House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler says he will boost his ability to go after President Trump Thursday when his committee passes a resolution clarifying his investigative powers.
The resolution sets new rules for how the Judiciary Committee will conduct what Nadler has called an impeachment investigation, allowing him to specifically name when hearings are part of determining whether the committee will vote for articles of impeachment.
The resolution will also let him have a staff lawyer attend hearings to grill witnesses, instead of leaving it entirely in the hands of lawmakers with conflicting agendas.
The idea is to speed up the process — which many left-leaning Democrats and progressives have found too slow and ineffectual — while still protecting what Nadler sees as his responsibility to pursue a constitutionally sound probe of Trump.
In particular, Nadler believes the resolution will help light a fire under judges weighing whether various Trump figures have to answer subpoenas.
"The legislative [branch] is saying, 'We need this information.' The executive says, 'You're not entitled to it' for whatever reason. We think that's bullshit, but that's their claim," Nadler said. "The court has to decide between two different branches of government. A court is reluctant to do that."
But his new resolution, which is likely to pass on a party-line vote, makes clear to a judge this isn’t a normal fight over investigations and oversight — it’s about impeachment, which would be a judicial proceeding by Congress that would get greater weight.
"The courts have ruled that when you're considering impeachment, your investigative powers are at their zenith," Nadler said.
"Obviously, it's a lot more time sensitive than normal oversight, which can go on for a long time," he said. "So it helps you. You may get more material, it influences a court's decision as to what you get."
Another goal it could help is obtaining secret grand jury evidence from the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Normally grand jury evidence and testimony is shielded by law from release, unless it is to be used in a judicial proceeding. Impeachment is essentially a judicial proceeding by Congress, and recognized as such my the courts.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, panned the resolution as a stunt that didn't do anything to move the needle on impeachment, but might keep the word in headlines.
He contended there is no formal impeachment proceeding that courts have to honor because the House has not voted on one.
"Formal impeachment proceedings have always been authorized by a vote of the full House, which Speaker Pelosi has been careful not to allow," Collins said. "Tomorrow’s committee business is a meaningless reiteration of existing committee authorities, allowing the chairman to keep this story in the news when moderate Democrats simply want it to go away.”
Nadler, and to a greater extent Democratic leaders, has faced criticism from many Democrats and progressives that they are not moving aggressively enough, and some have pointed to the lack of such a vote.
Nadler's top primary challenger, former state economic development official Lindsey Boylan, is among them.
"Nadler has completely bungled one of the most straightforward tasks imaginable: impeaching America's worst president," Boylan said. "And he and Pelosi have created an atmosphere of total confusion."
Nadler argued that a vote by the full House is irrelevant because the House has already voted to give his committee investigative powers that previous committees didn't have in earlier impeachment probes.
"The truth is we are holding hearings and investigations which will determine whether we will report articles of impeachment to the House," he said, suggesting that he thought that was pretty clear already.
Whether or not those articles of impeachment are ever drawn up remains an open question, but Nadler said there should be less doubt from all sides about what the committee is doing, which is looking for grounds to do that very thing.
“I think we are sending an extremely clear message. I hope we are,” he said. "Tomorrow [Thursday] it will be a little clearer, perhaps.”