WASHINGTON — House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment Tuesday against President Donald Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — pushing toward historic votes over charges he threatened the integrity of the U.S. election system and endangered national security in his dealings with Ukraine.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen of the impeachment inquiry committees, declared at the U.S. Capitol that thy were upholding their solemn oath to defend the Constitution. Voting is expected in a matter of days in the Judiciary Committee and by Christmas in the full House.
Trump swiftly responded in a capital-letters tweet with the words he uses repeatedly to decry the investigations against him: “WITCH HUNT!” The White House said the charges were “baseless,” and his reelection campaign called them “rank partisanship.”
In outlining the charges, Democrats said they had no choice but to act because Trump has shown a pattern of behaviour that, if left unchecked, poses risks to the democratic process ahead of the 2020 election.
“Our president holds the ultimate public trust. When he betrays that trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the Constitution; he endangers our democracy; he endangers our national security,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the Judiciary chairman, announcing the charges before a portrait of George Washington. “Our next election is at risk. … That is why we must act now.”
Nadler said, “No one, not even the president, is above the law.”
Chairman Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee said, “We stand here today because the president’s abuse of power leaves us with no choice.”
Trump’s allies immediately plunged into the fight that will extend into the new year. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Democrats are trying to “overthrow” the administration. Campaign manager Brad Parscale said Democrats are “putting on this political theatre because they don’t have a viable candidate for 2020 and they know it.” The president’s son, Eric, embraced his father’s penchant for name calling, assailing Pelosi and “her swamp creatures.”
As the House chairmen arrived at a closed-door meeting of the chamber’s Democrats after the announcement, they were greeted with applause.
The outcome appears increasingly set as the House prepares for voting, as it has only three times in history against a U.S. president. Approval of the charges would send them to the Senate in January, where the Republican majority would be unlikely to convict Trump.
Democratic leaders say Trump put his political interests above those of the nation when he asked Ukraine to investigate his rivals, including Democrat Joe Biden, and then withheld $400 million in military aid as the U.S. ally faced an aggressive Russia. They say he then obstructed Congress by stonewalling the House investigation.
Trump insisted in a new tweet that when he asked Ukraine’s president “to do us a favour” with the investigations he was requesting, ‘us’ is a reference to USA, not me!” Democrats, however, say Trump’s meaning could not have been clearer in seeking political dirt on Biden, his possible opponent in the 2020 election.
In drafting the articles of impeachment, Pelosi faced a legal and political challenge of balancing the views of her majority while hitting the Constitution’s bar of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”
Some liberal lawmakers wanted more expansive charges encompassing the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Centrist Democrats preferred to keep the impeachment articles more focused on Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.
When asked during a Monday evening event if she had enough votes to impeach the Republican president, Pelosi said she would let House lawmakers vote their conscience.
“On an issue like this, we don’t count the votes. People will just make their voices known on it,” Pelosi said at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. “I haven’t counted votes, nor will I.”
Trump, who has declined to mount a defence in the actual House hearings, tweeted Tuesday just as the six Democratic House committee chairmen prepared to make their announcement.
“To Impeach a President who has proven through results, including producing perhaps the strongest economy in our country’s history, to have one of the most successful presidencies ever, and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness,” he wrote on Twitter.
The next steps are expected to come swiftly after months of investigation into the Ukraine matter, which followed Mueller’s two-year Russia probe.
Pelosi convened a meeting of the impeachment committee chairmen at her office in the Capitol late Monday following an acrimonious, nearly 10-hour hearing at the Judiciary Committee, which could vote as soon as this week.
“I think there’s a lot of agreement,” Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee, told reporters as he exited Pelosi’s office. “A lot of us believe that what happened with Ukraine especially is not something we can just close our eyes to.”
At the Judiciary hearing, Democrats said Trump’s push to have Ukraine investigate Biden while withholding U.S. military aid ran counter to U.S. policy and benefited Russia as well as himself.
“President Trump’s persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security,” said Dan Goldman, the director of investigations at the House Intelligence Committee, presenting the finding of the panel’s 300-page report of the inquiry.
Republicans rejected not just Goldman’s conclusion of the Ukraine matter; they also questioned his very appearance before the Judiciary panel. In a series of heated exchanges, they said Schiff should appear rather than sending his lawyer.
The president focused Monday on the long-awaited release of the Justice Department report into the 2016 Russia investigation. The inspector general found that the FBI was justified in opening its investigation into ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia and that the FBI did not act with political bias, despite “serious performance failures” up the bureau’s chain of command.
Democrats say Trump abused his power in a July 25 phone call when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for a favour in investigating Democrats. That was bribery, they say, since Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine depended on to counter Russian aggression.
Pelosi and Democrats point to what they call a pattern of misconduct by Trump in seeking foreign interference in elections from Mueller’s inquiry of the Russia probe to Ukraine.
In his report, Mueller said he could not determine that Trump’s campaign conspired or co-ordinated with Russia in the 2016 election. But Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump of obstructing justice in the probe and left it for Congress to determine.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Laurie Kellman, Matthew Daly and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.