WASHINGTON (CN) — A day ahead of the deadline given to the White House to participate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that Democrats plan to bring articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
“Today, I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment,” Pelosi told reporters this morning in a surprise statement at the Capitol, referring to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.
Pelosi prefaced her news with a nod to a famous document ridding the colonists of a king.
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” Pelosi intoned, reciting the start of the Declaration of Independence.
The image of a monarch is one used by multiple federal judges, as well as by the law professors called to testify for the Democrats on Wednesday, to warn about Trump’s assertion of executive power and refusal to accept oversight by House Democrats.
“The facts are uncontested: The president abused his power for his own personal, political benefit at the expense of our national security, by withholding military aid and a crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival,” Pelosi said.
In fact, Republican lawmakers have bitterly contested the Democrats’ claims that Trump committed bribery, abuse of power, and other high crimes and misdemeanors by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to gin up political investigations.
At a press conference later that morning, the speaker urged reporters to reframe this debate as more than about Ukraine.
“Ukraine was the vehicle of the president’s actions,” Pelosi noted, adding those actions ultimately benefited the country’s longtime adversary.
“This is about Russians,” Pelosi continued, threading the needle between the impeachment inquiry and the Mueller report. “Who benefited from that holding that military assistance? All roads lead to Putin. Understand that.”
Despite her remarks, Pelosi declined to comment on whether the chairmen might draft articles of impeachment to include the Russia investigation or what the timeline might hold. But the committees appear focused on providing answers to those questions.
The Judiciary Committee set a conference on Monday, allowing both the majority and minority to present presentations about how they view the scandal.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy delivered a rebuttal shortly after Pelosi’s conference ended, confronting the speaker with the conditions for impeachment she articulated months earlier.
“Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path because it divides the country,” Pelosi told reporters in March, a caution not welcomed by the party’s increasingly restless left flank. “And he’s just not worth it.”
McCarthy insisted that those conditions have not been met.
“It had to be compelling,” the California Republican said. “It had to be overwhelming. It had to be bipartisan.”
The Intelligence Committee’s Ukraine report was the opposite of bipartisan. It passed on a straight party-line vote. The minority report was less a differing interpretation of the evidence amassed by Democrats than a full-bore attack on its legitimacy.
Just minutes ahead of the Pelosi press event this morning, Trump goaded the Democrats to move quickly.
“The Do Nothing Democrats had a historically bad day yesterday in the House,” Trump tweeted, referring to hearings where three constitutional law professors testified that he committed impeachable offenses. “They have no Impeachment case and are demeaning our Country. But nothing matters to them, they have gone crazy. Therefore, I say, if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business.
“We will have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify, and will reveal, for the first time, how corrupt our system really is,” Trump continued.
Against the Republican rhetoric of putting Democratic lawmakers in the hot seat, the Democrats this week laid out their case for impeachment in a 300-page report that drew the Republican Representative Devin Nunes, the Intelligence Committee’s ranking member, closer to the scandal.
Releasing never-before-seen phone records, Democrats showed that Nunes spoke on the phone with Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, his now-indicted associate Lev Parnas, and conservative pundit John Solomon around the time that The Hill ran a series of editorials smearing former Vice President Joe Biden and then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
Diplomats and national security experts who testified before Congress had been unanimous that the editorials were baseless and often echoed Russian disinformation.
Minority Leader McCarthy was similarly pulled into the fray over $110,000 that he received in donations from Parnas and his criminal co-defendant Igor Fruman via the main fundraising committee for House Republicans.
After those men were indicted with campaign finance violations, McCarthy donated that money to charity.
Nunes set the tone for the Republicans’ counteroffensive against impeachment: Admit nothing, attack the process, and rattle off allegations already dismissed by the witnesses as conspiracy theories against Biden and the Democrats.
The 17 diplomats, national-security officials and other career public servants who testified for more than 100 hours have not, however, disputed the central crux of the Democrats’ allegations: that President Trump used his office to attack a political rival and paper over the conclusions of the Russia investigation.
One thing is undeniable: Tensions are at a boil on Capitol Hill, and even the typically even-keeled speaker of the House displayed an atypical flash of anger after Sinclair reporter James Rosen asked her point blank: “Do you hate the president of the United States?”
The question landed after the press conference had officially ended. Pelosi had been midway to the exit when she turned to the journalist, wagged her finger at him, and returned to the podium to emphasize that Democrats are pursuing impeachment out of principle and not malice.
“As a Catholic, I resent your use of the word ‘hate,’” Pelosi told the reporter for Sinclair, a pro-Trump media conglomerate known for its “must-run” editorials that air management’s views to hundreds of local TV stations across the country. “I pray for the president all the time, so don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.”
With that admonishment, Pelosi left a second time — without interruption.