WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the House into a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, acquiescing to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election year clash between Congress and the commander in chief.
The probe centers on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government for his reelection, actions Pelosi said would mark a "betrayal of his oath of office." She declared: "No one is above the law."
The decision sets up an election season clash between Trump and Congress that seems certain to exacerbate the nation's fierce partisan divides and inject deep uncertainty into the 2020 presidential contest.
In response to Pelosi's announcement, Trump tweeted his disagreement with the decision.
"Such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage. So bad for our Country!"
Pelosi had long resisted pursuing impeachment, but her caucus moved swiftly in favor of a probe in recent days following reports that Trump asked Ukraine's president to investigate Democratic foe Joe Biden and his son. Her decision sets up her party's most urgent and consequential confrontation with a president who thrives on combat, and it injects deep uncertainty in the 2020 White House race.
Meanwhile, Biden said Congress must use its full constitutional authority to investigate Trump's actions and if he doesn't cooperate he'll leave lawmakers "with no choice but to initiate impeachment." If that happens, Biden said, it will be a tragedy of Trump's own making.
Pelosi has spent months trying to keep an impeachment inquiry at bay. But her position became untenable this week as more members - including crucial moderates in political swing districts - swung in favor of a probe following reports that Trump pushed Ukraine's leader for help investigating Democrat Biden and his son during a summer phone call.
Trump, who was meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, called the impending inquiry a "witch hunt" and predicted it would be a "positive for me." He authorized the release of a transcript of his call with Ukraine's president and predicted it would show no evidence of wrongdoing.
"You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call," Trump said.
The president has all but dared Democrats to open impeachment proceedings, repeatedly stonewalling requests for documents and witness interviews in a variety of ongoing investigations. Trump advisers say they are confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster his political support. Pelosi has shared that concern and has spent months trying to hold off liberals in her caucus pushing for impeachment.
But the atmosphere on Capitol Hill started shifting following a whistleblower complaint that centered in part on Trump's call with the Ukrainian president, but is also said to include other events.
Trump has suggested he brought up Biden and his son Hunter in the phone call as part of discussions over corruption in Ukraine - despite no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either man. He also confirmed on Tuesday that he ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in the days before the phone call, prompting Democrats to charge that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on Biden.
In remarks ahead of her caucus meeting, Pelosi notably said a quid pro quo wasn't necessary to establish an impeachable offense.
"We don't ask foreign governments to help us in our election," Pelosi said.
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.