WASHINGTON — The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee said Democrat Adam Schiff is “the first person who needs to testify” as the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump moves to its next phase.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia made the comment on “Fox News Sunday.” He was one of several members of the Judiciary committee scheduled to appear on political talk shows as the panel prepares to open its first public hearings in the impeachment probe on Wednesday.

A week ago, Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, rejected the suggestion that he testify as a sign that Republicans “made the decision not to take this process seriously.”

Wednesday’s hearing is so far scheduled to include as-yet-unnamed expert witnesses on the historical and constitutional basis of impeachment, and whether Trump’s alleged actions warrant pressing forward with possible articles of impeachment.

Collins has called for a wider array of witnesses at the first hearing.

‘Balanced composition’

“To ensure fairness and restore integrity to the ongoing impeachment process, I request an expanded panel and a balanced composition of academic witnesses to opine on the subject matter at issue during the hearing,” Collins wrote in a letter to committee chairman Jerrold Nadler on Saturday.

Nadler set a 6 p.m. Sunday deadline for the president to say whether he or his counsel will participate in the first hearing. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the impeachment inquiry as a “witch hunt.”

Trump and his attorneys should participate in the process, Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Florida, a member of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“We are certainly hoping that the president, his counsel, will take advantage of that opportunity,” Demings said. “If he has not done anything wrong, we’re certainly anxious to hear his explanation of that.”

While it would be to Trump’s advantage to have his lawyers participate, it’s understandable that he’s upset about the “illegitimate process,” Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said on ABC.

McClintock said Republicans would like to call witnesses during Judiciary hearings but said Schiff “vetoed” six of nine witnesses sought for House Intelligence Committee sessions and its unclear how Nadler will proceed.

‘Foreign interference’

In a letter to Trump on Friday, Nadler previewed the conclusions from weeks of depositions and hearings by the House Intelligence Committee, saying its forthcoming report will describe an effort in which the president “again sought foreign interference in our elections for his personal and political benefit at the expense of our national interest.”

It also will allege “an unprecedented campaign of obstruction in an effort to prevent the committees from obtaining evidence and testimony,” Nadler wrote.

A draft version of the House Intelligence Committee’s report will be available for panel members to begin reviewing on Monday. Tuesday evening, the committee is scheduled to meet behind closed doors to decide whether to advance the report to the Judiciary Committee, along with a minority report put together by panel Republicans.

The impeachment inquiry was triggered by a whistle-blower’s report about a July phone call that Trump had with the leader of Ukraine in which the president asked his counterpart to look into allegations of wrong-doing by former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 competitor.

The Judiciary panel will decide whether to send impeachment charges to the full House for a vote. If approved by the Democratic-controlled House, the charges will then go to the Republican-controlled Senate for the ultimate decision on whether Trump should be removed from office.

Not decided

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that impeachment of Trump was “not a forgone conclusion.”

“The question is should that misconduct result in impeachment,” Lofgren said. “We need to sort through the severity — the risk to the constitution, the risk to our national security that our president’s actions pose. There is plenty of misconduct in the history of the United States among presidents but it’s not all impeachable.”

The reference by Nadler that Trump “again sought foreign interference” in an election indicates Democrats may look beyond the Ukraine controversy at the heart of the current debate to examine whether Trump encouraged Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

In a 448-page report made public in April, U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller said there was insufficient evidence to show that Trump or anyone working on his campaign had collaborated with Russia’s efforts to disrupt the election. Mueller, though, declined to say that Trump had not obstructed his investigation.

— With assistance from Billy House.

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©2019 Bloomberg News

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