WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, yielding to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election year clash between Congress and the commander in chief.
The probe focusses partly on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government to undermine Democratic foe Joe Biden and help his own re-election effort. Pelosi said on Tuesday such actions would mark a “betrayal of his oath of office” and declared, “No one is above the law.”
The impeachment inquiry, after months of investigations by House Democrats of the Trump administration, sets up the party’s most direct and consequential confrontation with the Republican president, injects deep uncertainty into the 2020 election campaign and tests anew the nation’s constitutional system of checks and balances.
Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the spectre of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.
Meeting with world leaders at the United Nations (UN), he previewed his defence in an all-caps tweet: “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”
Pelosi’s brief statement, delivered without dramatic flourish but in the framework of a constitutional crisis, capped a frenetic week-long stretch on Capitol Hill as details of a classified whistleblower complaint about Trump burst into the open and momentum shifted toward an impeachment probe.
For months, the Democratic leader has tried calming the push for impeachment, saying the House must investigate the facts and let the public decide.
The new drive was led by a group of moderate Democratic lawmakers from political swing districts, many of them with national security backgrounds and serving in Congress for the first time.
The freshmen, who largely represent districts previously held by Republicans where Trump is popular, risk their own re-elections but say they could no longer stand idle. Amplifying their call were longtime leaders, including Representative John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon often considered the conscience of House Democrats.
“Now is the time to act,” said Lewis, in an address to the House.
“To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy.”
At issue are Trump’s actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he is said to have asked for help investigating former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter.
In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze USD400 million in military aid for Ukraine – prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens.
Trump has denied that charge, but acknowledged he blocked the funds, later released.
Biden said on Tuesday, before Pelosi’s announcement, that if Trump doesn’t cooperate with lawmakers’ demands for documents and testimony in its investigations the president “will leave Congress… with no choice but to initiate impeachment.”
He said that would be a tragedy of Trump’s “own making.”