Pelosi’s comments followed a meeting with leaders of six congressional committees collectively responsible for the investigation into Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The phone call was recently revealed to be the subject of an August whistleblower report that the Trump administration has fought to keep from Congress.
The purpose of the meeting was reportedly to establish the basis of a select committee to carry out the impeachment proceedings, anonymous Democratic officials told the Washington Post.
"The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections," Pelosi said in the televised address. "Therefore, today I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry."
"The president must be held accountable," the House Speaker continued. "No one is above the law."
"This is not a partisan matter, it’s about the integrity of our democracy, respect for the rule of law and defending our Constitution," Pelosi said in a Tuesday statement released shortly after the address in conjunction with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). "We hope that all Members of the House – Democrats and Republicans alike – will join in upholding the rule of law and oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution as Representatives of the American people.”
The decision to begin a formal impeachment inquiry doesn't mean the House will vote to charge Trump with breaking the law, much less that he will be found guilty. If they do charge him, the trial will be conducted by the Republican-dominated Senate.
The House will vote on a resolution on Wednesday "making it clear Congress’s disapproval of the Administration's effort to block the release of the complaint and the need to protect the whistleblower. This is not a partisan matter," Pelosi said Tuesday.
Trump Cooperates on Transcript, But Not Whistleblower
The announcement follows news earlier in the day that Trump would release an unredacted transcript of the call with Zelenskyy on Wednesday. However, he has dismissed reports about the whistleblower complaint, calling it “presidential harassment” and “another Fake News story.”
Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire has so far blocked congressional members from viewing the whistleblower’s report, following direction from the White House and Department of Justice that the report isn’t governed by laws covering intelligence whistleblowers.
"The DNI is at the present time breaking the law at the direction of the administration," Pelosi said at an event sponsored by The Atlantic earlier Tuesday afternoon. "It's really unfortunate."
House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) wrote on Twitter Tuesday that the committee had ”been informed by the whistleblower’s counsel that their client would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the Acting DNI as to how to do so. We‘re in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistleblower’s testimony as soon as this week.”
Maguire and Michael Atkinson, head of the Office of Intelligence Community Inspector General, announced Monday they would brief the chair and vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the whistleblower issue later this week.
The US Senate, which is controlled by Trump’s Republican Party, passed a resolution Tuesday afternoon calling for the whistleblower complaint to be submitted to both the House’s and Senate’s respective intelligence committees.
“A select committee would not necessarily grant lawmakers any new fact-finding power,” the New York Times reported Tuesday, noting that Democrats might prefer one to simply streamline the process. It would also allow Pelosi to hand-pick Democratic members of the committee.
'Many Candidates for Impeachable Offense'
Democrats have beat the drums of impeachment since before Trump was sworn in as president in January 2017. For most of that time, the ostensible accusation justifying his potential censure or removal from office was that he’d colluded with a foreign power - Russia - to get elected in 2016. However, when the Mueller report blew that theory out of the water in March 2019, Democrats began searching for other impeachment justifications, including supposed obstruction of justice by interfering with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, or even the hush money he paid to a porn actress to keep mum about their past affair.
“We have many other, shall we say, candidates for impeachable offense in terms of the Constitution,” Pelosi said at the Atlantic Festival Tuesday, “but this one is the most understandable by the public."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on fallout over Pres. Trump's Ukraine call: "We have many other, shall we say, candidates for impeachable offense in terms of the Constitution...but this one is the most understandable by the public." https://t.co/DRge7OzrQ7 pic.twitter.com/a0dAjf3qAN— ABC News (@ABC) September 24, 2019
In the July call with Zelenskyy, Trump reportedly pressed him to open a probe into former US Vice President Joe Biden as to whether or not he shielded his son, Hunter Biden, in 2016 when he pressed Kiev to fire its prosecutor general, who was investigating a company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. Biden has admitted he pressured the Ukrainian government to do so by threatening to withhold $1 billion in loans.
Joe Biden presently leads polls in the race to be nominated as the Democratic Party’s challenger to Trump in the 2020 election.
Biden has indicated he will back impeachment proceedings against Trump if he refuses to comply with a Monday subpoena by three House committees for a transcript of the call with Zelenskyy. However, he has not commented about an impeachment regarding the whistleblower block.
Trump, however, has dismissed the importance of an impeachment move, telling reporters Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York it would be “a positive for me” and that Democrats would lose the 2020 election if they pressed forward.
'A Total Witch Hunt!'
Following Pelosi's speech, Trump tweeted, "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. So bad for our Country!"
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. So bad for our Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
"They never even saw the transcript of the call," he continued. "A total Witch Hunt!"
PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who leads the Republicans in the lower chamber of Congress, told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday evening that Pelosi didn't have the authority to open the impeachment inquiry on her own.
"Our job here is a serious job. Our job is to focus on the American public ... our job is to legislate - not to continue to investigate something in the back when you cannot find any reason to impeach this president," McCarthy said. "This election is over, I realize 2016 did not turn out the way Speaker Pelosi wanted it to happen, but she cannot change the laws of this Congress. She cannot unilaterally decide we're in an impeachment inquiry. what she said today made no difference of whats been going on - it's no different from what [House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry] Nadler's trying to do."