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Trump to face articles of impeachment, accused of election tampering, abuse of power

Pelosi’s somber announcement — saying “democracy is what is at stake” — sets the stage for historic House vote before Christmas.

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., makes a statement at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Pelosi announced that the House is moving forward to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. 

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi authorized the drafting of articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Thursday, setting the stage for a House vote likely before Christmas.

Before a backdrop of six American flags, the California Democrat made the historic announcement outside her speaker’s office in the Capitol — the same place where she solemnly launched the inquiry in September into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — saying “the president’s actions have seriously violated the Constitution.” 

“Our democracy is what is at stake,” she said. “The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.”

The announcement came the day after three constitutional scholars testified before the House Judiciary Committee that Trump’s asking the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival rose to the level of an impeachable offense under the Constitution.

“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor.

His statements were made at the first hearing of the Judiciary panel, which is charged with drawing up articles of impeachment. Pelosi’s announcement signaled she has the votes in the House to impeach Trump, which would be just the third time a president is impeached.

After the vote, the Senate must hold a trial to remove the president, which would be unlikely in the GOP-controlled chamber. No president has ever been removed from office.

The articles would be based on findings from a 300-page report released this week by the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees that accuses Trump of soliciting a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election to his benefit and obstructing Congress’ efforts to investigate.

The report came after a two-month House investigation centered on a whistleblower’s complaint about a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. In their conversation, Trump asked Zelenskiy for “a favor” — to open investigations into a theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election and into political rival Joe Biden, whose son served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company when Biden was vice president.

“The president engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage,” the report stated. “In doing so, the president placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”

In her somber announcement, Pelosi invoked the Declaration of Independence in comparing Trump’s conduct to the rule of a king the Founding Fathers wanted to escape and avoid in the new country they wanted to form.

“When crafting the Constitution, the founders feared the return of a monarchy in America and having just fought a war of independence, they specifically feared the prospect of a king president corrupted by foreign influence,” she said. “They, therefore, created a constitutional remedy to protect against a dangerous or corrupt leader: impeachment.”

In Wednesday’s hearing, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman explained framers of the Constitution debated whether impeachment was necessary since the president could be removed from office by voters.

“The upshot of this conversation in the constitutional convention was that the framers believed that elections were not a sufficient check on the possibility of a president who abused his power by acting in a corrupt way,” Feldman said. “They were especially worried that a president might use the power of his office to influence the electoral process in his own favor.”

Pelosi praised those who testified before the investigating committees as “patriots,” noting some of diplomats and White House aids were Trump appointees.

“The facts are uncontested,” Pelosi said. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our own national security by withholding military aid and crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival.”

For his part, Trump urged the “crazy” House Democrats in a series of tweets to get on with the impeachment, in anticipation that he would get a “fair trial” in the Senate.

He later tweeted that his impeachment would not bode well for future presidents.

“This will mean that the beyond important and seldom used act of Impeachment will be used routinely to attack future Presidents,” Trump tweeted. “That is not what our Founders had in mind. The good thing is that the Republicans have NEVER been more united. We will win!”

A fourth scholar invited by Republicans to testify Wednesday also cautioned Congress against a rushed impeachment on what he called the “thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president.”

“I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. “That does not bode well for future presidents who are working in a country often sharply and, at times, bitterly divided.”

Pelosi said the decision to draft articles of impeachment is done “sadly, but with confidence and humility.” She described Democrats as “prayerful and we will proceed in a manner worthy of our oath of office.”

But at a news conference about an hour later, Pelosi angrily took after a reporter who asked if she hated the president as she was leaving.

She turned back to podium and invoked her faith in a lecture on her motivations.

“This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president’s violation of his oath of office,” she said. “As a Catholic, I resent your using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone ... I pray for the president every day.”

She added: “Don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.”

At a later news conference, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Pelosi was “more concerned about tearing the president down than building the country up.″

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of choosing impeachment over important legislation, though Pelosi pointed out at a separate news conference that many House-passed bills are waiting for action in his chamber.