Pelosi Announces Formal Impeachment Inquiry as Trump Confirms He Withheld Ukraine Aid

Announcement comes following a whistle-blower complaint that claims Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi participates in the Atlantic Festival, September 24, 2019 in Washington.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday the House of Representatives will launch a formal inquiry into whether President Donald Trump should be impeached, declaring that no one is above the law.

The Democratic-controlled House will examine whether Trump sought Ukraine's help to smear former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Pelosi said.

"Therefore today I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry," she said.

"The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law," Pelosi said.

Trump lashed out at the Democrats' decision to launch a formal impeachment inquiry, calling it "Witch Hunt garbage."

"Such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage," Trump said on Twitter. "Can you believe this?"

The White House is preparing to release a whistle-blower complaint reportedly concerning a phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, an administration official said on Tuesday.

The White House will also most likely allow the whistle-blower, a member of the U.S. intelligence community, to meet with congressional investigators, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Earlier, Pelosi said it would be wrong if President Donald Trump asked Ukraine to launch an investigation into a political opponent, even if he did not tie the request to the release of millions of dollar in U.S. aid.

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"There is no requirement that there be a quid pro quo in the conversation," Pelosi said at an event sponsored by The Atlantic magazine. "If the president brings up, he wants them to investigate something, his political opponent, that is self-evident that it is not right. We don't ask foreign governments to help us in our elections."

Pelosi met with all House of Representatives Democrats on Tuesday to map out a way forward after the nation's top spy officials refused to hand over a complaint from an intelligence whistle-blower that reportedly deals with a call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.

Pelosi said it was clear that acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was breaking the law in withholding the complaint from Congress at the direction of the Trump administration.

Trump meanwhile said on Tuesday he has authorized the release of a transcript of his phone call with Ukraine’s president that is at the center of a growing controversy over whether he sought foreign help in smearing a political rival as support surged among Democrats to pursue impeachment.

A Republican, Trump on Tuesday confirmed he had withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine but denied he did so as leverage to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to initiate an investigation that would damage Joe Biden, the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Meanwhile, support for Biden ticked higher following reports that Trump pressured his Ukraine counterpart to investigate Biden, while Americans overall are less supportive of impeaching Trump than they were months ago, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.

In a sign that Biden's supporters appear to be standing by their candidate, 20% of Democrats and independents said they would vote for him in statewide nominating contests that begin next year according to the September 23-24 poll, up 1 percentage point from a similar poll that ran last week.

It also found that 37% of the American public thinks Trump should be impeached, down from 41% in a similar Reuters/Ipsos poll that ran earlier in September. This compares with 44% in a poll that ran in May, after the Trump administration released portions of the Mueller investigation on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

"If we allow a president to get away with shredding the Constitution, that will last forever," Biden told reporters in Wilmington, in his home state of Delaware.

Most Democratic presidential contenders support an impeachment inquiry, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar; former U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro.

"The House must impeach," Warren, the first major contender to call for impeachment following former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report into Russian interference in the 2016 election, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

"I cannot imagine any legitimate or straight-faced reason" to object to the legislation, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, arguing the only reason would be "to protect the president from accountability."

The House will vote on a similar resolution on Wednesday.

Trump said the transcript would show the Ukraine call was "totally appropriate," that he had not pressured Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and that there had been no "quid pro quo" for U.S. aid in exchange for a probe.