Washington: President Donald Trump on Tuesday angrily denounced the looming House vote to impeach him as a “Star Chamber of partisan persecution” by Democrats, describing the effort to remove him from office as an “attempted coup” that would come back to haunt them at the ballot box next year.
As Democrats reached a critical threshold, gathering majority support to impeach Trump on the eve of historic votes on Wednesday to charge him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the president raged against the proceeding. Having stonewalled the inquiry at every turn, Trump used an irate and rambling six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to try to make his own case, portraying himself as the victim of hostile enemies determined to destroy his presidency with false accusations.
“This is nothing more than an illegal, partisan attempted coup that will, based on recent sentiment, badly fail at the voting booth,” Trump declared, describing a process enshrined in the Constitution as an attempted government overthrow.
“History will judge you harshly as you proceed with this impeachment charade,” he wrote.
In a missive full of unproven charges, hyperbole and long-simmering grievances against his own government — at one point, he referred to leaders of the FBI as “totally incompetent and corrupt” — Trump angrily disputed both of the impeachment charges against him.
The letter ignored the extensive evidence uncovered during a two-month inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee, based in part on the testimony of members of his own administration, that found that Trump sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals while holding back nearly $400 million in military assistance the country badly needed and a White House meeting for its president.
The charges against Trump assert that he engaged in a corrupt scheme to enlist a foreign power for his own political benefit in the 2020 election, followed by an effort to conceal his actions by blocking congressional investigations. On Wednesday, the House is all but certain to approve them on nearly party-line votes, making him the third president ever to be impeached.
Past presidents have offered contrition as they stared down looming House impeachment votes. Former president Bill Clinton issued a personal apology from the White House Rose Garden in 1998, biting his lip and saying he was “profoundly sorry” for his actions in the Monica Lewinsky affair days before the House voted to impeach him. President Richard M Nixon resigned his office in 1974 rather than face the vote at all.
But Trump was defiant and unrepentant on Tuesday. He accused Pelosi and her party of fabricating lies against him, saying that the speaker and Democrats were possessed by “Impeachment Fever” and vowing that he and the Republican Party would emerge stronger after he was vindicated in a Senate trial.
“You are the ones interfering in America’s elections,” he wrote in the letter, on stationery embossed with the presidential seal. “You are the ones subverting America’s democracy. You are the ones Obstructing Justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish personal, political, and partisan gain.”
The letter appeared to preview the grievance-filled narrative of Trump’s 2020 campaign, echoing the angry rants he delivers at arena-style rallies around the country as he campaigns for reelection.
The president wrote that he knew his letter would not change the outcome of Wednesday’s votes. But he said that the document was “for the purpose of history and to put my thoughts on a permanent and indelible record.”
In her own letter on Tuesday evening to Democratic lawmakers, Pelosi made no reference to the president’s communication, instead urging her colleagues to “proceed in a manner worthy of our oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Trump and Pelosi released their letters Tuesday as Democrats began taking steps toward Wednesday’s final vote by drafting rules for debate on the House floor. Meeting in a tiny hearing room just upstairs from the chamber, the House Rules Committee kicked off the broader House debate over the fate of Trump’s presidency.
“This scheme to corrupt an American presidential election subordinated the democratic sovereignty of the people to the private political ambitions of one man, the president himself,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “It immediately placed the national security interests of the United States of America at risk.”
Republicans responded with the same ferocity that has characterised their defense of Trump throughout the impeachment inquiry, insisting that the president had done nothing wrong and certainly nothing that warranted impeachment, and accusing Democrats of orchestrating an unfair and illegitimate process.
“No matter what happened and no matter where the investigations led, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives was pushing since the day they took over to impeach President Trump,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the Rules Committee.
Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, accused Democrats of ignoring the rules to rush Trump’s impeachment. “What’s up is down and what’s down is up,” he said. “We’re more Alice in Wonderland than we are House of Representatives.”
