Washington: House Democratic leaders Tuesday formally called for President Donald Trump’s removal from office, asserting that he “ignored and injured the interests of the nation” in two articles of impeachment that charged him with abusing his power and obstructing Congress.
In nine short pages, the draft articles accused Trump of carrying out a scheme “corruptly soliciting” election assistance from the government of Ukraine in the form of investigations that would smear his Democratic political rivals. To do so, Democrats charged, Trump used as leverage two “official acts”: The delivery of $391 million in security assistance and a White House meeting for Ukraine’s president.
“In all of this, Trump abused the powers of the presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit,” according to a draft of the first article. “He has also betrayed the nation by abusing his office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.”
A second article charges that by ordering across-the-board defiance of House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to the Ukraine matter, Trump engaged in “unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance” that harmed the House’s constitutional rights.
“In the history of the republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House to investigate ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ ” the obstruction article says.
In announcing a pair of charges that was narrowly focussed on the Ukraine matter, Democrats made a careful political calculation intended to project unity and protect moderate lawmakers who face steep reelection challenges in conservative-leaning districts.
They left out an article that had been the subject of internal debate among Democrats in recent weeks. It would have charged Trump with obstruction of justice based on his attempts to thwart Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russian election interference in 2016.
Such an article had been championed by progressives — including Representative Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee — but resisted by moderates who had long signalled they would not support impeaching Trump based on Mueller’s report.
Democrats also backed away from charging the president with bribery, one of only a few offences listed in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment, and a term Democrats had increasingly been using to describe Trump’s conduct.
Democrats unveiled drafts of the two articles before a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, where the panel will debate and vote on the charges. It could vote by Thursday to recommend them to the full House for final approval.
If the House follows through and impeaches the president next week, Trump would stand trial in the Senate early in the new year, Senator Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. The president has said he wants to see a robust defence of his actions in the Republican-controlled chamber, but McConnell has said the length of a trial is still subject to negotiation with Democrats.
“We are obligated under the Constitution to turn to it when it comes over, and we will,” McConnell, R-Kentucky, the majority leader, told reporters.
Less than a year before the 2020 election, the action by the House sets up a historic and highly partisan constitutional clash between Trump and congressional Democrats — one that is likely to have broad political implications for both parties and exacerbate the divisions of a polarized nation.
But Democrats argued that the political calendar made their endeavour even more urgent, given the nature of the charges against the president. They said Trump had engaged in a troubling pattern of behaviour that began when he welcomed Russia’s help in the 2016 election and would continue into 2020 if they did not stop it.
“The argument ‘Why don’t you just wait’ amounts to this: ‘Why don’t you just let him cheat in one more election?’ ” Representative Adam B Schiff of California, chairman of the Intelligence Committee who oversaw the House’s Ukraine investigation, said at a news conference. “Why not let him have foreign help just one more time?”
A small group of centrist House Democrats from districts Trump won in 2016 met behind closed doors Monday and discussed the possibility of opposing the articles and instead trying to build bipartisan support for a resolution to formally censure the president. The idea would spare moderate lawmakers a difficult vote to support a highly partisan impeachment, followed by an all-but-inevitable acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate. But the lawmakers agreed it had little real chance of success and dismissed the move.
Trump responded angrily to Democrats’ announcement, and used Twitter to proclaim their charge that he pressured Ukraine “ridiculous”.
The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, accused Democrats of “manufacturing an impeachment inquiry and forcing unfounded accusations down the throats of the American people.” Their goal, she said, was to try to use the House’s impeachment power to weaken Trump’s chances of reelection.
“The announcement of two baseless articles of impeachment does not hurt the president, it hurts the American people, who expect their elected officials to work on their behalf to strengthen our nation,” Grisham said in a statement. “The president will address these false charges in the Senate and expects to be fully exonerated, because he did nothing wrong.”
Speaking earlier on Tuesday morning from a wood-panelled reception room just off the floor of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and leaders of six key committees said that Trump’s actions toward Ukraine, and his efforts to block Congress’ attempt to investigate, had left them no choice but to pursue one of the Constitution’s gravest remedies. The move will bring a sitting president to the brink of impeachment for only the fourth time in American history.
“Our president holds the ultimate public trust,” Nadler said. “When he betrays that trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the Constitution, he endangers our democracy, and he endangers our national security.”
While individual lawmakers will be able to propose amendments to the articles during this week’s debate and potentially force a committee vote on additional charges, the articles are not expected to substantively change.
Although the details differ substantially, the articles of impeachment Democrats outlined Tuesday echo those the Judiciary Committee approved in 1974 charging former president Richard M Nixon with abuse of power, obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress. Nixon resigned before the full House had a chance to vote on the articles, amid clear indications that the charges had broad support from members of both parties.
There is less overlap with the other modern presidential impeachment. In 1998, the House approved articles charging former president Bill Clinton with perjury and obstruction of justice. Two other counts, of perjury and abuse of power, failed in votes on the House floor. It was that kind of split decision that Democratic leaders are determined to avoid this time.
The charges are all but certain to face monolithic Republican opposition. If that does not change, the impeachment vote could take place strictly along party lines, save for one Independent, Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, who has signalled he will join Democrats.
Representative Peter T King, a moderate New York Republican who is retiring and sometimes crosses the aisle to work with Democrats, echoed other members of his party when he denounced the articles as “shameless, baseless abuse of congressional power by House Democrats”.
A handful of House Republicans who had earlier expressed openness to the possibility of impeaching Trump said Tuesday that they intended to vote against the articles as drafted by Democrats. Several said they remained uncomfortable with Trump’s actions related to Ukraine but did not believe he should be removed from office.
“This is not to say that these things don’t disturb me,” said Representative John Curtis, R-Utah. “It’s not to say they don’t bother me. But that’s not the question at hand. The question is whether they are impeachable. I have to be frank — I just don’t see it.”
The impeachment effort faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it would require the support of two-thirds of the chamber to convict Trump and remove him from office — a highly unlikely result.
The charges mirror the arguments Democratic lawyers for the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee made a day earlier when they argued that Trump’s behaviour posed a “clear and present danger” to fair elections and national security.
Citing testimony from senior diplomats and White House officials, they summed up the case against Trump, asserting that he and his agents pressured Ukraine’s president to announce investigations of former vice-president Joe Biden and an unsupported claim that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to interfere in the 2016 election. As part of the scheme, they asserted, Trump withheld a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in security assistance for the country as leverage.
They also said that Trump had systematically sought to halt their investigation by ordering government officials not to testify and refusing to hand over documents subpoenaed by the House related to the Ukraine matter.
Republicans pushed back against both conclusions, arguing that Democrats had manufactured a scandal against a president whose policies they despise. They argued that the evidence gathered by the House had not proved Trump was acting to benefit himself politically when he pressed Ukraine to announce investigations into his political adversaries.
“Despite years of witch hunts and investigations, Democrats have not produced a single piece of evidence that Trump engaged in bribery, extortion, or any other high crimes or misdemeanours,” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the Republican whip. “Pelosi is bowing to the demands of the most radical elements of her base.”
Nicholas Fandos c.2019 The New York Times Company
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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2019 08:48:19 IST