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House Speaker Pelosi to announce formal impeachment inquiry of President Trump

House Speaker Nacy Pelosi arrives at a labor rally on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 24, 2019. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara
House Speaker Nacy Pelosi arrives at a labor rally on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 24, 2019. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to announce a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, a dramatic turnaround by the Democratic leader that sets up a constitutional and political clash pitting the Congress against the nation’s chief executive.

Pelosi, D-Calif., is slated to make her announcement later on Tuesday after a closed-door meeting with her caucus, according to Democratic officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe private deliberations.

Impeachment is a rare and extraordinary step that would overturn the decision of U.S. voters in 2016 to elect Trump. Pelosi’s decision foreshadows an intensely partisan fall, triggering pushback from Trump allies with repercussions for the 2020 campaign.

Pelosi’s change of heart comes after days of consulting allies and follows reports that Trump may have pressured a foreign leader to investigate former vice president and potential 2020 campaign rival Joe Biden and his family.

Those reports over a week created a groundswell of support among Democrats for impeachment, with moderates from swing districts joining liberals in calling for an impeachment inquiry.

Pelosi said Tuesday that those allegations forced her to reconsider her position that impeachment is too divisive for the country.

“The president is making lawlessness a virtue in our country,” Pelosi said at a Tuesday afternoon event at The Atlantic. “We don’t ask foreign governments to help us in our elections. That’s what we tried to stop with Russia. It’s wrong.”

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Pelosi later noted that she has long said that “as soon as we have the facts, we’re ready” for impeachment. “Now that we have the facts,” she said. “We’re ready,”

Trump, meanwhile, said that he has authorized the release of the full transcript of his phone call with the Ukrainian president in which Trump is said to have brought up investigating Biden and his son.

“I am currently at the United Nations representing our Country, but have authorized the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine,” Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo! This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!”

Trump has admitted publicly that he asked Ukraine President Zelensky to probe Biden’s son, who has connections to a business that was under investigation. But he said no pressure was involved. However, The Washington Post has reported that Trump asked his staff to put a freeze on military assistance to Ukraine the week before he made the request to Zelensky.

Biden on Tuesday called for Congress to begin impeachment of Trump if the White House continues to stonewall congressional investigations, including questions regarding reports that Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter.

“I can take the political attacks. They’ll come and they’ll go and, in time, they’ll soon be forgotten. But if we allow a president to get away with shredding the United States Constitution, that will last forever,” Biden said in brief remarks Tuesday afternoon in Wilmington, Del.

The House plans to vote Wednesday on a resolution disapproving of the Trump administration’s efforts to block the release of the complaint and the need to protect the whistleblower.

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“This is not a partisan matter, it’s about the integrity of our democracy, respect for the rule of law and defending our Constitution,” Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement.

Impeachment has only occurred twice in U.S. history - against Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither man was removed from office. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face a House vote on impeachment.

Even if the House votes to impeach Trump, ouster requires a conviction in the Senate, where Republicans have rallied to the president’s defense.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to say Tuesday what he would do if the House voted for impeachment.

In the House, a segment of Democrats who opposed impeachment have been coming out in favor of impeachment over the past 48 hours. That total that now exceeds 160 out of 235, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Rep. John Lewis, an influential member in the caucus, was one of the latest Democrats to back impeachment on Tuesday. The Georgia Democrat, a staunch Trump critic and close Pelosi ally, had declined for months to weigh in on impeachment out of respect for the speaker.

“There comes a time when you have to be moved by the spirit of history to take action to protect and preserve the integrity of our nation. I believe, I truly believe, the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come” Lewis said on the House floor. “To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy.”

Top House Democratic lawmakers and staff say the questions to be ironed out are more matters of process and timing. Pelosi and top Democrats are privately discussing the creation of a select committee to conduct impeachment, according to multiple lawmakers and congressional aides. Pelosi had spoken to key allies in recent days about establishing a special panel rather than leaving the task with the House Judiciary Committee, said several Democratic officials.

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Nothing has been decided, the individuals cautioned, but some members are expected to publicly endorse the move soon.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe private deliberations. Pelosi’s office declined to comment on the matter.

The conversations, while tentative, underscore the serious shift in Pelosi’s thinking about impeachment in recent days. Pelosi has been reluctant to endorse impeachment, resisting the extraordinary step for months despite pressure from the party’s liberal base and several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. She has argued that neither the public nor the Republican Party, which controls the Senate, supports impeachment and that could prove politically costly to the moderate Democrats who helped deliver the House majority last year.

The notion of a select committee is already causing consternation in the Democratic caucus and has the potential to spark a turf war about who will take the lead in the process. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted that Democrats “don’t have the luxury of time w/ another committee,” backing the House Judiciary Committee’s claim to oversee the proceedings.

“Judiciary has been investigating& putting the pieces together for months,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “Impeachment belongs there. We must honor jurisdiction, historical precedent,& work done + allow Judiciary to move forward.”

The creation of a select committee would be a blow to the Judiciary panel, which has taken the lead on the Democratic investigations and has already discussed possible articles, even hiring outside counsel to lead a possible impeachment. But some senior Democrats have been unhappy with how the panel has handled its investigative work and hearings, blaming the committee for the House’s failure to move public sentiment in favor of impeachment in recent months.

Atop that, the dynamic between Pelosi, a longtime impeachment skeptic, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler has been tense in recent weeks, as the New York Democrat pushed the speaker to embrace impeachment proceedings before she was ready. For months, Pelosi refused, even as she signed off on the committee’s work and legal arguments suggesting that an impeachment inquiry was already underway.

Privately, Pelosi took jabs at Nadler, telling lawmakers recently that only the full House could say that the chamber was impeaching the president. The comments were first reported by Politico.

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The Judiciary Committee did not respond to request for comment. But the panel’s recent questioning of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, while seen as a political circus, yielded results at the end of the hearing, when a staff lawyer was able to get Lewandowski to confirm allegations of potential obstruction by the president, prompting Democrats outside the panel to suggest that the committee should have its lawyers lead, not members.

A select committee would give Pelosi more power over the process. Pelosi would be able to name the lawmakers on the committee, for example. Many say she’s already eyeing a way to give House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., one of her closest allies, a greater role in any investigation.

The idea could run into resistance not only from Judiciary Democrats who want to protect their turf but from other lawmakers. Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., for instance, also expressed concern that there was not enough time to create a select committee. The House, he said, needs to move now to impeach.

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