‘NO ONE IS ABOVE LAW’
President’s dealings with Ukraine lead to inquiry
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.