Top Democrat says more testimony, hearings possible in Trump impeachment

WASHINGTON, Nov 24 (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Democrats have begun writing their report on the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump - a key step moving the process forward - but still may obtain more witness depositions and hold further hearings, the panel's chairman said on Sunday.

Representative Adam Schiff, who is spearheading the inquiry that threatens Trump presidency, said the Democratic-led committee would continue investigations as it works on the report after two weeks of public hearings with testimony from current and former U.S. officials. The panel has held five public hearings and has no more scheduled.

The report could pave the way for House consideration of articles of impeachment - formal charges - against Trump. If these are approved, the Senate, controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans, would then hold a trial on whether to convict the president and remove him from office.

The inquiry centers on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Joe Biden as well as a discredited conspiracy theory promoted by Trump that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"We don't foreclose the possibility of more depositions, more hearings. We are in the process of getting more documents all the time. So that investigative work is being done," Schiff said on CNN's "State of the Union" program.

"What we're not going to do is wait months and months while the administration plays a game of 'rope a dope' in an effort to try to stall. We're not willing to go down that road," Schiff said.

"Rope a dope" is a term originated by the late boxer Muhammad Ali referring to delaying tactics.

Trump's administration has refused to provide documents requested by House Democrats and blocked witnesses from testifying including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Other current and former officials have defied White House instructions not to testify.

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U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ranking member Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speak with the media about the ongoing Russia investigation on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (D-CA) reacts to Committee Chairman Devin Nunes statements about surveillance of U.S. President Trump and his staff as well as his visit to the White House, during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks at a town hall meeting on healthcare reform in Alhambra, California, August 11, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES HEALTH POLITICS)
Ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) (R) speak during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign on March 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, March 19, 2017. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during a news conference discussing Russian sanctions on Capitol Hill February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP / ZACH GIBSON (Photo credit should read ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Adam Schiff arrives at the 85th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade on November 27, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tara Ziemba/WireImage)
GLENDALE, CA - OCTOBER 07: Congressman Adam Schiff poses with guests at the HAAS Spine And Orthopaedics Official Opening Reception held at HAAS Spine & Orthopaedics Center on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 27: Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 25: Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., walks through the crowd on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Monday, July 25, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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Schiff said the committee learns more information every day and he expects that to continue but the evidence is already so "overwhelming and uncontested" that lawmakers wanted to begin drafting the report for transmission the Judiciary Committee.

"Even as we compile this report, even as we submit evidence to the Judiciary Committee, we're going to continue our investigation," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The Judiciary Committee could conduct more proceedings if needed, including hearings, that allow Trump and his counsel to participate. The panel would draft any articles of impeachment against Trump before they would go to the full House for a vote.

Democrats also are looking into whether Trump abused his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine - a vulnerable U.S. ally facing Russian aggression - as leverage to pressure Kiev into conducting the two investigations that could be politically beneficial to Trump.

The money - approved by the U.S. Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country - was later provided to Kiev in September after the controversy had spilled into public view.

Trump is running for re-election in 2020. Biden is a leading Democratic contender to face Trump in that election.

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