Articles of impeachment against Donald Trump focus on abuse of power, obstruction
Next: Democrats to recommend impeachment to entire House later in week
House Democrats have announced two articles of impeachment charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The charges unveiled Tuesday stem from Trump's pressure on Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rivals as he withheld aid to the country.
"Our president holds the ultimate public trust," said Jerrold Nadler, Democratic chair of the House judiciary committee. "When he betrays that trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the Constitution, he endangers our democracy, and he endangers our national security."
Democrats said they will recommend to the entire House of Representatives later in the week that the president be impeached, after a judiciary committee vote that is expected to fall along partisan lines.
Democrats say Trump abused his power in a July 25 phone call when he asked Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky for a favour in investigating Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani leading a group of officials and others in pressuring Ukraine to do so in the weeks before and after.
Nearly $400 million US in military aid Ukraine depended on to counter Russian aggression, and which Congress approved, was not sent to the allies for several weeks until September, when the Ukraine inquiry in Congress was already underway.
Russia, not Ukraine
Trump also wanted a probe into a discredited theory involving alleged Ukraine cyber intrusions into the Democratic National Committee.
Multiple inquiries, including one led by Republicans in the Senate, blame Russia for a years-long sophisticated campaign to roil the election and breach Democratic communications. As well, FBI director Christopher Wray said in an interview on Monday that the bureau had "no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election."
The Democrats have heard from a number of federal officials after an anonymous whistleblower complaint emerged after the Trump-Zelensky call, which the U.S. president has described as "perfect."
They have been stymied in their efforts to talk to Giuliani and others close to Trump in the administration, as well as in their document requests from various government agencies.
In announcing the obstruction charge, Nadler said the president "engaged in unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry."
Articles of Impeachment (PDF KB)
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"If allowed to stand, it would decimate Congress's ability to conduct oversight now and in the future," added Democratic intelligence chair Adam Schiff.
Trump and Giuliani have sought to investigate events surrounding the appointment of Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, to a Ukraine energy company board. Hunter Biden served on the Burisma board for a period that included two years while his father was U.S. vice-president. No allegations of criminal wrongdoing have emerged.
He'll cheat again: Schiff
Republicans in the House have defended Trump during weeks of impeachment hearings, saying as a president he has the right to be concerned about the corruption issue in Ukraine. Democrats have claimed Trump's interest in corruption was superficial and not coincidental, given Biden's status as a front-runner for the 2020 presidential nomination.
Schiff, describing a months-long process of trying to obtain testimony from a potential witness, said the external courts were not a sufficient remedy in this instance.
"The argument 'Why don't you just wait?' amounts to this: Why don't you just let him cheat in just one more election?" said Schiff.
Trump tweeted ahead of the announcement that impeaching a president with a record like his would be "sheer Political Madness!"
Reaction from his Republican allies was swift on Tuesday.
"With this disgusting impeachment charade, House Democrats have proven themselves guilty of abuse of power and obstruction of congress," New York congressman Lee Zeldin tweeted.
The White House in a statement maligned the announcement as "a baseless and partisan attempt to undermine a sitting President."
"House Democrats have long wanted to overturn the votes of 63 million Americans," said press secretary Stephanie Grisham. "They have determined that they must impeach President Trump, because they cannot legitimately defeat him at the ballot box."
Democrats in their charges point to what they call a pattern of misconduct by Trump in seeking foreign interference in elections, first investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry of Russian contacts with his campaign as a candidate in 2016.
In approving the draft of the articles of impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing a legal and political challenge of balancing the views of her majority while hitting the Constitution's bar of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours."
Some liberal lawmakers wanted more expansive charges encompassing the findings from Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Centrist Democrats preferred to keep the impeachment articles more focused on Trump's actions toward Ukraine.
In his report, Mueller said he could not determine that Trump's campaign conspired or co-ordinated with Russia in the 2016 election, but that it was receptive to the help. Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump of obstructing justice in the probe and left it for Congress to determine, also describing in his report multiple instances of the president and his allies hindering the investigation.
Bill Clinton was the last president impeached by the House, in 1998. As with President Andrew Johnson in the 19th century, Clinton was acquitted in the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 after articles of impeachment were approved but before a Senate trial could take place.
A Senate trial would be presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. A conviction would require a two-thirds majority, but there has seemed little evidence that the Republican-led chamber has that many votes to meet the threshold.
Some, like Senate judiciary committee chair Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, seem to have made up their minds before even serving as de facto jurors.
"The abuse of power is by House Democrats, not the president of the United States," said Graham. "They've abused their power to investigate … I think the whole thing is a sham."
The last Senate impeachment trial occurred in 2010, involving a federal judge from Louisiana. Thomas Porteous was convicted after being accused of corruption and abuse of his office.
With files from CBC News