Faced with new allegations against President Trump and his administration stonewalling, Democrats have ended months of caution with the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing on Tuesday, September 25th 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.
The US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday launched a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, over a whistleblower allegation that he pressured Ukraine’s President into opening an enquiry on the son of a leading 2020 presidential hopeful from the Democratic Party.
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.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump, in a phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, urged him to open an investigation into the son of former Vice President and 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, over the latter’s businesses in Ukraine. The report came days after the Washington Post reported that a whistleblower from the US intelligence agencies had made a formal complaint over impropriety of phone call Trump had with a foreign leader. Joe Biden’s son Hunter is a director in a gas company in Ukraine. Later it was reported that Trump withheld a $391 million military aid the US grants to Ukraine a week or so before the phone call with Zelensky.
The reports once again raised the spectre of foreign influence into the US election, after the much-discussed Russian disinformation campaign over social media during the 2016 election. The stark difference here is Trump is alleged to have pressure a foreign leader into investigating a rival’s son. Trump’s lawyer had previously alleged that Biden’s son had improper business dealings in Ukraine, as Biden strengthened his position among other Democratic Party presidential hopefuls.
Transcript released: Trump on Tuesday tweeted that the inquiry is a “Presidential harassment” — in block letters. The White House later released the transcript of the phone call Trump had with Zelenksy, and it showed Trump did ask the Ukrainian President to “look into” the Biden case, as well as say his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, will call to discuss it. Read the full transcript here. Trump has nevertheless defended his actions.
The US Congress has the power under the Constitution to remove a sitting president if enough lawmakers vote to say that they committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Only two Presidents have been impeached before — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — but both survived and completed the term after the Senate acquitted them. In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned to avoid being impeached.
Usually, the House Judiciary Committee first holds an investigation, and recommends impeachment to the House. And then the House votes to impeach. This was the process followed during Clinton case and Nixon case. Here, speaker Pelosi launched the inquiry. That is so because various House committees were already investigating Trump over impeachable offenses, a result of the allegation that Trump colluded with Russia in 2016. Note: Pelosi may still call on the House to vote on an inquiry, though experts are divided if that vote is mandatory or not.
The six House committees are expected to continue their probes, but with a focus on Ukraine. They will then submit their findings to the House Judiciary Committee. If the findings determine Trump committed an impeachable offence — treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors — the House will hold a vote. Currently, the Democratic party holds a majority in the House. If they impeachment vote is passed, it is then up to the Senate to hold a trial. After trial, Senate votes to convict the President. If two-thirds of Senate votes to convict, the President is removed from office. Currently, the Republican Party holds a majority in the Senate.
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.