Pelosi announces launch of formal impeachment inquiry into Trump

 
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats seek leverage for trial The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday formally launched an impeachment drive she had rejected all year, a momentous decision that carries huge implications for the 2020 elections.

In an announcement notable for its formal tone, Pelosi, who had rejected moving forward with impeachment for months, framed the move as a necessary response to the long trail of allegations against President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE.

“Our republic endures because of the wisdom of our Constitution enshrined in three co-equal branches that act as checks and balances,” Pelosi said from a flag-adorned Speaker’s Balcony behind her office in the Capitol. “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
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Her decision was sparked by Trump’s own admissions that he had spoken to Ukraine’s president about looking into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, just weeks after withholding military aid to that country.

The allegations against Trump shocked Democrats, particularly since their timing occurred after the end of a long investigation by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE focused on whether Trump or his campaign had cooperated with Russia in its meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and said the aid to Ukraine, which was eventually delivered, was withheld because other countries had not offered help to Kiev. He also said he would release a transcript of his July 25 call, a move that did not satisfy Democrats.

The president’s conversations also launched a complaint from a whistleblower within the administration that the executive branch has refused to turn over to lawmakers. That has angered Democrats and contributed to an escalating number of them calling for an inquiry. Several outlets reported late Tuesday, however, that Trump was prepared to turnover the whistleblower report, as well.

The Speaker’s short announcement capped an extraordinary day on Capitol Hill where Pelosi held back-to-back meetings with the six committee chairmen investigating Trump, and then the full 235-member caucus.

The speed with which the evolving controversy turned into an impeachment inquiry was startling, even for longtime veterans on Capitol Hill.

“You had all of a sudden this kind of galloping series of events, where it became, ‘No I didn’t; what if I did?; so what?,” said Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealExpiring tax breaks set off year-end scramble Ways and Means Committee announces rival surprise medical billing fix House panel votes to temporarily repeal SALT deduction cap MORE (D-Mass.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, describing Trump’s attitude toward congressional investigators. “And I think that’s what propelled the next request that the Speaker made to the Caucus to proceed with a formal inquiry.”

The pivot also came after more than two dozen Democrats this week publicly endorsed impeachment articles, or an impeachment inquiry, into Trump’s alleged misconduct.

The long and diverse list included a bloc of vulnerable Democratic freshmen from swing districts, including Reps. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerPro-Trump group targets Democrats with 'End the Witch Hunt' campaign Club for Growth extends advertising against House Dems over impeachment NRCC campaign prank leads to suspicious package investigation MORE (Va.), Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinVulnerable Democrats feel heat ahead of impeachment vote Pelosi's whiplash moment brings praise and criticism Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (Mich.), Andy Kim (N.J.) and Steven HorsfordSteven Alexander HorsfordProgressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising Mass shootings have hit 158 House districts so far this year Pelosi announces launch of formal impeachment inquiry into Trump MORE (Nev.), as well as close Pelosi allies like Reps. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellProgressives hopeful for deal with Pelosi to avert showdown on drug prices Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA Pelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors MORE (Mich.), Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenHouse passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers How we compromised to help America's farms Democrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward MORE (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroAdvocacy groups decry Trump's 'anti-family policies' ahead of White House summit 'Medicare for All' backers notch win with high-profile hearing Republicans push back on expanding paid family leave beyond federal workers MORE (Conn.).

Pelosi had previously rejected an inquiry out of concern it could harm such Democrats, making her reversal all the more dramatic.

Pelosi’s move is politically risky for Democrats, as polling shows a majority are against impeachment. Pelosi had previously suggested impeachment would be a political gift to the White House, saying it could help Trump win a second term. Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerDemocrat who opposed Trump, Clinton impeachment inquiries faces big test Republicans disavow GOP candidate who said 'we should hang' Omar George Papadopoulos launches campaign to run for Katie Hill's congressional seat MORE (Minn.), who heads the House GOP campaign arm, predicted Tuesday that Pelosi’s decision would doom her majority next year.
 