None of them, however, disputed the now-familiar facts surrounding the case against Trump, that he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden, a leading political rival, as he was holding back vital military assistance from the country.
As House Democrats moved methodically toward Wednesday’s votes, the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate clashed over the procedures that would guide an impeachment trial that is likely to begin early next year.
Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the majority leader, rejected demands by Democrats to call four White House officials as witnesses during a trial, saying there was no reason now for the Senate to agree to take testimony from officials who might bolster Democrats’ case against the president. Later, in a strikingly public rejection of the oath senators take during an impeachment trial to “do impartial justice,” McConnell insisted he had no obligation to be evenhanded in his handling of the proceeding.
“I’m not an impartial juror,” he told reporters. “This is a political process. I’m not impartial about this at all.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, the minority leader, had requested in a letter to McConnell that the Senate take testimony during trial from four key figures, including Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and John Bolton, a former national security adviser.
After McConnell’s rebuff Tuesday, Schumer responded, saying that holding a trial without witnesses “would be an aberration.” In an interview, he said that the move would shirk the responsibility the Senate has to get to the truth about what occurred, and that it “eats away at the foundation of the republic.”
“The bottom line is that a trial with no witnesses, a trial with no documents is not a trial,” he said, adding, “We are going to do everything we can to get these documents and get these witnesses.”
The bitter exchange between the Senate leaders underscored the stakes in a coming negotiation between them over the contours of a Senate trial. It came as the most politically vulnerable House Democrats in moderate districts continued to announce their support for the impeachment charges, signaling that the House vote expected Wednesday is likely to be almost entirely along party lines.
One centrist lawmaker, Representative Jared Golden, D-Maine, announced Tuesday that he would support impeaching Trump for abuse of power, one of the two articles, but would vote against the article charging the president with obstruction of Congress.
“While I do not dispute that the White House has been provocative in its defiance and sweeping in its claims of executive privilege,” Golden said in a statement, “I also believe there are legitimate and unresolved constitutional questions about the limits of executive privilege.”
Others announced they would vote for both articles even though they were aware that the decision could cost them support in their conservative-leaning districts, and possibly even their seats.
Representative Anthony Brindisi, D-NY, said in a statement that he would vote for the articles of impeachment with “profound sadness.” But he said Trump needed to be held accountable for his actions.
“I will be voting not as Democrat or Republican but as an American who has been given this responsibility by the people I serve and the community I love,” Brindisi wrote in an early-morning series of posts on Twitter.
Like Golden, Brindisi is one of 23 freshman lawmakers who represent a district that voted for Trump in 2016.
Several others announced their support for the articles throughout the day Tuesday, and by evening, a majority of the House — all Democrats — had said they would vote in favor. The cascade of announcements from lawmakers who had been deeply skeptical of the drive to force Trump from office was a sign of Democratic unity on the eve of the House vote.
Only one centrist Democrat, Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, intends to break with his party completely and vote “no” on impeachment, and he is planning to switch his affiliation to Republican to insulate himself politically.
Brindisi said in a newspaper opinion article that he became convinced of the president’s wrongdoing after carefully reviewing the evidence collected by the House Intelligence Committee after nearly two months of testimony from national security officials and diplomats in Trump’s government.
“The fact that the president made a political request to a foreign leader of a troubled country with the intention for it to impact an American rival is beyond disappointing,” Brindisi wrote. “It is unconstitutional. I took an oath to defend the Constitution. What the President admitted to doing is not something I can pretend is normal behavior.”
In her own statement, Representative Chrissy Houlahan, D-Philadelphia, said she would vote to impeach the president in order to make sure Congress did not send the message that his behavior was appropriate.
“I grieve for our nation,” Houlahan said. “But I cannot let history mark the behavior of our president as anything other than an unacceptable violation of his oath of office. The future of our republic and of our values depend on that.”
Michael D Shear c.2019 The New York Times Company
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Updated Date: Dec 18, 2019 07:45:36 IST