Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that the House would begin a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, saying he had betrayed his oath of office and the nation’s security in seeking to enlist a foreign power for his own political gain.
“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution,” she said after emerging from a meeting of House Democrats in the basement of the Capitol. Trump, she said, “must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
The announcement was a stunning development that unfolded after months of caution by House Democrats, who have been divided over using the ultimate remedy to address what they have called flagrant misconduct by the president. It had the potential to reshape Trump’s presidency and to cleave an already divided nation only a year before he plans to stand for reelection.
In this case, with an avalanche of Democrats — including many who had resisted the move — now demanding it, Pelosi said that Trump’s reported actions, and his administration’s refusal to share details about the matter with Congress, have left the House no alternative outside of impeachment.
At issue are allegations that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to open a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son. The conversation is said to be part of a whistleblower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress.
Trump said Tuesday that he would authorize the release of a transcript of the conversation, practically daring Democrats to try to find an impeachable offense in a conversation that he has called “perfect.” But Democrats, after months of holding back, demanded the full whistleblower complaint, even as they pushed toward an expansive impeachment inquiry that could encompass unrelated charges.
“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said in her announcement.
The president, in New York for several days of international diplomacy at the United Nations, issued a defiant response on Twitter, in a series of fuming posts that culminated with a simple phrase: “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”
“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,” Trump wrote. “So bad for our Country!”
Pelosi said she had directed the chairmen of the six committees that have been investigating Trump to “proceed under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.” In a closed-door meeting earlier in the day, she said the panels would put together their best cases on potentially impeachable offenses by the president and send them to the Judiciary Committee, according to two officials familiar with the conversation. That could potentially lay the groundwork for articles of impeachment based on the findings.
The decision to begin a formal impeachment inquiry does not necessarily mean that the House will ultimately vote to charge Trump with high crimes and misdemeanors — much less that the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to remove him. But Pelosi and her leadership would not initiate the process unless they were prepared to reach that outcome.
Pelosi met privately Tuesday with the leaders of the six key committees involved in investigations of Trump, and later huddled with the full Democratic caucus. Her announcement came amid a groundswell in favor of impeachment among Democrats that has intensified since late last week, with lawmakers from every corner of her caucus lining up in favor of using the House’s unique power to charge Trump if the allegations are proved true, or if his administration continues to stonewall attempts by Congress to investigate them.
The House Judiciary Committee has been conducting its own impeachment investigation focused on the findings of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as well as allegations that Trump may be illegally profiting from spending by state and foreign governments and other matters. But that inquiry has never gotten the imprimatur of a full House vote or the full rhetorical backing of the speaker, as Democrats remained divided about the wisdom and political implications of impeaching a president without broader public support.
Now, after the revelation of a conversations between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine in which Trump pressed the foreign leader to investigate the Bidens, a cascading flood of Democrats has come out in favor of a formal impeachment proceeding.
The shift in outlook among Democratic lawmakers has been rapid, and could yet still turn away from impeachment if exculpatory evidence comes to light. The developments that have turned the tide began less that two weeks ago, when Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the Intelligence Committee chairman, first revealed the existence of a secret whistleblower complaint that the intelligence community’s internal watchdog had deemed “urgent” and credible but that the Trump administration had refused to share with Congress.
Democrats have given Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, until Thursday to turn over the whistleblower complaint or risk reprisal. And they have threatened to subpoena the Trump administration for a copy of the transcript of the president’s call with Zelenskiy and other relevant documents after Thursday if they are not shared voluntarily.
There were also indications the whistleblower might not wait around for the complaint to be disclosed. Democrats said Tuesday that a lawyer for the whistleblower had informed the committee his client wanted to speak with the House and Senate intelligence panels, and had requested directions from the office of the director of national intelligence on how to do so.
Though it has attracted much less fanfare, the Senate Intelligence Committee intends to meet privately with the inspector general and Maguire this week to discuss the whistleblower complaint.