Leading House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday, accusing him of abusing his office for personal political gain and obstructing the congressional impeachment inquiry.
It was only the fourth time in the 243-year history of the United States that impeachment charges have been brought against an American leader, although Trump's removal from office remains unlikely.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, head of the panel that will first consider the impeachment articles, contended that Trump "sees himself as above the law." Nadler alleged that Trump threatened U.S. national security by withholding key military aid to Ukraine. He said the president threatened the integrity of the 2020 election, in which he is seeking a second term in office, and sought to block congressional review of his actions.
"He consistently puts himself above the country," Nadler said.
Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, who led the weeks-long impeachment inquiry against Trump, called the allegations against the U.S. leader "overwhelming and uncontested."
But Trump has said he did nothing wrong and none of his Republican supporters in Congress has called for his impeachment and removal from office.
"Today the House Democrats announce these two flimsy, pathetic, ridiculous articles of impeachment," Trump told supporters at a Tuesday night rally. "They want to win an election and that's the only way they can do it."
The essence of the case against Trump stems from his months-long effort and that of his key aides to push Ukraine to investigate one of Trump's chief 2020 Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, at the same time the president was temporarily withholding $391 million in military assistance Kyiv wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"Nadler just said that I 'pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 Election,'" Trump tweeted. "Ridiculous, and he knows that is not true. Both the President & Foreign Minister of Ukraine said, many times, that there "WAS NO PRESSURE." Nadler and the Dems know this, but refuse to acknowledge!"
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham called the impeachment effort a "partisan, gratuitous and pathetic attempt to overthrow the Trump Administration and the results of the 2016 election." She said Trump "expects to be fully exonerated" at a trial in the Senate next month.
Nadler said his panel will consider the allegations in the next few days, possibly voting on the articles of impeachment by the end of the week.
That would set the stage for a simple majority vote in the full Democratic-controlled House of Representatives next week, when Trump is likely to become the third U.S. president to be impeached, following Andrew Johnson in the mid-19th century and Bill Clinton two decades ago, although both were later acquitted in Senate trials and remained in office. In 1974, President Richard M. Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment.
If the House impeaches him, Trump would then stand trial in the Republican-majority Senate, although his conviction and removal from office remains unlikely because as yet no Republican has called for his ouster from the White House. While a small number of Republicans have voiced dismay at Trump's request to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, at least 20 Republican senators would have to turn against Trump to reach the 67-vote threshold for a conviction in the 100-member chamber.
Nadler's Judiciary Committee wrapped up impeachment hearings Monday with Nadler saying Trump's efforts to "cheat to win an election" represent a threat to national security.
Republican defenders of Trump say that ultimately Trump released the military aid to Ukraine without Zelenskiy announcing any investigation into Biden, his son Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company or a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election against Trump, while the U.S. intelligence community concluded it was Russia that interfered to help Trump.