In the closed-door caucus meeting, Pelosi downplayed the importance of the move in a possible message to centrists.
 
“It doesn’t change much from what is already going on, but we can call the umbrella of the committee work an impeachment inquiry,” Pelosi told lawmakers in the caucus meeting, tamping down the significance of the day’s events, according to a source in the meeting.

Despite the magnitude of the event, Pelosi’s move on Tuesday does not definitively mean the House will vote on articles of impeachment, and lawmakers leaving the late afternoon caucus meeting expressed some confusion over what would come next.

The decision to launch an impeachment inquiry does not require a vote, and the same six committees that had been investigating Trump will continue to do so.

Some lawmakers even suggested the shift was largely rhetorical. “A lot of us said effectively we’re doing it; but now we’re officially doing it,” said Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Kentucky Democrat: McConnell's agenda driven by 'power without a purpose' MORE (D-Ky.).

Pelosi is not moving forward with the creation of a special select committee on impeachment, multiple Democratic sources said, and she set no deadline for the Judiciary Committee to complete its work even as she urged the panel to move “expeditiously.”

One Democratic lawmaker said there was “a lot of frustration in the room,” not just among progressives, but among some moderate members, as well. Democrats have received little clarity or guidance about next steps, the lawmaker said, even as Democrats have been criticized for muddling their impeachment message.

Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers Collins accusing Democrats of 'tearing down a world leader' GOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures MORE (D-N.Y.) was equally as vague as Pelosi in terms of what will happen next.

“Full speed ahead,” he told reporters without offering any timeline.

Still, Pelosi’s shift heartened many liberal impeachment supporters, who welcomed the change in messaging dynamics.

“It’s one thing to put in a footnote in a court document about a grand jury file that you’re exercising your prosecutorial role,” said Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by UANI — GOP, Democrats square off at final impeachment hearing Live coverage: Democrats, Republicans seek to win PR battle in final House impeachment hearing Mnuchin expresses concerns about proposed taxes on financial trades MORE (D-Calif.), referring to the Judiciary Committee’s effort in late July to obtain grand jury material from the Mueller investigation.

“But it’s another thing for the Speaker to stand up and say we are pursuing impeachment.”

Republicans hardly saw the change as symbolic, and the GOP’s campaign arm was busy throughout the day Tuesday blasting attack emails targeting each and every moderate Democrat conveying an openness to impeaching the president.

“Shalala joins with the socialists,” read the heading of one such email, targeting Florida Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House panel unveils rival fix for surprise medical bills | Democrats punt vote on youth vaping bill | Pelosi drug bill poised for passage after deal with progressives House Democrats to vote on flavored e-cigarettes ban next year Ways and Means Committee announces rival surprise medical billing fix MORE (D).

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers College Republicans launch campaign calling for GOP to take action on climate change Pelosi's whiplash moment brings praise and criticism MORE (R-Calif.) piled on.

“I realize 2016 did not turn out the way Speaker Pelosi wanted it to happen,” he said, “but she cannot change the laws of this Congress.”

In between meetings at the United Nations, Trump fired off a series of tweets calling the impeachment inquiry “A total Witch Hunt!” and “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”

Thursday could be another pivotal day.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire will be in the hot seat, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee in a public hearing. Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats seek leverage for trial Pence's office denies Schiff request to declassify call with Ukrainian leader Comey, Schiff to be interviewed by Fox's Chris Wallace MORE (D-Calif.) and other Democrats are demanding that Maguire hand over the whistleblower complaint, but he’s refused under direction from the White House and Justice Department.

Some Democrats said the practical implications of Pelosi’s announcement will be fully dependent on what she does next.

“The truth is only time will tell how serious the Speaker is about it,” said one Democratic lawmaker.

Juliegrace Brufke and Zack Burdyk contributed.