Politics & Government

Nancy Pelosi begins Trump impeachment inquiry after more Democrats call for investigation

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that the House of Representatives would launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, saying he had betrayed his official oath and the security of the nation in seeking Ukraine’s help in discrediting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“The actions of the Trump presidency reveal the dishonorable fact of his betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said after emerging from a meeting of House Democrats in the basement of the Capitol. “Therefore, today, I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an impeachment inquiry.”

The announcement followed a flood of calls for impeachment from Democrats, including all of California’s seven freshmen Democrats who defeated Republican incumbents in 2018. It was a stunning development that unfolded after months of caution by congressional party members, who have been divided over using the ultimate remedy to address what they have called flagrant misconduct by the president. The inquiry has the potential to reshape Trump’s presidency and to cleave an already divided nation only a year before he plans to stand for re-election.

Pelosi, D-San Francisco, directed the chairmen of six committees investigating Trump to “proceed under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry” and share it with the House Judiciary Committee. That could potentially lay the groundwork for articles of impeachment based on the findings.

“The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law,” she said.

The decision to begin a formal impeachment inquiry does not necessarily mean that the House will ultimately vote to charge Trump with high crimes and misdemeanors – much less that the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to remove him. But Pelosi and her leadership would not initiate the process unless they were prepared to reach that outcome.

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Pelosi for months had declined to proceed with an impeachment inquiry against Trump despite demands from more liberal members of her party to investigate the president. She waited for former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and did not call for impeachment after he issued his findings.

We can’t go there until we have the facts,” she told reporters a week ago.

But, by Tuesday, a majority of Democrats, including those from California, had issued public statements favoring an impeachment inquiry or vote.

A call to Ukraine

The calls follow a whistleblower’s report made to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson over Trump’s communications with a foreign leader. At issue are allegations that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to open a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son.

Congress still does not know the exact contents of the complaint or who the whistleblower is. Democrats have given Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, until Thursday to turn over the whistleblower complaint or risk reprisal. And they have threatened to subpoena the Trump administration for a copy of the transcript of the president’s call with Zelenskiy and other relevant documents after Thursday if they are not shared voluntarily. But late Tuesday, the White House said it was preparing to release the complaint to Congress as early as Wednesday.

The inspector general found the complaint “credible” and “urgent,” according to a letter to Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Burbank. But the general counsel for Maguire’s office said it had consulted with the Justice Department and determined the complaint did not rise to the level of an “urgent concern” requiring congressional notification.

Subsequent reporting has said the complaint centered on a July phone call, when Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate the son of Democratic presidential candidate Biden, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal. Trump has said the call included discussions about the Biden family, but he’s maintained he did not do anything improper.

The whistleblower, through an attorney, has indicated he or she wants to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, according to Schiff, and is seeking advice from Maguire on how to do so.

The White House downplayed Democrats’ moves toward impeachment.

“The Democrats continue to weaponize politics when they should be working on behalf of their constituents, which is nothing new,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “President Trump is working hard on behalf of our country here in New York City while they continue to scream the word impeachment. Nothing new here.”

After Pelosi’s announcement, Trump on Twitter wrote, “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”

Pelosi met privately Tuesday with the leaders of the six key committees involved in investigations of Trump, and later huddled with the full Democratic caucus. Her announcement came amid a groundswell in favor of impeachment among Democrats that has intensified since late last week, with lawmakers from every corner of her caucus lining up in favor of using the House’s unique power to charge Trump if the allegations are proved true, or if his administration continues to stonewall attempts by Congress to investigate them.

The House Judiciary Committee has been conducting its own impeachment investigation focused on the findings of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as well as allegations that Trump may be illegally profiting from spending by state and foreign governments and other matters. But that inquiry has never gotten the imprimatur of a full House vote or the full rhetorical backing of the speaker, as Democrats remained divided about the wisdom and political implications of impeaching a president without broader public support.

Now, after the revelation of a conversations between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine in which Trump pressed the foreign leader to investigate the Bidens, a cascading flood of Democrats has come out in favor of a formal impeachment proceeding.

Freshman Democrats call for a vote

Reps. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, Katie Hill, D-Santa Clarita, and Gil Cisneros, D-Phelan, announced their support for an impeachment vote or investigation Monday and Tuesday, before Pelosi’s public announcement.

Harder, who represents a moderate district in the San Joaquin Valley that previously was held by Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, had declined to call for an impeachment vote until Tuesday.

“Last week, we found out that the president himself may have put our national security at risk, invited another foreign government to interfere in our election, and used American tax dollars to further his own political agenda,” Harder said. “Anyone willing to sacrifice the national security interests of the United States for their own benefit is unfit to be president. If these allegations are true, it’s time for the House to open impeachment proceedings.”

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Sacramento, on Tuesday also issued a call for an impeachment inquiry just before Pelosi. Bera, like Harder, represents a moderate district and draws Republican challengers.

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“After reading the Mueller Report and witnessing the President’s actions, it has been clear to me that President Trump has committed impeachable offenses and went to great lengths to commit obstruction of justice on several occasions,” Bera said.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, is traveling to Ukraine this weekend, a trip that initially was planned to discuss U.S. military aid to the Eastern European country. The Democratic congressman now intends to meet with officials to discuss the president’s alleged comments about Biden while he’s there.

Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno, was the last of the state’s freshman Democrats to declare his support, following Pelosi’s announcement Tuesday. Cox won his seat in 2018 by less than 1,000 votes against former Rep. David Valadao, a Republican of Hanford, and 2020 is set up to be a rematch between the two.

“I didn’t come to Washington to impeach a president, I came here to do everything in my power to give Central Valley’s working families a hand up and grow our local economy for generations to come. I’ve worked every day to keep that promise,” Cox said. “But when the President of the United States is putting his personal and political interests ahead of the American people and abusing the Constitution, we have a duty to investigate and follow the facts where they lead”

But impeachment would still have an uphill battle – the House only needs a majority vote to impeach, but then it’s sent to the Senate, which needs a two-thirds majority to approve impeachment. Republicans hold a majority in the Senate, and no Senate Republicans have publicly supported impeachment.

There were also indications the whistleblower might not wait around for the complaint to be disclosed. Democrats said Tuesday that a lawyer for the whistleblower had informed the committee his client wanted to speak with the House and Senate intelligence panels, and had requested directions from the office of the director of national intelligence on how to do so.

Though it has attracted much less fanfare, the Senate Intelligence Committee intends to meet privately with the inspector general and Maguire later this week to discuss the whistleblower complaint.

McClatchy reporters Emily Cadei and Michael Wilner, and the New York Times contributed to this report.

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Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.