Pelosi OKs drafting of impeachment articles against President Trump

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) and President Donald Trump (right). AP images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces the House is drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

Posted: Dec 5, 2019 8:18 AM
Updated: Dec 5, 2019 10:25 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. House is pressing forward to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday.

‘’Our democracy is what is at stake," Pelosi said somberly. “The president leaves us no choice but to act.”

Pelosi delivered the historic announcement as Democrats push toward a vote, possibly before Christmas.

In solemn tones, drawing on the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, Pelosi stood at the speaker's office at the Capitol and said she was authorizing the drafting of formal charges “sadly but with confidence and humility.”

“The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution,” she said. “He is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections ."

“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment," Pelosi said

At the core of the impeachment probe is a July call with the president of Ukraine, in which Trump pressed the leader to investigate Democrats and political rival Joe Biden as the White House was withholding military aid to the country bordering an aggressive Russia.

Trump tweeted that if Democrats “are going to impeach me, do it now, fast." He said he wanted to get on to a “fair trial” in the Senate. The president also said that Democrats have “gone crazy."

At the White House, press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted that Pelosi and the Democrats “should be ashamed,"" then she, too, looked past the likely impeachment in the Democratic-majority House to trial in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Drafting articles of impeachment is a milestone moment, only the fourth time in U.S. history Congress has tried to remove a president, and it intensifies the deeply partisan undertaking that is consuming Washington and dividing the nation.

Once reluctant to pursue impeachment, warning it was too divisive for the country and needed to be a bipartisan endeavor, Pelosi is now leading Congress into politically riskier waters for all sides ahead of an election year.

Republican are standing lock-step with Trump, unwilling to be swayed that his actions amount to wrongdoing, let alone impeachable offenses, leaving Democrats to go it alone in a campaign to consider removing the 45th president from office.

Trump's allies argue that voters, not lawmakers, should decide the president's future. But Democrats say the nation cannot wait for the 2020 election, alleging Trump's past efforts to have foreign countries intervene in the presidential campaign is forcing them to act to prevent him from doing it again.

The number of articles of impeachment and the allegations they will include will be both a legal and political exercise as lawmakers balance political dynamics while striving to hit the Constitution’s bar of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Pulling from the House’s investigation, Democrats are focusing on at least three areas.

They argue that Trump abused the power of his office by putting personal political gain over national security interests, engaging in bribery by holding out $400 millionin military aid thatCongress had approved for Ukraine; and then obstructing Congress by stonewalling the investigation.

Some liberal Democrats want to reach further into Trump’s actions, particularly regarding the findings from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. That could produce an additional article of obstruction not only of Congress, but also of justice.

But more centrist and moderate Democrats, those lawmakers who are most at risk of political fallout from the impeachment proceedings, prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans can more easily understand.

The chairmen of the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry will begin drafting the articles, and some lawmakers are expecting to remain in Washington over the weekend.

Members are preparing to vote on the articles of impeachment in the Judiciary Committee, possibly as soon as next week.

The House is expecting a full vote by Christmas. The would send the issue to the Senate for a trial in the new year.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday she would deliver an unusual public statement on the status of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, Pelosi met behind closed doors with her Democratic caucus, asking, "Äre you ready?"

The answer was a resounding yes, according to those in the room.

Democrats are charging toward a Christmastime vote on removing the 45th president, a situation Pelosi hoped to avoid but which now seems inevitable. She is to make a public statement on impeachment at 9 a.m.

The Democratic leader drew from the constitution and the intent of the Founding Fathers. She made the morning statement from the speaker's offices at the Capitol, the same location where she declared the formal launch of the House investigation into Trump's actions toward Ukraine.

Trump tweeted that if Democrats “are going to impeach me, do it now, fast." He said he wants to get on to a “fair trial” in the Senate. The president also said that Democrats have “gone crazy."

On Wednesday, Pelosi met behind closed doors with her Democratic caucus, asking, "Äre you ready?"

The answer was a resounding yes, according to those in the room.

Democrats are charging toward a Christmastime vote on removing the 45th president, a situation Pelosi hoped to avoid but which now seems inevitable. She is to make a public statement on impeachment at 9 a.m.

Three leading legal scholars testified Wednesday to the House Judiciary Committee that Trump’s attempts to have Ukraine investigate Democratic rivals are grounds for impeachment, bolstering the Democrats' case.

