Pelosi announces launch of formal impeachment inquiry into Trump

 
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds 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 TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick 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 BidenFormer Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 NealOn The Money: Half of states deplete funds for Trump's 0 unemployment expansion | EU appealing ruling in Apple tax case | House Democrats include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package House Democrats to include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election 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 SpanbergerVulnerable Democrats tell Pelosi COVID-19 compromise 'essential' Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report Virginians wait up to four hours to cast early voting ballots MORE (Va.), Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinWray: Racially motivated violent extremism makes up most of FBI's domestic terrorism cases Overnight Defense: House chair announces contempt proceeding against Pompeo | Top general says military has no role in election disputes | Appeal court rejects due process rights for Gitmo detainees Top general: Military will play no role in resolving any electoral dispute MORE (Mich.), Andy Kim (N.J.) and Steven HorsfordSteven Alexander HorsfordThe robbing of a wildlife refuge in Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford wins Democratic House primary in Nevada Overnight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader MORE (Nev.), as well as close Pelosi allies like Reps. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellOn The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid Races heat up for House leadership posts MORE (Mich.), Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenBusiness groups start gaming out a Biden administration Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility MORE (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroOvernight Health Care: CDC pulls revised guidance on coronavirus | Government watchdog finds supply shortages are harming US response | As virus pummels US, Europe sees its own spike Trump HHS official faces firestorm after attacks on scientists Ahead of a coronavirus vaccine, Mexico's drug pricing to have far-reaching impacts on Americans 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 EmmerHouse Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts The Hill's Convention Report: Trump to attack Biden at final night of convention | Speech comes amid hurricane, racial justice protests | Biden accuses Trump of 'rooting' for violence Republicans cast Trump as best choice for women 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 YarmuthPelosi, Democrats unveil bills to rein in alleged White House abuses of power GOP, White House struggle to unite behind COVID-19 relief House seeks ways to honor John Lewis 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 NadlerDemocrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Schumer: 'Nothing is off the table' if GOP moves forward with Ginsburg replacement Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence 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 ShermanSherman joins race for House Foreign Affairs gavel Castro launches bid for House Foreign Affairs gavel The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump, GOP senators at odds over next stimulus bill 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 ShalalaOn The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' MORE (D).

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Ginsburg becomes the first woman to lie in state in the Capitol McCarthy says there will be a peaceful transition if Biden wins 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 SchiffSchiff to subpoena top DHS official, alleges whistleblower deposition is being stonewalled Schiff claims DHS is blocking whistleblower's access to records before testimony GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power 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.