Faced with new allegations against President Trump and administration stonewalling, Democrats have ended months of caution.
WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday that the House would initiate a formal impeachment inquiry against President 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.
Ms. 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,” Ms. Pelosi said in a brief speech invoking the nation’s founding principles. Mr. 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.”
Ms. Pelosi’s decision to push 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Trump could become only the fourth president in American history to face impeachment. Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both impeached but later acquitted by the Senate. President Richard M. Nixon resigned in the face of a looming House impeachment vote.
It was the first salvo in an escalating, high-stakes standoff between Ms. Pelosi, now fully engaged in an effort to build the most damning possible case against the president, and Mr. Trump, who angrily denounced Democrats’ impeachment inquiry even as he worked feverishly in private to head off the risk to his presidency.
Mr. 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 re-election campaign and House Republican leaders 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,” Mr. 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 S. Mueller III, who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and Mr. Trump’s attempts to derail that inquiry. On Tuesday, Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, told her caucus and then the country that new revelations about Mr. 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 rarely used remedy.
“Right now, we have to strike while the iron is hot,” she told House Democrats in a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol. Emerging moments later to address a phalanx of news cameras, Ms. Pelosi, speaking sometimes haltingly as she delivered a speech from a teleprompter, invoked the Constitution and the nation’s founders as she declared, “The times have found us” and outlined a new stage of investigating Mr. Trump.
At issue are allegations that Mr. Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to open a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and his son. The conversation is said to be part of a whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. And it occurred just a few days after Mr. Trump had ordered his staff to freeze more than $391 million in aid to Ukraine.
Mr. Trump has confirmed aspects of his conversation with the Ukrainian leader in recent days, but he continues to insist he acted appropriately.
The president said on Tuesday that he would authorize the release of a transcript of the conversation, part of an effort to pre-empt Democrats’ impeachment push. But Democrats, after months of holding back, were unbowed, demanding the full whistle-blower complaint and other documentation about White House dealings with Ukraine, even as they pushed toward an expansive impeachment inquiry that could encompass unrelated charges.
President Trump’s personal lawyer. The prosecutor general of Ukraine. Joe Biden’s son. These are just some of the names mentioned in the whistle-blower’s complaint. What were their roles? We break it down.
Ms. Pelosi told fellow Democrats that Mr. Trump told her in a private call on Tuesday morning that he was not responsible for withholding the whistle-blower complaint from Congress. But late Tuesday, the White House and intelligence officials were working on a deal to allow the whistle-blower to speak to Congress and potentially even share a redacted version of the complaint in the coming days, after the whistle-blower expressed interest in talking to lawmakers.
Although Ms. Pelosi’s announcement was a crucial turning point, it left many unanswered questions about exactly when and how Democrats planned to push forward on impeachment.
Last edited by a moderator: