Top US Democrat Nancy Pelosi will on Tuesday announce the start of a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives, US media reported earlier in the day.
Pelosi, who is Speaker of the House, was to deliver a statement at 5:00pm (21:00 GMT) after consulting with party members demanding Trump’s impeachment over claims he pressured Ukraine’s leader to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden.
Citing sources close to Pelosi, US media including The Washington Post, The New York Times and NBC News reported she would announce the formal impeachment inquiry, the first step in a process that could ultimately lead to Trump’s removal from office.
The reports come as Democrats lined up in ever greater numbers on Tuesday urging an impeachment inquiry of Trump.
They were pushed to action by Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s new leader and what the US president may or may not have said about corruption, frozen US millions and Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump said he would release a transcript of the call on Wednesday.
Pelosi has so far resisted calls for an impeachment inquiry, urging restraint as a number of investigations into Trump by congressional committees proceed.
In an appearance before Tuesday’s meeting with her caucus, Pelosi sidestepped questions about whether she believed Trump’s actions were impeachable, but she said it would be wrong for the president to ask a foreign leader for help investigating Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“We don’t ask foreign governments to help us in our election,” Pelosi said.
An impeachment inquiry into a president in the middle of his re-election campaign is virtually certain to exacerbate the country’s partisan divides and inject deep uncertainty into the 2020 presidential context.
Trump has all but dared Democrats to take that step, confident that the spectre of impeachment led by the opposition party would bolster his political support. Pelosi has shared that concern and has spent months trying to hold off politicians in her caucus pushing for impeachment.
Reacting to Tuesday’s reports, Trump said an impeachment probe would be “positive” for him.
“If [Pelosi] does that, they say that’s a positive for me,” Trump said while in New York for the UN General Assembly.
Ukraine phone call transcript
At issue is a summer phone call Trump had with Ukraine’s president, which came to Congress’s attention through a whistle-blower complaint. Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong in the call, but has suggested he raised Biden and his son Hunter as part of discussions over corruption in Ukraine – despite no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either man.
Moments before Pelosi spoke, Trump tweeted that he had authorised the release on Wednesday of a transcript of the call.
“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call,” Trump said.
Lawyers from the White House counsel’s office and the Justice Department had been strongly pushing the president to release a copy of the transcript because they believe it will show he did not act improperly, a person familiar with the matter said. The president made the final decision Tuesday to authorise the release of the transcript.
The whistle-blower’s complaint is said to include events that go beyond the phone call. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said on Tuesday that the whistle-blower wants to speak with the panel and could testify as soon as this week.
Pelosi has been weighing several options in response to the whistle-blower complaint.
She said on Tuesday the House will vote on Wednesday on a resolution on the complaint. It’s not clear what that resolution includes.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler has declared that his committee is already conducting impeachment hearings, but the panel has been unable to get many key witnesses and documents from the Trump administration.
Some Democrats have focused their outrage on the prospect that Trump offered a quid pro quo to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – the release of $400m in military aid in exchange for dirt on Biden. Trump personally ordered his staff to freeze the aid, which had been authorised by Congress, in the days before the phone call to Zelenskiy. But he has denied tying the money to information about his possible Democratic challenger or Biden’s son.
Pelosi notably said a quid pro quo was not necessary to establish an impeachable offence.
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine.
Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kiev. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.