Debate on articles of impeachment against President Trump to begin Wednesday
House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump: Abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – House Democrats plan to begin debating Wednesday two articles of impeachment accusing President Donald Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, setting up a constitutional clash between the two branches of government that has only happened three times before.
Hours after Democrats announced the articles of impeachment Tuesday, they scheduled a Wednesday evening meeting of the House Judiciary Committee to consider them.
The committee plans to begin debating the articles at 7 p.m. Wednesday and resume at 9 a.m. Thursday. No deadline was set for a final committee vote. If approved, the full House could vote on the articles as early as next week.
The accusations against Trump closely track the Intelligence Committee's findings about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The panel found Trump withheld a meeting and military aid from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky while pressuring his counterpart to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
The first article alleges Trump abused his power by urging the Ukraine investigation. The second article alleges Trump obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the House investigation, including defying subpoenas for documents and testimony.
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said it was an abuse of power for Trump to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest. Nadler said Trump's stonewalling and "indiscriminate defiance" of the investigation represented obstruction of Congress.
"A president who declares himself above accountability, above the American people, and above Congress's power of impeachment which is meant to protect against threats to our democratic institutions is a president who sees himself as above the law," Nadler said. "We must be clear: No one, not even the president is above the law."
The nine-page articles stated the accusations against Trump were a "scheme" to benefit his own re-election, rather than the country.
"Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election," the text said. "He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage."
"In so doing, President Trump used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process," the text said.
The inquiry bitterly divided Congress along party lines. Democrats contend Trump represents an urgent threat because he sought to interfere in the 2020 election.
But Trump has called the inquiry a partisan “WITCH HUNT!” a phrase he tweeted again Tuesday, and a “hoax.” Trump met Zelensky and released the $391 million in aid without an announcement of investigations. Congressional Republicans contend Trump had the authority to suspend aid and set foreign policy.
Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, called the articles a "baseless and partisan attempt to undermine a sitting president" that would hurt the American people rather than the president.
“House Democrats have long wanted to overturn the votes of 63 million Americans," Grisham said. "They have determined that they must impeach President Trump because they cannot legitimately defeat him at the ballot box. The Democrats’ use of a phone call with the president of Ukraine – with a transcript the President himself released – served as their excuse for this partisan, gratuitous, and pathetic attempt to overthrow the Trump administration and the results of the 2016 election."
Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said Trump is looking forward to the Senate trial.
"The president wants this sooner rather than later, because, again, he has done nothing wrong," Gidley said.
Trump had said he might testify in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election before submitting written answers to questions. Trump also considered sending lawyers to the House impeachment hearings before deciding against participating.
Gidley said Trump must decide whether to allow testimony from other officials, such as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who didn't testify in the inquiry. Decisions about any testimony, including Trump, are "something that will have to be determined later."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said it wasn't hard to defend Trump because he had done nothing meriting impeachment while being treated unfairly by the Democratic majority.
"It is not difficult to defend this president because the president did nothing that is impeachable," McCarthy said. "It's hard to defend Democrats because of how they're running this House and what they're doing by their majority."
If the House adopts the articles, the Senate would hold a trial in early 2020 to decide whether to remove Trump from office. But he isn’t expected to be ousted because while Democrats control the House, Republicans control the Senate.
Only two presidents have been impeached – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 – but neither was removed. Former President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment, but before a full House vote.
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The release of articles came a day after the Judiciary Committee held a hearing with lawyers on that panel and the Intelligence Committee who summarized the findings of their investigations. Intelligence released a 300-page report about Trump's dealings with Ukraine on Dec. 4. The Judiciary Committee also released a 55-page report about former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“We stand here today because the president’s continuing abuse of his power has left us no choice,” said Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “The president’s misconduct is as simple and as terrible as this: President Trump solicited a foreign nation, Ukraine, to publicly announce investigations of his opponents and a baseless conspiracy theory promoted by Russia to help his re-election campaign.”
“In so doing, he undermined our national security and jeopardized the integrity of our next election,” Schiff added.
Pelosi was flanked at the announcement by the six chairmen who investigated Trump: Nadler; Schiff; Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.; Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; and Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.
Democrats had considered an article dealing with obstruction of justice, dealing with 10 episodes described in Mueller's report. Several of the episodes described Trump trying to thwart Mueller's probe or to remove him.
But Mueller made no decision about charging Trump because Justice Department policy bars charging a sitting president. Trump has denied obstructing Mueller because he wasn’t removed and administration officials provided information to investigators.
Engel, D-N.Y., said Democrats settled on two articles to focus on the strongest charges.
"The consensus was that these are the two strongest points and we should just go with them and not water anything down," Engel said.
The leaders spoke in the ornate Rayburn Room, just off the House floor, in front of four American flags as the shutters from dozens of cameras went off. A group of journalists, and even staff at the Capitol, crowded into the ornate room adorned with two large chandeliers. The lawmakers answered no questions.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, called the articles the product of a baseless attempt to upend the will of the people less than 11 months before the next election.
“Democrats remain in denial about the results of the 2016 election and our country's undeniable successes under President Trump's leadership,” Jordan said. “The Democrats' impeachment effort is a miscarriage of the House of Representatives' constitutional obligations and marks a shameful chapter in American history."
Contributing: David Jackson and Nicholas Wu.