WASHINGTON - The Democratic-led US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is expected to intensify its investigation of Republican President Donald Trump on Thursday, as lawmakers edge closer to deciding whether to recommend his impeachment.
The 41-member panel has scheduled an 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) meeting to vote on a resolution allowing it to designate hearings as impeachment proceedings, subject witnesses to more aggressive questioning and quicken the pace of an investigation that is expanding into areas that could prove politically explosive for both Trump and Congress.
A more aggressive probe could add pressure on House Democratic leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has resisted impeachment as a politically risky step for moderate Democratic freshmen from swing districts where ousting Trump is an unpopular idea.
Republicans oppose the committee's impeachment efforts. But with Democrats outnumbering Republicans on the committee by 24-17, aides say approval along party lines is all but certain.
Committee Democrats are already planning to use the new tactics that allow an hour of questioning by committee lawyers on one of Trump's closest confidants - former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski - who is due to appear before the panel next Tuesday for what may be a contentious hearing.
Democrats on the committee say the resolution will enhance their ability to assemble allegations known as "articles of impeachment" against Trump. They expect Lewandowski's testimony will help lay out a charge of obstruction of justice. But they are also pursuing allegations of campaign finance violations, witness tampering, and unlawful self-enrichment through his business ventures.
"This signals very, very strongly what the American people need to know: we are investigating to determine what articles of impeachment we should bring up," said Representative Madeleine Dean, a House Judiciary Democrat.
"In plain sight, this president is violating the Constitution day after day after day. Behind closed doors, he's obstructing justice," she said.
A committee vote to approve articles of impeachment would send the resolution to the full House. If approved by the chamber, the Republican-controlled Senate would be left to hold a trial and consider the president's ouster.
A Reuters headcount shows that 135 House Democrats back an impeachment inquiry. While that is a majority of the caucus, the number is well short of the 218 votes needed to pass a resolution.
Only two American presidents have been impeached by the House: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999. Neither was convicted by the Senate.
Former President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against him, but before the full House voted on the matter.