orders to compel testimony from former White House Counsel Don McGahn and to gain access to grand jury material from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election
For much of the year, Nadler has focused on Mueller’s findings, including evidence that Trump sought to impede the special counsel’s probe.
Since Mueller’s testimony in July, Nadler has broadened the investigation to include allegations that Trump has improperly mixed his business interests with his role as president, dangled pardons to encourage official misconduct and paid money during the 2016 campaign to silence women claiming to have had affairs with him.
Only two American presidents have been impeached by the House: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Clinton in 1999. Neither man was convicted by the Senate, which is required before a president can be removed. Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against him but before the full House voted on the matter.
(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)