US House panel approves two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen of the impeachment inquiry committees, stood at the Capitol in what she called a “solemn act”.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told reporters that Democrats had to take action because Trump had endangered the US Constitution, undermined the integrity of the 2020 election and jeopardised national security.
Trump, a Republican, “sees himself as above the law”, said Nadler. “We must be clear, no one, not even the president, is above the law.”
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote this week on whether to send the formal charges to the full House of Representatives. It said it would meet Wednesday evening and Thursday morning to consider the articles of impeachment.
If the House approves the charges, as expected, the Republican-controlled Senate would hold a trial to decide whether to remove the president from office. A conviction is considered unlikely.
The charges unveiled on Tuesday stem from Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, as he withheld aid to the country.
Responding to the announcement, Trump posted a series of tweets, again calling the process a “WITCH HUNT!”
“Nadler just said that I ‘pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 Election.’ Ridiculous and he knows that is not true. Both the President & Foreign Minister of Ukraine said, many times, that there ‘WAS NO PRESSURE.’ Nadler and the Dems know this, but refuse to acknowledge it,” Trump tweeted.
The White House in a statement called the formal charges “baseless” and said Trump will address them during the trial phase.
“The president will address these false charges in the Senate and expects to be fully exonerated, because he did nothing wrong,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
Democrats have moved rapidly in their impeachment inquiry since launching an investigation on September 24.
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 misdemeanors”.
Some liberal members of Congress wanted more expansive charges encompassing the findings from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Centrist Democrats preferred to keep the impeachment articles more focused on Trump’s actions towards Ukraine.
The Democrats’ impeachment inquiry was centred on a July phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential frontrunner, and his son Hunter, who served on a board of a Ukrainian gas company. Trump also wanted an investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 elections.
At the time of the call, the Trump administration was withholding nearly $400m in military aid from Ukraine.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
— Al Jazeera News (@AJENews) December 10, 2019
Democrats first pursued a two-month inquiry, led by the House Intelligence Committee, which submitted a 300-page report about its findings earlier this month. The House Judiciary Committee hearing then took over the investigation to consider articles of impeachment.
The president and his White House have refused to participate in the inquiry, instructing members of his administration to do the same.
Republicans argue Trump did nothing improper in his call with Zelenskyy and say there is no direct evidence he withheld aid or a White House meeting in exchange for a favour.
When asked if she has enough votes to impeach the Republican president, Pelosi leader said she would let House politicians 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.”
The Judiciary Committee would need to give 24 hours’ notice before meeting to vote on whether to forward the articles to the full House for a final impeachment vote by the chamber.