WASHINGTON: Democrats in the US House of Representatives announced formal charges against President Donald Trump on Tuesday that accuse him of abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to probe a political rival and obstructing Congress` investigation into the scandal. The move, which followed weeks of investigation and hearings, sets the stage for a vote on the charges, or articles of impeachment, in the full Democratic-controlled House. That could happen next week.
The House is almost certain to vote to impeach the Republican president. A trial would then be held in the Republican-controlled Senate, likely in January. No Republican in either the House or Senate has come out in favour of Trump`s removal from office. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told reporters that Democrats had to take action because Trump had endangered the US Constitution, undermined the integrity of the 2020 election and jeopardized national security.
"No one, not even the president, is above the law," Nadler said at a news conference to announce the formal impeachment charges. He was joined by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders involved in the impeachment probe. "Our elections are a cornerstone of democracy. ... The integrity of our next election is at risk from a president who has already sought foreign interference in the 2016 and 2020 elections," Nadler said.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and calls the inquiry a hoax.
The White House, which has refused to participate in the hearings in the House because it says the process is unfair, accused Democrats of engaging in a "baseless and partisan" attempt to undo the results of the 2016 election. "House Democrats have long wanted to overturn the votes of 63 million Americans. They have determined that they must impeach President Trump because they cannot legitimately defeat him at the ballot box," it said in a statement.
After the articles of impeachment were announced, Trump tweeted "WITCH HUNT!" Earlier, he attacked the impeachment effort, tweeting that to impeach a president when the country has such a strong economy "and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness!" He is the fourth US president to face impeachment.
Democratic President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 over a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern, but he was acquitted in the Senate. Republican President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before he was impeached over his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Democratic President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 but not convicted in the Senate.
`OBSTRUCTION AND STALEMATE`
Democrats have moved rapidly since launching their inquiry in late September after a whistleblower complaint about a July 25 telephone call in which Trump sought help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender in the Democratic race to challenge Trump in next November`s election.
The abuse of power charge accuses Trump of using nearly $400 million in US security aid and a possible White House meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart to solicit Ukraine to publicly announce the investigations of Biden and a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election. The obstruction charge accuses the president of defying and impeding the House`s efforts to investigate the scandal, adding that Trump would remain a threat to the US Constitution if he remained in office.
Republicans argue Trump did nothing improper in his call with Zelenskiy and say there is no direct evidence he withheld aid or a White House meeting in exchange for a favour. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell complained that the impeachment process had delayed work on other matters. "Obstruction and stalemate have brought us to the 11th hour. I hope ... that both chambers will be able to set aside Democrats` impeachment parade long enough to get the people`s business finally finished," he said on the Senate floor.
Democrats sought to counter the argument that impeachment was being done at the expense of passing major legislation. Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski pointed to upcoming votes in the House on a new trade deal between the United States, Canada and Mexico, two healthcare-related bills, legislation to fund the government through next September, in addition to impeachment, as examples of movement on key issues. "That`s a good couple of weeks ... for supposedly impeachment-obsessed congressional Democrats who are getting more done in two weeks than the US Senate has done in the last year," said Malinowski, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that aided in the impeachment investigation.
The impeachment battle has divided Americans and raised the heat in an already polarized Congress. No Republican member of Congress has come out in support of impeaching Trump. The House Judiciary panel will meet later this week to consider the articles of impeachment and make a recommendation on whether to send the formal charges to the full House for a vote, Nadler said.