Pelosi says House will draft impeachment charges against Trump

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, Dec 5, 2019 (The New York Times)

-By Nicholas Fandos

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the House of Representatives would begin drafting impeachment articles against President Donald Trump, pushing ahead with a rapid timetable that could set the stage for a vote before Christmas to charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors.

Wrapping her announcement in the words of the Constitution and the nation’s founders, Pelosi said it had become clear over the course of two months of investigation that Trump had violated his oath of office by pressing a foreign power for help in the 2020 election. Allowing Trump to continue in office without remedy, she said, would come at “the peril of our republic.”

“His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” Pelosi said in a formal address lasting less than six minutes, delivered against a backdrop of American flags from the hallway outside her office in the Capitol. “Our democracy is what is at stake. The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit.”

Pelosi’s announcement came as the House Judiciary Committee laid out next steps for its formal impeachment proceedings against Trump. The committee said it would convene a hearing Monday morning to allow its lawyers and those for the Intelligence Committee to formally present the evidence in the impeachment inquiry. That suggested the panel would consider both the president’s dealings with Ukraine and whether he obstructed justice in trying to thwart the special counsel’s investigation in whether the Trump campaign had a role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Democrats familiar with the matter believe the Judiciary panel is on track to begin publicly debating and voting on articles by the end of next week, despite uniform Republican opposition, laying the groundwork for a possible vote to impeach the president by Dec. 20, the final day Congress is scheduled to be in session this year.

Her decision to move forward follows a two-month inquiry by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee that concluded that Trump abused his power by pressuring President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats, while withholding a White House meeting and $391 million in vital military assistance.

Returning to the ceremonial speaker’s hallway where she first announced in late September that Democrats were launching the inquiry, Pelosi sent a clear signal that she was confident they would have the votes they needed to impeach Trump, making him only the third president in American history to face removal by Congress. The proceedings, unfolding less than a year before the 2020 election, will play out amid profound partisan divisions, with Democrats pressing forward amid intense Republican opposition.

“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,” she said during that announcement.

Asked by reporters whether she feared political backlash or Democratic defections, Pelosi said the process was more important that political prognosticating. Of Democrats hesitant to vote in favor of impeachment, she said her team would “catch them up.”

Before the announcement, Trump seemed to welcome the coming fight, calling Democrats “crazy” in a pair of tweets that urged them to get the process over with quickly so he could defend himself in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business,” he wrote.

Afterward, he said Democrats were trying to “Impeach me over NOTHING” and setting a damaging precedent.

“This will mean that the beyond important and seldom used act of Impeachment will be used routinely to attack future Presidents,” he tweeted. “That is not what our Founders had in mind.”

Pelosi limited advance notice of her announcement to a tight circle of advisers, but there have been clear signs this week that Democrats were preparing to move forward with impeachment articles. On Wednesday, after the legal scholars told the Judiciary Committee the facts of the case met the standards for impeachment, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, said explicitly that Trump’s conduct fit his three-part test for impeachment and indicated his panel would press ahead with that in mind.

In saying that she was instructing “chairmen” to draft the charges, Pelosi left open the possibility that the other five panels that have investigated Trump and his administration — including the Intelligence Committee, which drew up the Ukraine report, and the Ways and Means Committee, which has pressed for the release of the president’s tax returns — could also play roles, a break with past practice.

During her news conference, Pelosi framed the case against Trump as much broader than an isolated pressure campaign on Ukraine. She described an “aha moment” when she and other Democrats came to the conclusion that Trump’s treatment of Ukraine was part of a larger pattern of deference toward Russia, a leading U.S. adversary.

“This isn’t about Ukraine; this is about Russia, who benefited by our withholding of that military assistance,” Pelosi said. “So sometimes people say, ‘Well, I don’t know about Ukraine; I don’t know that much about Ukraine.’ Well, our adversary is Russia. All roads lead to Putin. Understand that.”

On Wednesday, Nadler’s team made clear it was considering building charges going beyond the Ukraine matter, related to obstruction of the House’s inquiry. A lawyer for the chairman, Norm Eisen, also asked the witnesses to evaluate whether possible obstruction of justice by Trump laid out by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated whether the Trump campaign had ties to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, was also impeachable. Democrats may ultimately decide to keep the case more narrowly focused on Ukraine.

The Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday laid out a broad framework for what articles of impeachment might look like. It found that the president had abused his power, endangered national security for his own personal benefit by seeking foreign interference in the 2020 election and obstructed Congress by ordering critical witnesses not to testify.

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