A fourth expert called by Republicans warned against rushing the process, arguing this would be the shortest of impeachment proceedings, with the “thinnest" record of evidence in modern times, setting a worrisome standard.

Trump is alleged to have abused the power of his office by putting personal political gain over national security interests, engaging in bribery by withholding $400 million in military aid Congress had approved for Ukraine; and then obstructing Congress by stonewalling the investigation.

Across the Capitol, the polarizing political divide over impeachment, only the fourth such inquiry in the nation’s history, was on display.

Democrats in the House say the inquiry is a duty. Republican representatives say it's a sham. And quietly senators of both parties conferred on Wednesday, preparing for an eventual Trump trial.

“Never before, in the history of the republic, have we been forced to consider the conduct of a president who appears to have solicited personal, political favors from a foreign government," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chair of the Judiciary panel, which would draw up articles of impeachment.

Nadler said Trump's phone July 25 call seeking a “favor” from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wasn’t the first time he had sought foreign help to influence an American election, noting Russian interference in 2016. He warned against inaction with a new campaign underway.

“We cannot wait for the election," he said. “ If we do not act to hold him in check, now, President Trump will almost certainly try again to solicit interference in the election for his personal political gain.”

Trump, attending a NATO meeting in London, called the hearing a “joke” and doubted many people would watch because it's "boring.”

Once an outsider to the GOP, Trump now has Republicans' unwavering support. They joined in his name-calling the Judiciary proceedings a “disgrace" and unfair, the dredging up of unfounded allegations as part of an effort to undo the 2016 election and remove him from office.

“You just don't like the guy,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel. Trump rewarded some of his allies with politically valuable presidential tweets as the daylong hearing dragged into the evening.

At their private meeting Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers also delivered a standing ovation to Rep. Adam Schiff, whose 300-page Intelligence Committee report cataloged potential grounds for impeachment, overwhelmingly indicating they want to continue to press the inquiry rather than slow its advance or call a halt for fear of political costs in next year's congressional elections.

Meanwhile, Trump's team fanned out across the Capitol with Vice President Mike Pence meeting with House Republicans and White House officials conferring with Senate Republicans to prepare for what could be the first presidential impeachment trial in a generation.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who has declined for now to participate in the House proceedings, relayed Trump's hope that the impeachment effort can be stopped in the House and there will be no need for a Senate trial, which seems unlikely.

White House officials and others said Trump is eager to have his say. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, “He feels like he has had no opportunity to tell his side of the story."

Trump lambastes the impeachment probe daily and proclaims his innocence of any wrongdoing at length, but he has declined to testify before House hearings or answer questions in writing.

At the heart of the inquiry is his July phone call asking Ukraine to investigate rival Democrats including Joe Biden as he was withholding aid from the ally, which faced an aggressive Russia on its border.

At Wednesday's session, three legal experts called by Democrats said impeachment was merited.

Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor, said he considered it clear that the president's conduct met the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, “If what we're talking about is not impeachable ... then nothing is impeachable."

The only Republican witness, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, dissented from the other legal experts. He said the Democrats were bringing a "slipshod impeachment" case against the president, but he didn't excuse Trump's behavior.

“It is not wrong because President Trump is right," Turley said. “A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record."

New telephone records released with the House report deepened Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's known involvement in what investigators call the “scheme.”

Asked about that, Trump told reporters he doesn't know why Giuliani was calling the White House Office of Management and Budget, which was withholding the military aid to Ukraine.

"You have to ask him,” Trump said. "Sounds like something that's not so complicated. ... No big deal."

Based on two months of investigation sparked by a still-anonymous government whistleblower's complaint, the Intelligence Committee's impeachment report found that Trump "sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process and endangered U.S. national security.” When Congress began investigating, it says, Trump obstructed the investigation like no other president in history.

Republicans defended the president in a 123-page rebuttal claiming Trump never intended to pressure Ukraine when he asked for investigations of Biden and his son.

While liberal Democrats are pushing the party to incorporate the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and other actions by Trump, more centrist and moderate Democrats prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans understand.

Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment in a matter of days, with a Judiciary Committee vote next week. The full House could vote by Christmas. Then the matter would move to the Senate for a trial in 2020.

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