Impeachment Live Updates: Republicans Try to Shift Focus to Hunter Biden During Debate on Trump Charges

Republicans sought to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt about why he withheld security aid to Ukraine, proposing an amendment that asserts the president withheld the aid because of lawful concerns about corruption in Ukraine, not for corrupt personal purposes.

The amendment by Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, sets forth a key defense repeatedly articulated by Mr. Trump and his allies: that there is no proof that the president held up needed money in exchange for investigations of his political rivals.

“It sets forth clearly what the holding or the pause to the Ukrainian money was about and they got it and they got it on time,” Mr. Biggs argued.

As drafted by Democrats, the articles of impeachment say Mr. Trump eventually lifted the hold on the security aid only after he was “faced with the public revelation of his actions” and that he has “persisted in openly and corruptly urging and soliciting Ukraine to undertake investigations for his personal political benefit.”

The Republican amendment would replace that language and assert that Mr. Trump allowed the money to flow to Ukraine after the president of Ukraine signed “two major anti-corruption measures into law, convincing President Trump that the new Ukrainian administration was serious about reform measures.”

Democrats argued against the amendment, saying the evidence is clear that the president used the aid to pressure Ukraine for the investigations and did not release the money until his efforts were known by lawmakers and others.

“This is the highest of high crimes and President Trump must be held accountable,” said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California.

The House Judiciary Committee debate on articles of impeachment turned bitterly personal on Thursday after Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, offered a proposal designed to justify President Trump’s conduct and cast aspersions on Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Mr. Gaetz sought to remove the reference to the elder Mr. Biden, and the description of him as “a political opponent,” from the article charging Mr. Trump with abuse of power for pressing Ukraine for investigations. Instead, the Florida Republican proposed inserting the words, “a well-known corrupt company, Burisma, and its corrupt hiring of Hunter Biden.”

The proposal was an attempt to argue that Mr. Trump was acting out of a concern for corruption, not political self-interest, when he asked President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The president and his Republican allies have maintained that it was inappropriate for Hunter Biden, who had no experience on energy issues, to serve on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, and accused the former vice president of trying to protect his son and the company from being investigated for corruption.

In arguing in favor of his proposal, Mr. Gaetz read into the Congressional Record a graphic news article describing the younger Mr. Biden’s substance abuse, including cocaine.

“I don’t want to make light of anybody’s substance abuse issues,” Mr. Gaetz said, adding that “it’s a little hard to believe that Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz rental car over leaving cocaine and a crack pipe in the car.”

Democrats quickly, if obliquely, cried hypocrisy, making veiled references to Mr. Gaetz’s own past arrest for driving under the influence.

“The pot calling the kettle black is not something we should do,” Representative Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia, shot back, looking toward the Republican side of the dais. Nervous laughter filled the hearing room.

“I don’t know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse, been busted in D.U.I.,” Mr. Johnson continued. “I don’t know, but if I did, I wouldn’t raise it against anyone on this committee. I don’t think it’s proper.”

The amendment failed on a party-line vote after more than two-and-a-half hours of debate.

Democrats handily defeated an amendment by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee to kill one of the articles of impeachment against President Trump, that he abused his power by inviting foreign interference in the 2020 election.

The committee voted, 23-17 along party lines, to reject the amendment after lawmakers engaged in two hours of heated back-and-forth debate, which Republicans used as a chance to denounce the impeachment process and to try to undermine the Democratic case against the president.

Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, who offered the amendment, said his proposal “strikes Article I, because Article I ignores the truth.”

“It’s obvious to all of the American public that this is a railroad job,” Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, among the most senior Republicans on the panel, said as he argued on behalf of Mr. Jordan’s amendment. “The facts speak for themselves. There was no impeachable offense here.”

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, urged her colleagues to turn back the Republican effort, arguing that “the president abused his power and is a continuing threat, not only to democracy but also to our security.”

