Courtney Subramanian and Bart Jansen
Published 10:07 PM EDT Sep 24, 2019
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday evening the U.S. House of Representatives will launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump over allegations he sought help from a foreign leader to damage a political rival ahead of the 2020 election.
“I can say with authority, the Trump administration’s actions undermine our national security and intelligence,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters after meeting Democratic leadership. “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
The announcement came after a string of Democrats stepped forward in recent days voicing support to begin impeachment proceedings amid reports that Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his former vice president Joe Biden, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president.
Trump faced more scrutiny on Tuesday after a Washington Post report stated he told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to withhold congressional-approved military aid for Ukraine just days before his phone call with Zelensky. According to the report, the president sought to use the money as leverage to force Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden and his son.
Here’s what we know about the brewing political storm.
What are Democrats saying about the formal impeachment inquiry?
Pelosi, who has resisted support for Trump’s impeachment for months, met with six committee chairmen, who are leading several investigations into the president, to discuss consensus on whether to proceed with a formal inquiry.
A member of the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said no mechanics of the investigation were discussed during the caucus meeting.
“The news here, obviously, is that Speaker Pelosi has a new position on impeachment,” Welch said. “But the step by step of how we do it was not discussed.”
Democrats say the allegation that Trump sought to leverage military aid to Ukraine in an effort to dig up political dirt on Biden is an abuse of power and an impeachable offense.
Several Democrats, including some freshmen lawmakers who flipped Republican-controlled districts in the 2018 midterm election, have joined growing support for impeachment.
More: Biden calls for Trump to face impeachment if he doesn’t comply with Congressional inquiries
More: Trump says he’ll release transcript of call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. the No.2 Democrat in the Senate, and Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, an icon of the civil rights movement, also threw their support behind impeachment on Tuesday.
How did a whistleblower complaint lead to an impeachment inquiry?
The saga began last week when The Washington Post reported that a whistleblower complaint filed Aug. 12 to the inspector general for national intelligence warranted “urgent concern” regarding Trump.
The secret complaint is reportedly related to Trump’s phone call with Zelensky on July 25, in which the president has said he discussed corruption and Biden. Over the last week, reports emerged that Trump pressured Zelensky during the phone call to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings with a Ukrainian oil and gas firm.
Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani have pushed uncorroborated claims for months that Biden as vice president sought the ouster in 2016 of Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general Viktor Shokin to stop an investigation into the oligarch behind Burisma Group, a Ukrainian energy company where the vice president’s son Hunter served on the board of directors.
The push by the vice president came alongside calls for Ukraine to get rid of Shokin from European diplomats and the U.S. State Department because international leaders said Shokin did too little to fight corruption in the Eastern European country.
The Ukrainian Parliament voted Shokin out. Ukrainian officials have found no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son.
The drama escalated when reports surfaced Monday that Trump had instructed Mulvaney to withhold nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine days before the July phone call, fueling speculation that he did so to pressure Zelensky into investigating Biden. Trump maintains that he delayed the funding because other countries were not contributing funds to Ukraine.
Before Pelosi’s meeting on Tuesday, Trump authorized the release of the transcript of his phone call with Zelensky, calling it a “very friendly and totally appropriate call.” The transcript is expected to be released this week.
What happens now that there’s a impeachment inquiry?
Democrats are expected to bring to the floor Wednesday a nonbinding resolution expressing disapproval of the administration’s blocking release of the complaint filed by the whistleblower. The law requires that such complaints be transmitted to Congress.
The acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is scheduled to testify Thursday before the House intelligence committee, where he is likely to be pressed by Democrats to produce the whistleblower complaint.
House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted Tuesday that the whistleblower’s lawyer, Andrew Bakaj, offered to have his client meet with the panel and has requested guidance from Maguire. Schiff said the meeting could happen as soon as this week.
The House needs a simple majority among its 435 members to recommend articles of impeachment to proceed to a trial in the Senate. Democrats hold a 235-197 majority in the House, giving them far more than the 218 votes needed to impeach.
All eyes will also be on Trump on Wednesday, when he is set to meet Zelensky in person at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Following Pelosi’s announcement, the president tweeted the move is “Witch Hunt garbage” and “bad for our Country.”
Contributing: Aamer Madhani and John Fritze