House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Tuesday afternoon announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s attempt to get the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.
Pelosi, who had tried to head off talk of impeachment among her caucus, made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon as demands mounted for an investigation into Trump’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
She said the inquiry into what she referred to as a “violation of law” would be run by the heads of six House committees: Reps. Jerry Nadler (Judiciary), Elijah Cummings (Oversight), Adam Schiff (Intelligence), Maxine Waters (Financial Services), Eliot Engel (Foreign Affairs) and Richard Neal (Ways and Means).
“This week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically,” said Pelosi. “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections. Therefore, today, I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.”
Trump responded by tweeting, “Pelosi, Nadler, Schiff and, of course, Maxine Waters! Can you believe this?” before adding “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”
The White House released a statement that said in part: House Democrats have destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country by continuing to focus all their energy on partisan political attacks. Their attacks on the President and his agenda are not only partisan and pathetic, they are in dereliction of their Constitutional duty.
“The Trump Administration will continue to be vigorous in laying out the facts and standing up for the many forgotten men and women who elected him.”
During the past few days, calls for impeachment have grown louder. Seven freshman Democrats, including some from swing districts that Trump won in 2016, published an op-ed in the Washington Post Monday night calling for the president’s impeachment.
Invoking their “oaths to defend the country,” the seven signers wrote that the Ukraine allegations “are a threat to all we have sworn to protect. We must preserve the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders and restore the trust of the American people in our government. And that is what we intend to do.”
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., made the case Tuesday on the House floor.
"We cannot delay. We must not wait. Now is the time to act. I have been patient while we tried every other path and used every other tool," Lewis said. "I believe, I truly believe, the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come. To delay, or to do otherwise, would betray the foundation of our democracy."
The Wall Street Journal first reported that in a July 25 phone call, Trump repeatedly urged Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate Biden’s son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company when Biden served as vice president. According to the newspaper, Trump mentioned the issue eight times. The call is believed to have triggered a complaint by an unnamed official in the intelligence community, which the administration has refused to turn over to Congress, as required by law.
In a letter to colleagues Sunday, Pelosi warned that his administration “will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” if the whistleblower is blocked from appearing before Congress. On Tuesday, Yahoo News reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee was beginning a bipartisan inquiry into the complaint.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said the whistleblower could testify before his panel as soon as this week.
According to the Washington Post, Trump instructed his acting chief of staff and head of the Office of Budget and Management, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine before the conversation with Zelensky.
Trump has not denied that the subject of Biden came up during the phone call, a transcript of which the president said he had authorized to be released on Wednesday. Legislators have asked for the full whistleblower complaint, which they are entitled to by law, not just the transcript.
”I am currently at the United Nations representing our Country, but have authorized the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine,” announced Trump on Twitter. “You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo! This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!”
Speaking to reporters at the United Nations on Monday, the president said withholding the aid money was meant to compel Zelensky to crack down on corruption in Ukraine, which is widely reported to be extensive.
“Well, I don’t even want to mention it, but certainly I’d have every right to,” he said. “I’d have every right to. If there’s corruption, and we’re paying lots of money to a country, we don’t want a country we’re giving massive aid to be corrupting our system, and we don’t want it to be corrupt in any way.”
On Tuesday, Trump gave a different, and incompatible, explanation, saying he was trying to force other European countries to contribute to Ukraine’s defense, which he said “has been my complaint from the beginning.”
Before delivering his annual address to U.N. General Assembly, Trump criticized the Democratic drumbeat toward impeachment.
“They have no idea how they stop me. The only way they can try is through impeachment,” the president said. “It’s nonsense. And when you see the call, when you see the readout of the call — which I assume you’ll see at some point — you’ll understand.”
“That call was perfect. It couldn’t have been nicer,” he added. “There was no pressure put on them whatsoever. But there was pressure put on with respect to Joe Biden. What Joe Biden did for his son, that’s something they should be looking at.”
Biden’s son Hunter had served on the board of a Ukrainian natural-gas company that had been investigated by the national prosecutor in Kiev, a controversial figure widely viewed around the world as corrupt. Biden, who was vice president at the time, recommended firing the prosecutor — a position shared by most of America’s allies around the world. There has been no evidence presented in public that this had anything to do with Hunter Biden’s business dealings, although Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has hinted he possesses such evidence.
On Tuesday, Biden announced that an impeachment inquiry would be necessary if Trump didn’t turn over the whistleblower complaint. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for impeachment after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report earlier this year. She has reiterated her calls.
"After the Mueller report, Congress had a duty to begin impeachment," she wrote in a tweet Friday. "By failing to act, Congress is complicit in Trump's latest attempt to solicit foreign interference to aid him in US elections. Do your constitutional duty and impeach the president."
Beginning an inquiry would not necessarily lead to impeachment, which is analogous to a criminal indictment and, if approved by the House, would lead to a trial in the Senate. The House would first investigate whether there was sufficient evidence that the president had met the standard in the Constitution of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
If an impeachment resolution is brought to the floor of the full House, Democrats and Republicans would vote on articles of impeachment. If they approve one or more of them by a simple majority, the president would officially be impeached, but not removed from office.
The Senate then would be required to hold a trial, with members of the House serving as the prosecution and lawyers chosen by the White House mounting a defense. The chief justice would preside. A two-thirds majority of the Senate would be necessary for conviction and the president’s removal from office, something that has never happened in American history.
Trump has previously expressed confusion about how the process works, saying that he didn’t think “the courts” — which are not involved in a House investigation — would allow it.
Two previous presidents have been impeached — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — but the Senate failed to convict, and they both remained in office. The House began impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon in 1974, but he resigned before a full House vote on the articles took place.