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Democrats see whistleblower report as smoking gun

For months, President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE’s critics have been scouring his record in search of the smoking gun that might compel voters to back impeachment. 

With this week’s release of a damning whistleblower report revealing Trump’s questionable dealings with Ukraine’s president, some lawmakers think they’ve found it.  

"I think that's the missing link; that's what we've been waiting for,” Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldBickering Democrats return with divisions Congress must protect kidney disease patients during the COVID-19 pandemic The time for HELP is now: Senate should pass bill to expedite recovery following natural disasters MORE (D-N.C.), a former leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Hill. “Now all the dots connect, and I think there's a clear and compelling case for impeachment.” 

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Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuWhy Biden's diversity efforts fall flat Asian lawmakers set sights on Biden's Labor secretary pick House Democrats introduce bill to address diversity at State Department MORE (D-Calif.), head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, delivered a similar assessment. 

"In general, the feeling is that it more than adds to our case that the president broke the law and that he violated the Constitution,” she said. “They certainly look to me like they're impeachable offenses."

Just a week ago, the liberal effort to convince Democratic leaders to impeach Trump appeared to be a long shot. The White House was stonewalling the Democrats’ investigations; the calendar was quickly shrinking and the 2020 elections inching closer; and only 130 lawmakers had endorsed an inquiry — well below the 218 needed to pass articles of impeachment on the House floor. 

But the revelation that Trump had pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE — and the allegation that he’d threatened to withhold U.S. military aid to Ukraine unless Zelensky complied — has quickly changed the math. 

Scores of Democrats from across the party’s ideological spectrum came out this week in support of an impeachment inquiry (the number now stands at 220). More significantly, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Retired Army general: 'We can't have demonstrators showing up at a state Capitol with damn long guns' Graham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday did the same, calling Trump’s dealings with Zelensky “a betrayal” of his office and a threat to national security.

The next day, Trump, promising it would vindicate him, released a memo detailing the phone call. And on Thursday morning, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffAngus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Schiff says 'massive intelligence and security failure' led to Capitol breach Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, released the declassified whistleblower report that had launched the saga. 

Both only added fuel to the fire.

"It's confirmation of everything we knew: that he was essentially trying to collude with a foreign government to interfere with an election,” said Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeDemocrats point fingers on whether Capitol rioters had inside help Biden's Pentagon pick puts Democrats in a bind CDC studies impact of 'forever chemical' exposure on COVID-19 antibodies MORE (D-Mich.). “And he can't even deny it; now he just has to say it's OK.”

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Even those Democrats who have declined to endorse impeachment seemed to be reconsidering in light of the new revelations. 

"It doesn't look good for the president, that's for sure,” said Rep. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote Pelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker MORE (D-Wis.). “Trying to strong-arm a foreign leader to meddle in our election and holding up military aid. Boy, what part of this does he not get is illegal?" 

Still, Pelosi is sounding a warning to those lawmakers who want to impeach Trump yesterday: Not so fast. While the Speaker on Tuesday took the momentous step of endorsing a “formal impeachment inquiry," she’s also treading cautiously as the Intelligence Committee seeks additional information and testimony related to the Ukraine episode.  

"There are some in our caucus who think, 'Let's just have an impeachment.' No, we have to have an inquiry to further establish the facts," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday. "There is no rush to judgment, and in some ways we are a jury, open to what might be exculpatory or not." 

Butterfield endorsed the idea of continuing the Intelligence Committee investigation, not least as a tool for educating voters to the details of the Ukraine affair. But he also warned against dragging out the process, saying he’s hoping Democrats can pass articles within six weeks.

“Certainly, there always needs to be more investigation, but based on what we have right now, I think there's a prima facie case for removal from office,” Butterfield said. “Not just impeachment, but removal." 

“This is clear and compelling,” he added. 

Meanwhile, many progressive activists and lawmakers say they’ve seen all they need to see; they want to move straight to articles of impeachment now rather than wait for a weeks- or months-long investigation they fear could drag into 2020 because of Trump stonewalling.

At a MoveOn impeachment rally outside the Capitol, just hours after the public release of the complaint on Thursday, Public Citizen President Robert Weissman led activists in a call and response.

“What do we need?” he yelled. “Impeachment!” the crowd shouted back. 

“When do we need it?” Weissman screamed. “Now!” the crowd responded.

Some progressive leaders speaking at the rally agreed. 

“We’ve actually finally reached the tipping point in our resolve to hold this president accountable. This morning, I was shocked but not surprised to see the contents of the whistleblower complaint … Abuse of power, intimidating a foreign government, and even hiding the transcript,” said Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeWatch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget House Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis 150 House Democrats support Biden push to reenter Iran nuclear deal MORE (D-Calif.), a liberal bomb thrower from the San Francisco Bay Area who was one of the earliest and loudest advocates for impeachment. 

“Trump has betrayed his oath of office. Betrayed it! We must impeach him now,” she said. 

Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history Rep. Adriano Espaillat tests positive for COVID-19 Overnight Health Care: Trump admin makes changes to speed vaccinations | CDC to order negative tests for international travelers | More lawmakers test positive after Capitol siege MORE (D-Wash.) told the activists outside the Capitol that Trump’s behavior with Ukraine fits a “pattern” of illegal acts but that this has taken things to a new level of corruption.

“The president of the United States abused the power of his office, and he abused that power to ask a foreign president to investigate and come up with information, dirt, that would hurt his political opponent and would interfere with the 2020 election,” said Jayapal, a Judiciary Committee member. “And that is an absolute abuse of power. It is, in my mind, a high crime and misdemeanor.”