WASHINGTON (AP) — US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, acquiescing to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election year clash between Congress and the commander in chief.
The probe centers on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government for his reelection. Pelosi said such actions would mark a “betrayal of his oath of office” and declared: “No one is above the law.”
Pelosi’s brief statement capped a frenetic stretch on Capitol Hill, as details of a classified whistleblower complaint about Trump burst into the open and momentum shifted swiftly toward an impeachment probe. The charge was led by several moderate Democratic lawmakers from political swing districts, many of them with national security backgrounds and serving in Congress for the first time.
After more than two and one-half years of sharp Democratic criticism of Trump, the formal impeachment quest sets up the party’s most urgent and consequential confrontation with a president who thrives on combat — and injects deep uncertainty in the 2020 White House race. Trump has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party would bolster his political support
Trump, who was meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, previewed his defense in an all-caps tweet: “PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT!”
Pelosi had barely finished speaking as he began a mini-blizzard of tweets assailing her announcement and calling it “Witch Hunt garbage.”
Such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage. So bad for our Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
At issue are Trump’s actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he is said to have asked for help investigating Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge, but acknowledged he blocked the funds.
Ahead of Pelosi’s announcement, Trump authorized the release of a transcript of his call with Ukraine’s president, predicting it would show no evidence of wrongdoing. The transcript is to be made public on Wednesday.
“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call,” Trump said.
The decision sets up an election season clash between Trump and Congress that seems certain to exacerbate the nation’s fierce partisan divides and inject deep uncertainty into the 2020 presidential contest.
Pelosi huddled with her caucus Tuesday afternoon ahead of the announcement.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden said Congress must use its full constitutional authority to investigate Trump’s actions and if he doesn’t cooperate he’ll leave lawmakers “with no choice but to initiate impeachment.” If that happens, Biden said, it will be a tragedy of Trump’s own making.
Pelosi has spent months trying to keep an impeachment inquiry at bay. But her position became untenable this week as more members — including crucial moderates in political swing districts — swung in favor of a probe following reports that Trump pushed Ukraine’s leader for help investigating Democrat Biden and his son during a summer phone call.
The president has all but dared Democrats to open impeachment proceedings, repeatedly stonewalling requests for documents and witness interviews in a variety of ongoing investigations. Trump advisers say they are confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster his political support. Pelosi has shared that concern and has spent months trying to hold off liberals in her caucus pushing for impeachment.
But the atmosphere on Capitol Hill started shifting following a whistleblower complaint that centered in part on Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, but is also said to include other events.
Trump has suggested he brought up Biden and his son Hunter in the phone call as part of discussions over corruption in Ukraine — despite no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either man. He also confirmed on Tuesday that he ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in the days before the phone call, prompting Democrats to charge that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on Biden.
In remarks ahead of her caucus meeting, Pelosi notably said a quid pro quo wasn’t necessary to establish an impeachable offense.
“We don’t ask foreign governments to help us in our election,” Pelosi said.
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.