U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the media at the Capitol Building Sept. 24, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry today after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

Democrats open formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump

Trump orders release of transcript in call with Ukranian president

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that the House will open an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, setting the stage for a monumental clash between Congress and the president a year away from the 2020 election.

With more than a dozen moderate House Democrats joining the long list of those demanding an impeachment inquiry, Pelosi, D-Calif. — who had long opposed taking such a formal step — ultimately responded to the mounting pressure from her caucus.

“The president must be held accountable,” Pelosi said. “No one is above the law.”

Democrats said they would not create a special impeachment committee, such as the one during the Watergate scandal. Instead, pending investigations in six House committees will continue, and the strongest evidence will be forwarded to the Judiciary Committee, which will examine whether to write articles of impeachment.

It came as Trump earlier in the day acknowledged for the first time that he had held up aid to Ukraine shortly before speaking with that country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and urging the foreign leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a possible Trump opponent in the 2020 presidential race. Those actions reportedly triggered an unidentified whistleblower in the intelligence community to write a complaint about the president.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has refused to share the complaint with Congress, triggering a battle with Democratic lawmakers.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted Tuesday that the whistleblower had expressed interest in speaking with the House Intelligence Committee, perhaps as soon as this week. “We have been informed by the whistleblower’s counsel that their client would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the Acting DNI as to how to do so. We’re in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistleblower’s testimony as soon as this week,” Schiff wrote.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump announced he had ordered the release Wednesday of the “complete fully declassified and unredacted transcript” of the crucial July phone conversation. Trump has claimed his actions were appropriate, calling the Democrats’ move “just a continuation of the witch hunt … Our country’s doing the best it’s ever done. They’re going to lose the election.”

Initially, Trump insisted his comments about Biden to the Ukrainian leader were rooted in his concern about corruption and that U.S. funds were not being misused. On Tuesday, Trump shifted, saying he withheld the aid out of frustration that European nations were not contributing their fair share of aid to Ukraine.

Democrats want to know whether the president withheld Ukrainian aid that Congress had approved in order to pressure Zelensky to meddle in the 2020 U.S. election. The aid was released earlier this month, days after Congress learned of the whistleblower complaint. During an appearance at the Atlantic Festival on Tuesday, Pelosi said the administration is illegally withholding the complaint.

“The DNI is at present time breaking the law at the direction of the administration,” Pelosi said.

Though Pelosi previously had said she would only pursue impeachment with overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing and bipartisan support, the latest allegations and pressure from her caucus reached a tipping point.

“This is definitely a turning point for the caucus and for the speaker,” said Danny Weiss, Pelosi’s former chief of staff.

Six freshmen House Democrats with national security backgrounds warned in a Washington Post op-ed posted late Monday that Trump’s actions would be impeachable offenses. It was not a call for impeachment, but the identities of authors — they all won in Trump districts — set off a cascade. Since then, at least a dozen other Democrats who had been holdouts against impeachment — including Reps. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Antonio Delgado of New York — reversed course and came out with their support for an inquiry.

Together, they represent some of the most Trump-leaning districts in the country, suggesting they do not believe there will be a political price to pay for beginning an impeachment inquiry.

A key concern of some Democrats is that impeachment of Trump will backfire, by ginning up Trump’s base or alienating independent voters. It could also put moderate Democrats in Trump-leaning districts in a difficult position in 2020.

Several lawmakers who are close allies of the speaker, including Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., indicated that they, too, support the call. More than two-thirds of House Democrats now support impeachment.

“The time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come,” said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the civil rights leader whose opinion weighs heavily with Democrats and who is often aligned with Pelosi.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Democrats discussed next steps. Progressives, who have long backed an aggressive inquiry of the president, would like to see a strict timetable for quick action. Also under discussion will be a likely House resolution condemning the president’s discussion with the Ukrainian leader.

Still, the political dynamic that has worried House Democrats since the beginning of the year has not changed. Even if the House is able to impeach the president, the Republican-controlled Senate is almost certainly not going to convict him. Trump would remain in office and have a Senate acquittal to run on.

No Senate Republican has publicly suggested that they view the Ukraine events as impeachable, although Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have gone the furthest among any Senate Republican, demanding that the complaint be turned over to Congress.

By Jennifer Haberkorn, Los Angeles Times

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