Other amendments that Republicans plan to offer are all but certain to be rejected on party-line votes by the committee. But the efforts to make changes are intended to show Mr. Trump — who has watched hours of the impeachment hearings — and voters that Republicans are fighting back. The vote to impeach Mr. Trump is expected in the House next week.

Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel, objected to consideration of the articles, arguing that Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the committee, and other Democrats had violated the committee’s rules by refusing to allow a public hearing for witnesses requested by the minority.

But the chairman ruled against his motion, quickly gaveling it down, and the panel voted along party lines to put it aside.

The president took to Twitter to accuse two Democratic lawmakers of lying during Thursday’s debate, making it clear that he is watching closely as the Judiciary Committee considers whether to approve articles of impeachment against him.

In a tweet, he lashed out at Representatives Veronica Escobar and Sheila Jackson Lee, both of Texas, claiming they had misquoted his July 25 call with the president of Ukraine. A rough transcript of the call showed Mr. Trump told President Volodymyr Zelensky, “I want you to do us a favor, though” after the Ukrainian leader asked about purchasing military equipment.

In her comments, Ms. Jackson Lee quoted Mr. Trump almost verbatim, saying “I would like you to do a favor, though.” Ms. Escobar compared the president’s actions to those of a hypothetical governor who has held up aid for a community hit by a natural disaster and then told the mayor in need of the funding, “I want you to do me a favor, though.”

Mr. Trump spent several hours Thursday morning retweeting Republican allies defending him against the impeachment charges. He retweeted Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, who wrote that “despite the swamp media lying constantly, 51% of Americans reject this attempted coup.”

He also recirculated an attack he made Tuesday on Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, appending the comment “very dishonest pols!” to his tweet.

Mr. Nadler officially began consideration of the articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump by having the panel’s clerk read them into the record. He then offered up a new and slightly different draft, a parliamentary tactic that will allow him to control today’s meeting, known as a markup.

Committees usually skip the reading of legislative text, and one Republican on the panel asked to dispense with the step. But Mr. Nadler dismissed the request, saying that the importance of the historic moment at hand called for the nine-page resolution to be read out loud.

“In his conduct of the office of president of the United States — and in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed — Donald J. Trump has abused the powers of the presidency,” the clerk read.

By offering up a new draft of the article with a minor change — instead of referring to the president as “Donald J. Trump,” as the original articles of impeachment did, it uses his full middle name, John — Mr. Nadler ensured that he will have maximum control over any further changes that may be proposed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is not asking Democrats to vote to impeach Mr. Trump, and will allow them to follow their conscience when articles of impeachment come to the House floor.

“I have no message to them,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters, when asked about what she is telling moderate Democrats who might be wavering.

Using congressional slang for vote-counting, she added, “We are not whipping this legislation, nor would we ever whip something like this. People have to come to their own conclusions.”

A small number of moderate Democrats from conservative-leaning districts are still on the fence about impeaching Mr. Trump. Only two Democrats — Representatives Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson, both representing Trump-friendly districts — voted against moving forward with the impeachment inquiry.

But a small number of other Democrats, including some of the so-called “frontliners” who flipped Republican districts last year, briefly explored the idea of avoiding an impeachment vote by censuring Mr. Trump instead. The idea was quickly dropped earlier this week when it became apparent it would not gain traction in the House.

As impeachment marches forward, Mr. Trump’s lawyers are discussing hiring Alan Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and high-profile lawyer who has frequently defended the president on television, to help with his defense during a trial in the Senate, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Several advisers to the president support making Mr. Dershowitz part of the team of outside lawyers to advise the White House on constitutional issues, they said. But no formal offer has been made to Mr. Dershowitz. Mr. Dershowitz declined to comment.

  • Mr. Trump and his advisers repeatedly pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate people and issues of political concern to Mr. Trump, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Here’s a timeline of events since January.

  • A C.I.A. officer who was once detailed to the White House filed a whistle-blower complaint on Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Zelensky. Read the complaint.

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