WASHINGTON — A new phase of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry begins Wednesday, Dec. 4, as the House Judiciary Committee - a panel prone to theatrics and partisan brawls - plans to hear from four constitutional scholars about the historical underpinnings of the process.
The focus is shifting from the House Intelligence Committee, which voted along party lines Tuesday night to approve a 300-page report that concluded that Trump had "compromised national security to advance his personal political interests" and then engaged in an "unprecedented campaign" to prevent Congress from uncovering the truth.
At the heart of Democrats' case is the allegation that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine in the face of Russian military aggression, to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
After two weeks of public hearings by the House Intelligence Committee, it will be up to the Judiciary Committee to weigh articles of impeachment against Trump.
Wednesday's hearing will be similar in format to those held by the Intelligence Committee, with lawyers for the Democrats and Republicans questioning witnesses for an extended period of time before committee members have the opportunity to ask questions in five-minute rounds.
Four law professors - three chosen by Democrats and one by Republicans - have been summoned to testify on the "constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment" before the 41-member panel.
The three witnesses chosen by Democrats: Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, Stanford University professor Pamela Karlan and University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt.
The one invited by Republicans is George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley. He is expected to tell the Judiciary Committee that impeaching Trump would be a historic mistake, according to written testimoy provided to the committee.
In his testimony, Turley notes that he voted against Trump in 2016 and has been critical of many of his policies. Yet, in his 53-page submission to the committee Turley argues that the Ukraine controversy does not provide a robust reason to impeach Trump.
"If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president," Turley says. "That does not bode well for future presidents who are working in a country often sharply and, at times, bitterly divided."
Pam Bondi, the former Florida state attorney general hired to assist Trump with impeachment messaging, predicted Wednesday that Republicans on the Judiciary Committee would question the constitutional scholars about political bias.
"I think you're going to hear a lot of great cross-examination from Republicans talking about their bias to begin with," Bondi said during an appearance on Fox Business Network.
Bondi also explained why Trump declined to send a lawyer to the hearing.
"You know, this is a sham process from day one, and why would we participate in it?" she said.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee took to morning television Wednesday in an attempt to shape expectations for the panel's first impeachment hearing.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a staunch defender of Trump, dismissed the planned hearing as a series of "lectures from professors" who have no direct knowledge of Trump's dealings with Ukraine.
"It will be the law review coming to life," Gaetz said on the Fox Business Network during an appearance in which he also claimed the impeachment inquiry "seems to be losing steam by the hour."
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., predicted Republicans would seek to create chaos during the proceedings.
"I hope that Republicans don't treat this as a game, but I am afraid they might," she said during an appearance on CNN. "We are taking this extremely seriously."
As Washington focuses on impeachment, Trump continues to meet with other NATO leaders on Wednesday in London. His schedule at the gathering of the venerable military alliance affords several opportunities to weigh in on what's happening back home.
Trump has scheduled a news conference shortly after the Judiciary Committee hearing is scheduled to begin. Prior to that, he has several one-on-one meetings with world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
This article was written by John Wagner, a reporter for The Washington Post.