Washington, Sep 25 : Even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry against the US President, Donald Trump’s lawyers have argued in a federal case to be heard on Wednesday that the Constitution shields the President from any criminal investigation — not just from actual prosecution — while he holds office.
Trump heard the news of the impeachment enquiry on Tuesday as he held a bilateral meeting with Iraqi President, Barham Salih, in the afternoon, and hours after his speech at the United Nations General Assembly and his meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Democrats are within 35 votes of a standing majority to impeach.
At the centre of the move to impeach the president is a July 25 phone call that Trump made to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump allegedly pressured Zelensky to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden for past ties with Ukraine. Biden is the Democrats’ 2020 front-runner. Trump reportedly repeatedly urged the young Ukrainian leader e eight times, according to the Wall Street Journal e to investigate the Bidens for corruption.
Democrats allege that this highlights Trump’s abuse of presidential power.
The US President pledged to publish an un-redacted and declassified transcript on Wednesday of his phone call with the Ukrainian leader.
The White House released details of the phone call on Wednesday morning.
It shows Trump asked Zelensky on July 25 to investigate Democratic candidate Joe Biden, whose son worked for a Ukrainian gas firm, the BBC said.
The White House is also planning to release to Congress a whistleblower’s complaint that triggered the week-long crisis that has rocked the Trump presidency.
Trump has insisted he has done nothing wrong during the July 25 phone call with Zelensky. “How can you do this and you haven’t even seen the phone call?” he told reporters. “Listen, it’s just a continuation of the witch hunt. Our country’s doing the best it’s ever done. They’re (the Democrats) going to lose the election,” he said on Tuesday.
In the week before his call to the Ukrainian leader, Trump had personally ordered that $391 million be frozen. On July 18, the Pentagon and the State Department were informed that Trump had decided to suspend the aid to the government of President Zelensky, who took office in May.
In early August, Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer, met a representative of Zelensky’s government in Spain and, according to the Times, again urged an investigation of the Bidens.
On August 12, an anonymous whistle-blower in the US intelligence community filed a complaint involving communications between Trump and Zelensky. He accused Trump of proposing a quid pro quo: $391 million in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on a political rival.
He was monitoring the call between Trump and Zelensky and submitted a formal complaint.
On September 9, members of Congress were notified of the whistle-blower’s complaint and demanded that it be released. On September 11, the Trump Administration released aid to Ukraine, which is being backed by the west.
The public first learned of the phone call last week when the Washington Post reported that the complaint by the whistle-blower had not been delivered to Congress, as is standard procedure.
As the details came out in the open, Trump first denied, and then confirmed, the reports.
On Tuesday, Trump justified withholding the funds to Ukraine because Europe was not contributing its fair share.
“Those funds were paid, were fully paid. My complaint has always been, and I withhold again, will continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine,” he told reporters, justifying the move.
Former VP Biden on Tuesday said Trump should be impeached if he does not comply with Congress and release the whistle-blower’s complaint to lawmakers.
Other 2020 Democratic candidates like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have called for impeachment proceedings to begin immediately. Senator Bernie Sanders backed starting an impeachment enquiry.
There are growing calls among Democrats in Congress for Trump’s impeachment. 169 out of 235 House Democrats support impeaching Trump.
Biden said on Wednesday: “I can take the political attacks…(but) if we allow a POTUS to get away with shredding the Constitution, that will last forever…If he continues to obstruct Congress and flout the law, Donald Trump will leave Congress in my view with no choice but to initiate impeachment.”
Trump is the fourth President in US history to face the threat of impeachment.
“There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning. “The Democrats are frozen with hatred and fear. They get nothing done. This should never be allowed to happen to another President. Witch Hunt!”
As per the US constitution, impeachment is a process for removing a president from office on the grounds they have committed “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.
For a President to be removed, they have to be impeached by a majority vote of the US House of Representatives. Then they have to be convicted by a two-thirds majority of the US Senate. No President has ever been removed from office using the process.
“The actions taken to date by the President have seriously violated the Constitution,” Pelosi said on Tuesday after meeting with House Democrats.
She argued that Trump’s public admission that he spoke to Zelensky about Biden is in itself an abuse of power by a President seeking foreign help to win re-election.
“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonourable 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 a news conference Tuesday.
“Therefore, today, I am announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.”
Even if the House inquiry ends with Articles of Impeachment and a gets a majority vote in the chamber, it is unlikely that the Republican Senate will provide the two-thirds majority needed to oust Trump from office.
Trump is hoping to ignite a backlash against Pelosi, and to use the impeachment drama to expand his base and get more sympathetic Republicans onboard to a massive turnout in November 2020.
Only two Presidents were impeached in the first 223 years of US history — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.
Neither man was convicted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned before he was impeached over the Watergate scandal.