MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Four constitutional scholars sat before the House Judiciary Committee today to deliver their opinions on whether President Trump's actions toward Ukraine warrant impeachment. The hearing, led by Democrats, is yet another step towards what appears now to be an inevitable vote to impeach the president later this year. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is covering the hearing. She is at the Capitol.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, there.
KELLY: So there were not many surprises in this hearing, which was no surprise, actually. These were constitutional scholars, not newsmakers. And just to set the stage here, three of them were selected to testify by Democrats. Those three were already on the record saying they think the president should be impeached for his conduct. The one witness selected by Republicans argued he should not be impeached. So explain, Sue. What was the goal for today's hearing?
DAVIS: Well, we know that the investigative work of the impeachment investigation is largely concluded. That was done by the Intelligence Committee, which issued their findings yesterday. So this phase, the judiciary hearings - and we do expect them to have one on that report - is really more about giving these members on the Judiciary Committee a chance to have their say in the matter because ultimately, this is the group of lawmakers who are going to write the expected articles of impeachment.
KELLY: I want to ask about something that came up today that people may not have been expecting - the Mueller report. We've got a little bit of tape here. Let me play it for you. This is Democratic staff counsel Norm Eisen questioning professor Michael Gerhardt, who supports impeachment. And he was asking about possible obstruction of justice by the president.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NORM EISEN: And in your testimony, sir, you pointed out that the Mueller report found at least five instances of the president's obstruction of the Justice Department's criminal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, correct?
MICHAEL GERHARDT: Yes, sir.
KELLY: OK. So the Mueller report - here we are talking about it again. Is it back on the table in terms of possible articles of impeachment?
DAVIS: It might be. You know, Democrats are divided on this question. Remember, the Judiciary Committee is still technically investigating whether Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation. They never stopped that investigation. And a lot of Democrats say they think they shouldn't forget it either.
Here's one Democrat, Virginia's Gerry Connolly, who thinks Democrats should keep the Mueller report on the table.
GERRY CONNOLLY: I believe he gave at least 10 or 11 instances where the president clearly crossed the line with respect to obstruction of justice. To ignore that is to allow a precedent that is most unwelcome.
KELLY: OK. But Sue, I'm a little confused because Democrats, including, most significantly, the top Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - they have been indicating that they want the question of impeachment to stay very tightly focused around the whole Ukraine affair.
DAVIS: And a lot of key Democrats agree with Nancy Pelosi, most specifically the Democrats in those tough battleground races, the freshmen who helped bring in the majority. Here's one of them, Michigan's Elissa Slotkin, on what she thinks Democrats should do on impeachment.
ELISSA SLOTKIN: I personally don't think that this should be a kitchen sink approach where we take every single grievance we have with the president and put it into one big bucket. I don't support that. I support being very targeted, very tailored and to bring the country along with us on the story that they've been hearing for the past nine, 10 weeks.
DAVIS: So the question of all - how broad or how narrow to go in these articles is one of those questions that Democrats are going to have to resolve in the next two to three weeks as they move towards a vote on impeachment, which they still expect to happen before Christmas.
KELLY: And how is party unity holding up? - because we hear so much about Republican unity. They're standing behind the president. But Republicans in the House would seem to have less to lose. Politically speaking, they're in the minority. They have fewer competitive seats in play. Democratic unity - is that holding up as well? Do they think they've got the votes here?
DAVIS: Well, Democrats had a closed-door caucus meeting this morning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered all staff out, said no phones were allowed. They wanted to have sort of a family meeting. Adam Schiff presented the report to the caucus. And sources say - inside the room say he received a standing ovation from Democrats, so that should tell you that the mood is still pretty good.
Pelosi told lawmakers that they're not going to whip this vote, that there wouldn't be any party pressure applied to it. Everyone could vote their conscious. I don't think that there's any doubt among Democrats - certainly not the Democrats that I've talked to - that think that they won't have the votes when the time comes to have votes on articles of impeachment. And they're still comfortable about doing it this year.
KELLY: This year - OK. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, thank you.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.