Impeachment inquiry shifts to Judiciary Committee chairman

READ: Nadler’s opening statement in Lewandowski hearing
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler will once again be in the hot seat Wednesday, as the impeachment inquiry moves to a new phase from gathering information to possibly charging President Donald Trump with crimes.

In the past two months, the House Intelligence Committee has issued dozens of subpoenas and taken more than 100 hours of testimony from current and former Trump administration officials. It held seven public hearings featuring a dozen witnesses. On Monday, it issued a 300-page report alleging that that Trump abused his power and obstructed justice in pressuring Ukraine to open investigations against Democrats.

But now, that panel will retreat into the background as the Judiciary Committee is expected to draft articles of impeachment.

Nadler worked for months on his own sweeping investigation into Trump, his campaign’s activities and potential obstruction of justice requesting information from more than 80 individuals and entities with ties to the President. But, Nadler — who pledged the House was engaged an impeachment inquiry before the Ukraine scandal boiled over — had faced some criticism from colleagues who argued some of the high-profile hearings including that one with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had gone off the rails.

Now, Nadler’s committee will be responsible for deciding on the scope the articles of impeachment and whether to keep them focused on the Ukraine scandal or reach back as far as issues related to Mueller.

The House Judiciary Committee’s opening hearing Wednesday will feature four constitutional law experts and be a far cry from the high-profile testimony Nadler oversaw this summer with former special counsel Robert Mueller. Instead, the tone will be academic, a recitation of the merits of impeachment, its history and its purpose in democracy.

The House Intelligence Committee’s hearings brought with them stunning admissions from career State Department officials, heated exchanges and sometimes colorful language.

The Judiciary Committee’s hearing Wednesday won’t be that.

“I don’t think our responsibility is to entertain the American people,” House Judiciary Committee member David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, told CNN. “This is deadly serious. This is about making sure the American people know what is at stake. This is about the preservation of our democracy.

Up until now, the hearings in the House Intelligence Committee have been made up of a smaller group of members selected by the leaders of each party for their serious-minded manners, who are entrusted with secret information handled in private settings. Many of the witnesses were sober-minded, career federal government officials keen on discussing the matter at hand: Trump seeking investigations of his political opponents from Ukraine, while using aid and a coveted White House meeting as leverage.

The Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, is almost twice as large, and filled with some of each side’s loudest defenders, skilled in waging fights over the country’s most divisive issues, including immigration, abortion and gun control. Nadler’s job in part will be containing the personalities on his committee.

“He’s more than up to the task,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia told CNN. “You know, Jerry Nadler is in his own right a constitutional scholar. He specializes here in constitutional law, and he’s a very, you know, a very measured person in terms of parsing through issues and looking at them through a very disciplined mind, and he will bring that kind of legal temperament to the task at hand.”

Leading up to the Judiciary Committee’s hearing, House Democrats on the committee praised Nadler saying he’s well-equipped to handle the first impeachment hearing.

Rep. Val Demings, Democrat of Florida, said that the House passed new rules determining this hearing, which will allow staff counsel to extract information regarding the Constitution’s grounds for impeachment from four preeminent law professors. She also said Nadler’s long experience — nearly three decades — in Congress and playing a pivotal role during the Clinton impeachment ,will serve him well.

“It’s not his first impeachment inquiry,” she noted.

Nadler also is set to not let Republicans take control of the hearing. In a Tuesday morning session preparing for Wednesday’s hearing, Nadler reportedly said, “I’m not going to take any s–t,” according to Politico.

When asked about the remark, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat representing Brooklyn, New York, smiled and joked about his colleague from Manhattan.

“Is that something that someone from the Upper West Side would say?” asked Jeffries.

Jeffries later added that Nadler is “a constitutional scholar” who will face a “a formidable adversary” in Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel. In a possible preview of that message, Collins and other committee Republicans sent a letter to Nadler on Tuesday criticizing what they described as “Democrats’ obsession with impeaching the President and undoing the 2016 election.”

Jeffries made a plea on Tuesday evening for cooler heads to prevail.

“It’s my hope and my expectation that both sides will conduct themselves with the decency, the dignity and respect that the process of an impeachment inquiry deserves,” he said.

CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Clare Foran contributed to this report.