Pelosi Says House Will Draft Impeachment Charges Against Trump

The speaker said she was instructing House committee chairmen to move forward with articles of impeachment against President Trump; another hearing is scheduled for Monday.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that the House was ready to move forward with articles of impeachment, escalating a partisan confrontation that could lead to a vote by Christmas.CreditCredit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Nicholas Fandos

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday that the House of Representatives would begin drafting impeachment articles against President Trump, pushing ahead with a rapid timetable that could set the stage for a vote before Christmas to charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors.

Invoking the words of the Constitution and the nation’s founders, Ms. Pelosi said it had become clear over two months of investigation that Mr. Trump had violated his oath of office by pressing a foreign power for help in the 2020 election. Allowing Mr. Trump to continue in office without remedy, she said, would come at “the peril of our republic.”

“His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” Ms. Pelosi said in a formal address delivered against a backdrop of American flags in the Capitol. “Our democracy is what is at stake. The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit.”

Ms. Pelosi’s announcement came as the House Judiciary Committee laid out the next steps for its formal impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump. The committee said it would convene a hearing on Monday to allow its lawyers and those for the Intelligence Committee to formally present evidence in the inquiry.

The hearing may touch on one of the few remaining internal disputes among Democrats in an impeachment inquiry that has otherwise largely united them. Democrats must decide whether to limit their case to Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, or include earlier allegations that he obstructed justice in trying to thwart the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

On Thursday, returning to the ceremonial speaker’s hallway where she announced in September that Democrats were initiating the inquiry, Ms. Pelosi sent a clear signal that she was confident Democrats had the votes they needed to impeach Mr. Trump. But the proceedings, unfolding less than a year before the 2020 election, will play out amid profound partisan divisions and pose political risks for Democrats and Republicans alike, as much as for the president himself.

Democrats familiar with the matter believe the judiciary panel is on track to begin publicly debating and voting on articles by the end of next week, despite uniform Republican opposition. That would lay the groundwork for a possible vote to impeach the president by Dec. 20, the final day this year that Congress is scheduled to be in session.

A precise timeline for the next two weeks is among a long list of significant unknowns as Democrats march forward with an impeachment whose outcome appears all but certain. The White House, for instance, has until Friday to notify the Judiciary Committee whether it intends to present a defense or recommend new witnesses for testimony. If it does, the panel could be compelled to add a day or more of additional hearings, slowing the process.

The Senate completely omitted the month of January from a 2020 legislative calendar it published this week because of the uncertainty surrounding an impeachment trial.

Hours after announcing next steps, Ms. Pelosi erupted angrily when a reporter asked at a news conference if she hated Mr. Trump, repeating what Republicans have argued was her party’s main motivation for going forward with impeachment.

Turning on her heel on her way out of the briefing to answer, Ms. Pelosi strode back to her microphones for a lecture about her motivations.

“This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president’s violation of his oath of office,” she said sharply. “As a Catholic, I resent your using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone.”

“So don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that,” she added.

Her decision to move forward follows an inquiry by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee that concluded that Mr. Trump abused his power by pressuring President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats, while withholding a White House meeting and $391 million in vital military assistance.

“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment,” she said during that announcement.

Asked by reporters whether she feared political backlash or Democratic defections, Ms. Pelosi said the process was more important than politics. Of Democrats hesitant to vote in favor of impeachment, she said her team would “catch them up.”

In light of the facts uncovered so far, she added, the House had a duty to push forward with impeachment regardless of the anticipated outcome in the Senate, which she described as overseen by a “rogue Senate leader who would just ignore the facts and the Constitution on all of this.”

Before the announcement, Mr. Trump seemed to welcome the coming fight, calling Democrats “crazy” in a pair of tweets that urged them to proceed quickly so he could defend himself in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business,” he wrote.

ImageRepresentative Doug Collins, right, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, speaking with Representative Jerrold Nadler, center, the chairman, after a hearing Wednesday on impeachment.
Representative Doug Collins, right, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, speaking with Representative Jerrold Nadler, center, the chairman, after a hearing Wednesday on impeachment.Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Afterward, he said Democrats were trying to “Impeach me over NOTHING,” and setting a damaging precedent.

“This will mean that the beyond important and seldom used act of Impeachment will be used routinely to attack future Presidents,” he tweeted. “That is not what our Founders had in mind.”

The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said Democrats had “clearly abused their power,” “lied to the American people” and “made a mockery of the law.” And Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, said Thursday was “not a day that history will be proud of.”

Brad Parscale, the manager of Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, circulated polling data on Twitter to argue that Ms. Pelosi was “marching members of her caucus off the plank and into the abyss,” adding, “Impeachment is killing her freshman members.”

The poll found that the majority of voters in the Oklahoma district of Representative Kendra Horn do not support impeachment.

But the numbers also illustrated why Democrats believe they are on solid ground in moving forward. In Ms. Horn’s district, which Mr. Trump won in 2016 by 14 points, the poll found 45 percent supported his impeachment, compared with 52 percent who opposed it. If Ms. Horn, who won her district by 1 point, voted to impeach the president, only a minority of voters said they would be less likely to support her re-election.

Recent national polls have found a slim majority supports the impeachment inquiry, but the public is split over whether Mr. Trump should be removed.

Ms. Pelosi limited advance notice of her announcement to a tight circle of advisers, but there have been clear signs this week that Democrats were preparing to move forward with impeachment articles. On Wednesday, after the legal scholars told the Judiciary Committee the facts of the case met the standards for impeachment, the committee’s chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, said explicitly that Mr. Trump’s conduct fit his three-part test for impeachment, and indicated his panel would press ahead with that in mind.

In saying that she was instructing “chairmen” to draft the charges, Ms. Pelosi left open the possibility that the other five panels that have investigated Mr. Trump and his administration could also play roles, a break with past practice. Those include the Intelligence Committee, which drew up the Ukraine report, and the Ways and Means Committee, which has pushed for the release of the president’s tax returns.

During her news conference, Ms. Pelosi framed the case against Mr. Trump as much broader than an isolated pressure campaign on Ukraine. She described an “aha moment” when she and other Democrats concluded that Mr. Trump’s treatment of Ukraine was part of a larger pattern of deference toward Russia, a leading American adversary.

“This isn’t about Ukraine; this is about Russia, who benefited by our withholding of that military assistance,” Ms. Pelosi said. “So sometimes people say, ‘Well, I don’t know about Ukraine, I don’t know that much about Ukraine.’ Well, our adversary is Russia. All roads lead to Putin. Understand that.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Nadler’s team made clear it was considering building charges going beyond the Ukraine matter, related to obstruction of the House’s inquiry. A lawyer for the chairman, Norman Eisen, also asked the witnesses to evaluate whether possible obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump laid out by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who investigated whether the Trump campaign had ties to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, was impeachable as well.

The inclusion of the judiciary panel’s lawyers in Monday’s presentation of evidence suggested that obstruction of justice charges are still on the table. Before the Ukraine matter ever became public, Democrats on the committee spent months trying to build a case that Mr. Mueller’s findings included impeachable conduct.

Republican lawyers for the judiciary and intelligence panels will also be allowed to present dissenting views.

The Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday laid out a broad framework for what articles of impeachment might look like. It found that the president had abused his power, endangered national security for his own personal benefit by seeking foreign interference in the 2020 election and obstructed Congress by ordering critical witnesses not to testify.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.