‘Witch hunt’: Trump blasts impeachment
DEMOCRAT leaders have officially commenced impeachment proceedings against US President Donald Trump, a historic move with the potential to ultimately remove him from office.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Mr Trump had violated the law and the constitution by asking the Ukrainian president to investigate the actions of his political rival, Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his son.
Mr Trump has shrugged off the controversy, admitting in recent days that he discussed the Bidens with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky but arguing that he had done nothing wrong.
An official impeachment inquiry is being launched into US President Donald Trump. At a news conference, the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: "The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law."— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 24, 2019
Read more here: https://t.co/767stTKnhE pic.twitter.com/0lq8yzV6Q1
There are claims Mr Trump further threatened to withhold US aid to Ukraine if the Bidens were not investigated.
Ms Pelosi said that by asking a foreign government to help him politically, and by refusing to release information about a whistleblower complaint involving the controversy, Mr Trump had "betrayed the constitution".
"Therefore today, I am announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry," Ms Pelosi said.
"The president must be held accountable, no one is above the law."
Mr Trump slammed the move as a new "witch hunt". "It's just a continuation of the witch hunt," Mr Trump said at the United Nations in New York.
Mr Trump said he would release a transcript of his call with Ukrainian president on Wednesday local time, which he said would clear him of charges he pushed him to investigate leading Democrat president candidate Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.
PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
They never even saw the transcript of the call. A total Witch Hunt!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
"You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call," Mr Trump said.
The spectre of impeachment, the process through which a US president can be removed from office if convicted of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours", has hung over the Trump presidency since its earliest days.
Ms Pelosi has until now resisted calls from Democrats that Mr Trump should be impeached. Half the House of Representatives would need to vote for impeachment, which would then move to the Senate, where a two-thirds vote would be needed for proceedings to commence.
Former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday also declared Mr Trump would leave Congress "no choice" but to seek impeachment, should the President refuse to comply with its requests.
"We have a President who believes he can do anything and get away with it," he said.
"Pressuring the leader of another nation to investigate a political opponent - to help win his election is not the conduct of an American President.
"The allegation that he blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in Congressionally approved aid to another country unless it agreed to smear his political opponent is not the conduct of an American President."
Mr Biden has been dogged by his son's connections to Ukraine, which Mr Trump has long criticised. Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time that the then Vice President was in charge of the Obama administration's diplomatic relationship with Kiev.
There has been no evidence shown of corruption.
While impeachment proceedings have the potential to strip the presidency from Mr Trump, they are a huge political risk for Democrats. An unsuccessful bid would almost certainly propel the Republican leader back into a second term at next year's election, further energising his base who are frustrated by constant investigations and allegations of impropriety from his opponent.
Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale described the impeachment strategy as "misguided".
"Democrats can't beat President Trump on his policies or his stellar record of accomplishment, so they're trying to turn a Joe Biden scandal into a Trump problem," Mr Parscale said.
"The misguided Democrat impeachment strategy is meant to appease their rabid, extreme, leftist base, but will only serve to embolden and energise President Trump's supporters and create a landslide victory for the President."
WHAT IS IMPEACHMENT
The push among Democrats in the US Congress to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power is gaining momentum.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, has shown little appetite for impeachment during the first three years of Trump's tumultuous presidency.
But the political scandal over Trump's attempt to seek dirt from Ukraine on his potential 2020 Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden may be the last straw.
More than 150 of the 235 Democratic members of the 435-seat House support impeachment or the opening of an inquiry into removing the president.
The impeachment process, officially launched against President Donald Trump, includes several steps to take place in both chambers of the United States Congress pic.twitter.com/eHKfyLTYdb— AFP news agency (@AFP) September 24, 2019
No House Republicans have come out in favour of impeachment and Republicans currently control the Senate, making conviction unlikely.
Trump on Tuesday denounced calls for his impeachment as "ridiculous" and "nonsense."
"It's a witch hunt," he said.
No president has been ousted from office by impeachment, but even the threat can bring one down - Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid certain removal in the Watergate scandal.
Two presidents beat the process: the House formally impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, but in both cases they were acquitted in the Senate.
- How does it work? -
If lawmakers believe a president is guilty of what the US Constitution calls "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours," the process begins in the House of Representatives.
Any member can introduce an impeachment resolution, which like any other bill would be sent to a committee, most likely the House Judiciary Committee.
The committee can review the evidence it receives, or carry out an investigation itself.
If the evidence is strong enough, the committee crafts articles of impeachment - criminal charges - and sends them to the full House.
The House can pass the articles by a simple majority vote, "impeaching" the president.
The articles then go to the Senate, where a trial takes place, with representatives from the House acting as prosecutors and the president and his attorneys presenting his defense.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial in the Senate. The 100-member Senate then votes on the charges, with a two-thirds majority necessary to convict and remove the president.
If the president is convicted, the vice president would then take over the White House.
- What kind of charges do presidents face? -
The accusations have to meet the constitutional standard of "high crimes or misdemeanours," which is very broad.
In the cases of Clinton and Nixon, independent prosecutors conducted extensive investigations and amassed evidence to support criminal charges.
Nixon was accused of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt. Clinton, in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, was accused of perjury and obstruction. Trump could conceivably face charges of abuse of power for using his office to pressure Ukraine to conduct a politically-motivated investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who had business dealings in Ukraine.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in the Russia election meddling investigation, also detailed multiple instances of alleged obstruction of justice by Trump that could arguably support charges.
- Is it about law or politics? -
Both. Given the momentous nature of an effort to remove the president, a clear crime with strong evidence - stronger than for an average citizen - is required.
At the same time, it is very much a political decision.
In past impeachments, support and opposition ran along party lines, though in Nixon's case the offences were so egregious that Republican backing for him quickly disintegrated.
In Democrat Clinton's case, Republicans controlled the entire Congress. But when impeachment charges went to the Senate, the 45 Democratic Senators stayed united to block a two-thirds vote for conviction.
With Trump, Democrats are divided for political reasons.
Pelosi has argued that impeaching Trump would go nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate and could damage the party's effort to win full control of the Congress and the White House in the November 2020 elections.
Others in the party say Trump needs to be held accountable - that Democratic voters demand