By Gregg Re | Fox News
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the formalization of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump Tuesday evening, saying “the president must be held accountable” for his “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and the betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
Pelosi had met with Tuesday afternoon with her caucus of House Democrats prior to giving the planned statement. House Republicans were expected to speak shortly afterward.
Wary of compromising the electability of vulnerable Democrats, Pelosi had long resisted taking the dramatic step publicly — even though other top Democrats have insisted, in legal filings and the media, that an impeachment inquiry already has been in progress for months.
Republicans said the move would prove to be a major mistake. “It is a colossal error,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn told Fox News. “And I’m kind of surprised that Speaker Pelosi, as shrewd as she is, would let it get to this point.”
“It is a colossal error.”— Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn
Pelosi’s impeachment imprimatur came after a flurry of those swing-district Democrats late Monday wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post backing an impeachment inquiry, or a fact-finding look at whether an impeachment vote by the full House is warranted. And on Saturday night, New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Democrats’ failure to act on impeachment was a “national scandal.”
TRUMP VOWS TO RELEASE TRANSCRIPT OF CALL WITH UKRAINE’S PRESIDENT
Pelosi’s decision heartened Democrats who have long called for impeaching the president, only to be stalled after Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of Russian collusion by the Trump campaign.
But, new momentum built quickly for the move after a whistleblower’s allegation that the president pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a July phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Joe Biden has acknowledged that, when he was vice president, he successfully pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, while Shokin was investigating the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings — where Hunter Biden was on the board.
In remarks to reporters at the United Nations on Monday, Trump denied linking the aid money to Ukraine’s investigative actions. “No, I didn’t — I didn’t do it,” Trump said. But he also repeatedly called the Bidens’ actions in Ukraine a “disgrace,” and added: “It’s very important to talk about corruption. … Why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?”
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“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 wrote on Twitter. “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!”
Department of Justice lawyers, as well as lawyers at the White House, have been advising White House officials to release the transcript since last week, a source familiar with the conversations told Fox News.
At an event Tuesday, Pelosi intimated that impeachment would remain on the table, regardless of what the transcript showed. Conservatives charged that she was moving the goalposts and lowering expectations.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., pressured Pelosi on Sunday to institute an impeachment inquiry. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
“We have many other, shall we say, candidates for impeachable offenses in terms of the Constitution, but this one is the most understandable by the public,” Pelosi said, referring to the Ukraine phone call allegation. “It’s really important to know this: There is no requirement that there be a quid-pro-quo in the conversation.”
Democrats continued to aggressively push for the whistleblower to testify and to see the full whistleblower complaint throughout the day. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Tuesday afternoon that testimony from the whistleblower might be imminent.
“We have been informed by the whistleblower’s counsel that their client would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the Acting DNI [Director of National Intelligence] as to how to do so,” Schiff said in a tweet. “We‘re in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistleblower’s testimony as soon as this week.”
It was unclear if Acting DNI Joseph Maguire would provide that guidance. Maguire is expected to testify himself before the House Intelligence Committee at an open hearing on Thursday — but Maguire has refused to share some information, including the complaint.
A source familiar with the matter told Fox News this week that the whistleblower had no firsthand knowledge of Trump’s call with Zelensky.
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As Pelosi met with her caucus, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, called for the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to immediately have access to the whistleblower complaint. The panels “should be allowed to evaluate the complaint in a deliberate and bipartisan manner consistent with applicable statutes and processes in order to safeguard classified and sensitive information,” Schumer asserted.
Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., also released a joint statement Tuesday announcing an imminent resolution condemning the White House’s failure to turn over all related documents to Congress.
“Allegations that the President of the United States sought to enlist a foreign government to interfere in our democratic process by investigating one of his political rivals – and may have used the withholding of Congressionally-appropriated foreign assistance days earlier as intimidation – are deeply alarming,” Hoyer and Pelosi wrote.
They demanded the whistleblower’s protection, and for “the Acting Director of National Intelligence [to] provide Congress the [whistleblower] complaint, as specified under the law, and all requests for documents and testimony relating to this allegation.”
Pelosi and Hoyer continued: “On Wednesday, the House will vote on a resolution making it clear Congress’s disapproval of the Administration’s effort to block the release of the complaint and the need to protect the whistleblower. This is not a partisan matter, it’s about the integrity.”
Meanwhile, Yahoo News reported that the GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee had written to the whistleblower’s attorney, requesting a closed-door interview.
The precise implications of Pelosi’s shift on impeachment were unclear, given Democrats’ previous rhetoric on the topic. Earlier this month, Hoyer contradicted some of his colleagues by insisting that Congress is not engaged in any kind of “impeachment inquiry” — before reversing course hours later in a “clarifying” press statement.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Other top Democrats, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., repeatedly have insisted in court and in public that an impeachment inquiry has been in progress.
“It has been an impeachment inquiry,” Nadler has said. “What we are doing is clear. It has been very clear. It continues to be very clear.”
But, when asked if he thought it was an impeachment inquiry, Hoyer initially responded with an emphatic “No.”
Hoyer added: “I think the delineation ought to be whether or not they are considering a resolution of impeachment.”
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The Justice Department, in court filings earlier this month, sought to block congressional Democrats’ bid for secret grand jury material from the Mueller investigation by citing the confusion inside the caucus over whether or not they’re pursuing an “impeachment investigation.”
“The committee’s own description of its investigation makes clear that it is too far removed from any potential judicial proceeding to qualify,” the DOJ said.
172 House Democrats have now signaled strong support for an impeachment inquiry. 235 Democrats and 198 Republicans are in the House, with one pro-impeachment independent — and a majority would be required to successfully impeach the president. A highly unlikely two-thirds vote in the GOP-controlled Senate would be needed to convict and remove the president.
Vice President Mike Pence would then take office in that scenario.
“The ironic thing is is that everything that our critics in the media are leveling at the president from this phone call, and leveling at our administration, everything that Democrats on Capitol Hill are running off and describing — Vice President Joe Biden bragged about — which was a quid-pro-quo — withholding American aid in exchange for a specific action,” Pence told Fox News’ “Hannity” on Monday.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Ronn Blitzer, and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.
This is a developing story; check back for updates. Gregg Re is a lawyer and editor based in Los Angeles.