‘NO ONE IS ABOVE LAW’

Pres­i­dent’s deal­ings with Ukraine lead to in­quiry

The Times-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS FANDOS

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi an­nounced Tues­day that the House would ini­ti­ate a for­mal im­peach­ment in­quiry against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, charg­ing him with be­tray­ing his oath of of­fice and the na­tion’s se­cu­rity by seek­ing to en­list a for­eign power to tar­nish a ri­val for his own po­lit­i­cal gain.

Pelosi’s dec­la­ra­tion, af­ter months of ret­i­cence by Democrats who had feared the po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences of im­peach­ing a pres­i­dent many of them long ago con­cluded was un­fit for of­fice, was a stun­ning turn that set the stage for a his­tory-mak­ing and ex­ceed­ingly bit­ter con­fronta­tion be­tween the Demo­crat-led House and a de­fi­ant pres­i­dent who has thumbed his nose at in­sti­tu­tional norms.

“The ac­tions taken to date by the pres­i­dent have se­ri­ously vi­o­lated the Con­sti­tu­tion,” Pelosi said in a brief speech in­vok­ing the na­tion’s found­ing prin­ci­ples. Trump, she added, “must be held ac­count­able — no one is above the law.”

She said the pres­i­dent’s con­duct re­vealed his “be­trayal of his oath of of­fice, be­trayal of our na­tional se­cu­rity and be­trayal of the in­tegrity of our elec­tions.”

Pelosi’s de­ci­sion to plow for­ward with the most se­vere ac­tion that Congress can take against a sit­ting pres­i­dent could usher in a re­mark­able new chap­ter in Amer­i­can life, touch­ing off a con­sti­tu­tional and po­lit­i­cal show­down with the po­ten­tial to cleave an al­ready di­vided na­tion, re­shape Trump’s pres­i­dency and the coun­try’s pol­i­tics, and carry heavy risks both for him and for the Democrats who have de­cided to weigh his re­moval.

Though the out­come is un­cer­tain, it also raised the pos­si­bil­ity that Trump could be­come only the fourth pres­i­dent in U.S. his­tory to face im­peach­ment. Pres­i­dents An­drew John­son and Bill Clin­ton were both im­peached but later ac­quit­ted by the Se­nate. Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon re­signed in the face of a loom­ing House im­peach­ment vote.

It was the first salvo in an es­ca­lat­ing, high-stakes stand­off be­tween Pelosi, now fully en­gaged in an ef­fort to build the most damn­ing pos­si­ble case against the pres­i­dent, and Trump, who an­grily de­nounced Democrats’ im­peach­ment in­quiry even as he worked fever­ishly in pri­vate to head off the risk to his pres­i­dency.

Trump, who for months has dared Democrats to im­peach him, is­sued a de­fi­ant re­sponse on Twit­ter while in New York for sev­eral days of in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy at the United Na­tions, with a se­ries of fuming posts that cul­mi­nated with a sim­ple phrase: “PRES­I­DEN­TIAL HA­RASS­MENT!” Mean­while, his re­elec­tion cam­paign and House Repub­li­cans launched a vo­cif­er­ous de­fense, ac­cus­ing Democrats of a par­ti­san rush to judg­ment.

“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,” Trump wrote. “So bad for our Coun­try!

For the past two years, talk of im­peach­ment had cen­tered around the find­ings of the spe­cial coun­sel, Robert Mueller, who in­ves­ti­gated Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tions and Trump’s at­tempts to de­rail that in­quiry. On Tues­day, Pelosi, D-calif., told her cau­cus and then the coun­try that new rev­e­la­tions about Trump’s deal­ings with Ukraine, and his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stonewalli­ng of Congress about them, had fi­nally left the House no choice but to pro­ceed to­ward a se­vere and rarely used rem­edy.

At is­sue are al­le­ga­tions that Trump pres­sured the pres­i­dent of Ukraine to open a cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion of for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, a lead­ing con­tender for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, and his son. The con­ver­sa­tion is said to be part of a whistle­blower com­plaint that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has with­held from Congress. And it oc­curred just a few days af­ter Trump had or­dered his staff to freeze more than $391 mil­lion in aid to Ukraine.

