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Democrats expected to level charges of abuse of power and obstruction against Trump

U.S. House Democratic leaders preparing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump are expected to announce next steps early Tuesday, lawmakers said.

Trump efforts called 'clear and present danger' to fair elections at impeachment hearings

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler called Donald Trump's conduct 'clearly impeachable' Monday. (The Associated Press)

House Democratic leaders preparing articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump are expected to announce next steps early Tuesday, lawmakers said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi convened the House chairmen leading the impeachment inquiry in her office after a daylong judiciary committee hearing that laid out the case against Trump as Democrats warned of the risk his actions toward Ukraine now pose to U.S. elections and national security. Chairmen left the meeting late Monday at the Capitol — some saying an announcement would come in the morning.

"I think there's a lot of agreement," Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the foreign affairs committee, told reporters. "You'll hear about about some of it tomorrow."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of the judiciary committee and others have not disclosed how many articles of impeachment are being prepared, but Democrats are expected to put forward charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

What remains uncertain is whether Pelosi will reach beyond the Ukraine probe to former special counsel Robert Mueller's findings of Trump's actions in the report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"A lot of us believe that what happened with Ukraine especially is not something we can just close our eyes to," Engel said. "'This is not a happy day. I don't get any glee at this. But I think we're doing what we have to do. We're doing what the Constitution mandates that we do."

'Clearly impeachable'

Nadler closed his panel's impeachment hearing on Monday with a condemnation of Trump's conduct as a continuing threat to the country's elections and democratic system of government.

"Such conduct is clearly impeachable. This committee will proceed accordingly," he said after the panel heard from House Intelligence Committee staff on their investigation of Trump.

In a raucous hearing aimed at laying the groundwork for a vote later this week on formal impeachment charges in the House's judiciary committee, the top Democrat on the panel said there was extensive proof of Trump's wrongdoing.

"The evidence shows that Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States, has put himself before his country. He has violated his most basic responsibilities to the people. He has broken his oath," Nadler said. "I will honour mine."

Republicans fired back, peppering the hearing with objections, points of order and other parliamentary manoeuvres forcing Nadler to gavel them into silence.

The proceedings were also briefly disrupted early on by a representative from the conspiracy website InfoWars, who shouted that Democrats were committing treason before he was led away by police.

"Presumption has now become the standard instead of truth," said Representative Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the panel. "They're desperate to have an impeachment vote on this president."

Democratic staff lawyer Barry Berke laid out the case Monday at the House judiciary committee on Capitol Hill that President Donald Trump committed impeachable offences. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Ahead of the hearing, Republicans placed black-and-white signs in the committee room to underscore their argument that Democrats were on a partisan mission to unseat a president who did nothing to merit impeachment.

One sign quoted Pelosi saying, "We cannot accept a second term for Donald Trump."

The hearing on Monday was a key step before the articles of impeachment that the full House is likely to vote on before Christmas.

A vote in the Democratic-led House in favour of impeachment would trigger a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate where a two-thirds vote would be needed to remove the president from office. A conviction is considered unlikely.

After weeks of investigation into Trump's request that Ukraine investigate former vice-president Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face the president in the 2020 election, the committee is focused on two articles charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Ukraine aid withheld for several weeks

Democrats have also accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million US in security aid to Ukraine — a vulnerable U.S. ally facing Russian aggression — and holding back a coveted White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as leverage to pressure Kyiv into investigating Biden and his businessman son, Hunter Biden, who sat on a Ukraine energy board for over two years while his father was U.S. vice-president.

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.

"The president put his own domestic political interests over the nation's national security and foreign policy," said Barry Berke, the Democratic counsel who testified. "A president cannot abuse his power to secure an election. He cannot do that at the expense of the American people."

"Of course we have an election coming up. That's not a reason to postpone these discussions, it's a reason we should have these discussions."

Republican staff attorney Steve Castor testifies Monday on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Trump has denied wrongdoing and said the inquiry is a hoax.

Republican counsel Steve Castor said there were "legitimate explanations that are not nefarious" for pressuring Ukraine, focusing on Zelensky's unclear commitment to fighting corruption as an unproven new leader.

As well, the aid to Ukraine was eventually released, Castor said.

"To impeach a president, who 63 million people voted for, over eight lines in a call transcript is baloney," he said, referring to partial summary released of the now-controversial July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky.

Daniel Goldman, the majority counsel for the House intelligence committee, picked up on Democrats' argument that leaving Trump in office would open the door to further undermining of the U.S. electoral process.

"Trump's persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security," Goldman said during Monday's hearing.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said the White House was not participating in the judiciary panel's proceedings because co-operating would be "colluding with an illegitimate process."

"We're not going to do their dirty work," Conway told reporters at the White House shortly before the hearing began. "Maybe in the Senate if it's a fair trial," the White House may participate, she said.

It has been 20 years since Americans last witnessed impeachment proceedings, when Republicans brought charges against Democratic president Bill Clinton arising from a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern. He was acquitted in the Senate, as was Andrew Johnson in the 19th century. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 as the impeachment process was underway in the House.

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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