Democrats Reject Republican Amendment Requiring Turnover of Exculpatory Evidence in Impeachment

Debbie Lesko (Win McNamee / Getty)
Win McNamee / Getty

Democrats on the House Rules Committee rejected all 17 Republican amendments to the proposed resolution on the “impeachment inquiry” against President Donald Trump — including one that would require the other investigating committees to hand over exculpatory evidence to the House Judiciary Committee.

Unlike previous impeachments, there are several committees — not just the House Judiciary Committee — being used to investigate the president, especially the House Intelligence Committee.

As currently written (entirely by Democrats), the resolution says that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), is authorized, but not required, to make depositions public. He is required to prepare a report for the House Judiciary Committee, which will consider articles of impeachment, and is given wide discretion over the contents of that report. He is also required to transmit dissenting views.

Other committees are merely “authorized,” but not required, to hand over “records” or “materials” to the House Judiciary Committee. The (Democratic) chairs of those committees must consult with the ranking member of the (Republican) minority, but seem to have wide discretion over what they transmit.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) proposed that the resolution indicate that the chairs of those committees “shall” be required to transmit exculpatory evidence to the House Judiciary Committee.

“There is no reason why anyone in this body should disagree that all materials must be transferred to the members of Congress on the Judiciary Committee,” she said, adding that it was absurd for members to have to rely on a partial account provided by Schiff. In previous impeachment hearings, she pointed out, the members of the Judiciary Committee would have heard the entire testimony, including exculpatory evidence, themselves.

Rules Committee chair Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) suggested that there might be national security risks involved in transferring all of the evidence.

Lesko countered that members had been told there was no classified information yet in the inquiry, and that members of both parties could not be expected to vote on impeachment with incomplete information.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) added that Schiff had previously proved untrustworthy, having claimed falsely to have had no contact with the so-called “whistleblower.”

Democrats countered that including language that materials “shall” be transferred to the Judiciary Committee would be too broad, taking in irrelevant information as well as relevant information.

Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) argued that the committees were already authorized to turn over everything. The amendment, he said, merely guaranteed that exculpatory information would also be included.

Chairman McGovern said that the current resolution already required Schiff to turn over the dissenting report of the minority on the Intelligence Committee.

If Republicans were really interested in improving the bill, he concluded, they would have submitted the amendments earlier. Republicans countered that they had only received the resolution 24 hours before.

“I understand the point Ms. Lesko is making, but I think it’s a poorly drafted amendment. And I think it is all-encompassing, and I think it could potentially be dangerous to somebody,” he concluded.

Lesko pointed out that McGovern was not insulting her, but the committee’s staff of attorneys, by calling the amendment poorly drafted.

Burgess noted that a prosecutor who withheld exculpatory information would face penalties. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) countered with the familiar argument that the impeachment process is akin to a grand jury investigation — a point Lesko had attacked earlier by pointing out that Democrats were leaking selective information to the media, which would be forbidden in a grand jury.

Raskin also claimed that the resolution would make all of the information available to all members — a point Lesko swiftly punctured by noting that the resolution simply “authorized” the release of information, which is precisely why she had proposed an amendment requiring it to be released.

The amendment was defeated along straight party lines.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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