Trump said Tues­day that he would au­tho­rize the re­lease of a tran­script of the con­ver­sa­tion, part of an ef­fort to pre­empt Democrats’ im­peach­ment push. But Democrats, af­ter months of hold­ing back, were un­bowed, de­mand­ing the full whistle­blower com­plaint and other doc­u­men­ta­tion about White House deal­ings with Ukraine, even as they pushed to­ward an ex­pan­sive im­peach­ment in­quiry that could en­com­pass un­re­lated charges.

Pelosi told fel­low Democrats that in a pri­vate call ini­ti­ated by Trump on Tues­day morn­ing, the pres­i­dent said that he was not re­spon­si­ble for with­hold­ing the whistle­blower com­plaint from Congress, Democrats said.

Al­though Pelosi’s an­nounce­ment marked a cru­cial turn­ing point, it left many unan­swered ques­tions about ex­actly when and how Democrats plan to push for­ward on im­peach­ment.

House Democrats plan to bring up a res­o­lu­tion to­day con­demn­ing Trump’s re­ported be­hav­ior to­ward Ukraine and de­mand­ing he re­lease the whistle­blower com­plaint — dar­ing Repub­li­cans to vote against it.

And Pelosi said she had di­rected the chair­men of the six com­mit­tees that have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing Trump to “pro­ceed un­der that um­brella of im­peach­ment in­quiry.” In a closed-door meet­ing ear­lier in the day, she said the pan­els should put to­gether their best cases on po­ten­tially im­peach­able of­fenses by the pres­i­dent and send them to the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, ac­cord­ing to two of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tion. That could po­ten­tially lay the ground­work for ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment based on the find­ings.

But whether Democrats would hold an­other House vote in the com­ing days to au­tho­rize their in­quiry — as has been done in past pres­i­den­tial im­peach­ments — re­mains to be seen. Repub­li­cans ar­gue that with­out one, the House is not truly in an im­peach­ment in­quiry, no mat­ter what Democrats say. Nor did the speaker lay out a time­line for the com­mit­tees to do their work.

Some mod­er­ates, who have taken po­lit­i­cal risk to pub­licly sup­port im­peach­ment, said they were frus­trated that Tues­day’s de­ci­sions did not clar­ify the process go­ing for­ward. Oth­ers cau­tioned that an im­peach­ment process that could not win bi­par­ti­san sup­port would never suc­ceed.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-mich., pressed Pelosi in a closed-door Demo­cratic meet­ing Tues­day on her plan, ask­ing who was in charge and what the fo­cus was, law­mak­ers in at­ten­dance said.

The de­ci­sion to be­gin a for­mal im­peach­ment in­quiry does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that the House will ul­ti­mately vote to charge Trump with high crimes and mis­de­meanors — much less that the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate will vote to re­move him. But Pelosi and her lead­er­ship would not ini­ti­ate the process un­less they were pre­pared to reach that out­come.

And Trump’s al­lies mostly took it as a sign that a vote on ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment was in­evitable.

Trump’s cam­paign man­ager, Brad Parscale, soon fol­lowed with a state­ment of his own, echo­ing Trump’s ear­lier ef­forts to turn the po­lit­i­cal spot­light onto Bi­den, and the cam­paign launched a new fundrais­ing plea for an “Of­fi­cial Im­peach­ment De­fense Task Force.”

“Democrats can’t beat Pres­i­dent Trump on his poli­cies or his stel­lar record of ac­com­plish­ment, so they’re try­ing to turn a Joe Bi­den scan­dal into a Trump prob­lem,” he wrote. “The mis­guided Demo­crat im­peach­ment strat­egy is meant to ap­pease their ra­bid, ex­treme, leftist base, but will only serve to em­bolden and en­er­gize Pres­i­dent Trump’s sup­port­ers and cre­ate a land­slide vic­tory for the pres­i­dent.”

Pelosi’s an­nounce­ment came amid a groundswel­l in fa­vor of im­peach­ment among Democrats that has in­ten­si­fied since late last week.

DOUG MILLS / THE NEW YORK TIMES

PELOSI

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