U.S. House charges Trump with abuse of power, cover-up

House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., stands at center. (Susan Walsh/AP photo via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released two articles of impeachment on Tuesday morning, accusing President Donald Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, two high crimes and misdemeanors that the resolution calls “grossly incompatible with self-governance and rule of law.”

The articles are next destined for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee and then finally a full vote on the House floor.

“Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election,” the resolution states.

Trump’s conduct is dubbed a “scheme” throughout the resolution and described as one that he perpetrated solely to benefit his 2020 re-election bid while harming the prospects of his likely opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Resolving a longstanding internal debate among Democrats, the articles of impeachment do not directly cite the report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections compiled by former special counsel Robert Mueller. What the resolution makes does make clear, however, is that Trump’s conduct in Ukraine has a precedent.

“These actions were consistent with President Trump’s previous invitations of foreign interference in United States elections,” the articles state, under the passage detailing Trump’s alleged abuse of power.

The resolution says the 45th president of the United States abused his powers of the presidency in a manner that also compromised U.S. national security and the very integrity of the U.S. democratic process.

“On this solemn day, I recall that the first order of business for members of Congress is the solemn act of taking an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Pelosi declared, in front of four American flags and the iconic life-sized portrait of George Washington.

Appearing with Pelosi were Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney.

“Our president holds the ultimate public trust,” New York Representative Nadler told reporters.
“When he betrays that trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the Constitution, he endangers our democracy, and he endangers our national security.”

The article on obstruction is perhaps the most predictable decision from House Democrats following a weekslong tug-of-war with the White House as Trump has refused to submit to records requests or subpoenas and has regularly directed cabinet-level staff to defy congressional subpoenas.

“Without lawful cause or excuse, President Trump directed executive branch agencies, offices, and officials not to comply with those subpoenas,” the resolution states. “President Trump thus interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, and assumed to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the ‘sole power of impeachment’ vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.”

By directing the White House to defy subpoenas filed by investigating committees, Democrats argue this obstruction of Congress is an abuse of power in itself, too.

“President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law,” the articles states, before concluding that Trump’s conduct warrants impeachment and removal from office.

The resolution also rattles off a list of Trump administration officials who were barred by Trump from responding to Congress. They are White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney; assistant to the President and senior adviser to the Chief of Staff Robert Blair; National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg and the council’s deputy legal advisor Michael Ellis; special assistant to the president for economic policy Preston Wells Griffith; acting director for the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought and its associate director for national security Michael Duffey; Energy Department chief of staff Brian McCormack; and T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, counselor for the State Department.

“In the history of the Republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate high crimes and misdemeanors,” the resolution states.

“This abuse of office served to cover up the president’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment — and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives,” it continues.

Democrats signaled that articles of impeachment of this nature were imminent after the House Judiciary Committee’s nine-hour long hearing on Monday where lawmakers weighed evidence amassed by the House Intelligence Committee from more than 100 hours of testimony from 17 fact witnesses.

All painted a portrait — one that the Democrats call undisputed — of what some have called a scheme of missiles for misinformation. Congressional witnesses testified that Trump attempted to strong-arm neophyte Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do him a political favor in return for military assistance that his country desperately needed.

While the impeachment inquiry has been ongoing, Democrats have fought in the courts to rule on subpoenas seeking evidence, bank records and witness testimony. Representative Schiff answered critics who have told Democrats to postpone today’s announcement until the end of litigation.

“The argument ‘why don’t you just wait’ amounts to this: Why don’t you just let him cheat in one more election?” Schiff said.

The Democrats’ attorney Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor known for taking on Russian organized crime, did not hold back in accusing Trump of an ongoing danger to U.S. democracy.

“President Trump’s persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security,” Goldman told Congress on Monday.

On July 25, Trump asked Zelensky to announce two political investigations: one into former Vice President Joe Biden and another to sow doubt about the conclusions of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Recent reports showed Giuliani is still jockeying for those probes.

For Democrats, the evidence presented over weeks of public and private testimony by senior-ranking Trump administration officials corroborated and revealed a scheme by Trump to leverage $391 million in military assistance in order to apply pressure on Ukraine, a long-time U.S. ally.

In a press conference shortly after Democrats announced their articles of impeachment, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy continued the Republicans’ tradition of attacking the process that has brought Congress to the brink of impeaching Trump. He rebuked Democrats for conducting interviews with witnesses in the House Intelligence rather than House Judiciary Committee, for not allowing Republicans to call fact witnesses of their own, and for preventing Trump from participating in witness questioning. Democrats did invite Trump to participate in hearings before the Judiciary Committee, but Trump declined to do so.

“It is not difficult to defend this president, but it is very difficult to defend this Congress on what they have done and history will not be kind to them,” McCarthy said.

Pressed on the substance rather than procedure by a reporter, McCarthy deflected and dodged a question about whether Trump’s with Zelensky was “perfect” as the president claimed. For McCarthy he question is not whether the call was perfect but whether it was impeachable. He responded to that question with a clear no.

On the afternoon articles of impeachment were unveiled against him, Trump is set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a gathering that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer found significant.

“When the speaker said, ‘All roads seem to lead to Putin,’ his actions in Crimea, his actions in the Middle East, his actions in other places seem to corroborate that assertion,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters at his weekly press briefing.

Trump has never had a White House meeting with Zelensky, the head of state of a U.S. ally.

Midway through Hoyer’s chat with reporters, the articles of impeachment became public and revealed that there would be no explicit reference to the Mueller report in the resolution.

Asked about that omission, Hoyer replied: “I think it’s useful to have this be a focused debate and action by the Congress of the United States.”

“People understand it,” the congressman added. “The evidence that has been adduced to date has been pretty compelling that the president abused his power.”

Hoyer predicted an impeachment vote is likely to be held next week.

Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, emphasized that the Mueller investigation remains relevant moving forward, if not explicitly.

“The articles of impeachment, in both the obstruction of Congress and the abuse of power, make reference to the pattern of the president’s behavior,” Cicilline told Courthouse News in an interview. “I think that includes a reference to what we discovered during the Mueller investigation: a pattern of inviting or welcoming foreign interference in [his] campaign and a pattern of preventing Congress from investigating this misconduct.”

“So, I think you’ll see in the presentation of evidence in this trial this evidence of a pattern of behavior by the president, which will support convictions on both of these counts,” Cicilline added.

Roughly an hour after announcing the articles of impeachment, Democrats announced a major trade deal with the Trump administration: the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, also known as the USMCA.

Asked by one reporter about the “whiplash morning,” Speaker Pelosi quipped: “The day is young,” drawing laughter from reporters.

Pelosi said that the timing had been less a coincidence than the realities of the congressional calendar.

“It’s that we get to the end of a session, and there have to be some decisions made,” she said.