- The US House on Thursday formalized the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
- The resolution sets the rules for the inquiry and is a sign the process will soon become more public.
- It’s not required for the House to hold a vote on an impeachment inquiry, as one has already been underway since late September, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved to do so under weeks of complaints from Republicans.
- The resolution passed 232 to 196 in a vote that was mostly along party lines.
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The House on Thursday passed a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump after weeks of complaints from Republican lawmakers on the closed-door process.
The resolution passed 232 to 196 in a vote that was mostly along party lines. No Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, which marked the chamber’s first formal vote on the impeachment process and Trump so far.
The resolution’s passage sets rules for the inquiry and signals that it will begin to transition into a more public phase. Witnesses are still testifying privately, but this historic development could result in public, televised hearings within a month and possibly even a vote on impeachment by the end of the year. Over a dozen witnesses have been interviewed as part of the inquiry so far.
The overwhelming support for the resolution from Democrats is a sign they’re confident the evidence they’ve already gathered is damning enough to begin making the public case for impeaching Trump.
Key aspects of the resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry:
- Allows the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, to hold open hearings.
- Allows for the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, to call for witnesses to be invited or subpoenaed to testify.
- Allows the Intelligence Committee to publish redacted transcripts of closed-door depositions.
- Directs relevant committees to report their findings to the House Judiciary Committee.
- Directs Schiff to compile a report that summarizes the inquiry’s findings and deliver it to the House Judiciary Committee so it can determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment.
- Allows the president and his attorneys to cross-examine witnesses.
‘I don’t know why the Republicans are afraid of the truth’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday had announced the vote would be held to formalize the process.
“I don’t know why the Republicans are afraid of the truth,” she said Thursday in remarks before the vote. “Every member should support allowing the American people to hear the facts for themselves. That is really what this vote is about.”
Now that the resolution has passed, Republicans have shifted from criticizing the way Democrats have conducted the inquiry to making the case that it’s already tainted and beyond repair.
Shortly after the vote, Trump wrote a tweet that said only, “Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” The White House also released a statement slamming Democrats and Pelosi.
“Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding does not hurt President Trump; it hurts the American people,” the White House said. “The Democrats want to render a verdict without giving the Administration a chance to mount a defense.”
The GOP has overwhelmingly focused on the process surrounding the impeachment inquiry while avoiding the substance of the allegations against Trump as witnesses offer increasingly damning testimony.
For weeks, Republicans have described the inquiry as a sham and illegitimate because witnesses have been interviewed in private by the three House committees leading the process. There are no rules, however, requiring the House to hold a vote to formally authorize an impeachment inquiry.
Impeachment is enshrined in the Constitution, but the rules for how it’s conducted are determined by the House. And House rules passed in 2015 under a Republican majority allow for the initial interviews of witnesses in impeachment inquiries to be done privately, similar to the way a criminal case is presented before a grand jury.
The House Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs committees have been conducting the investigation thus far and have chosen to do it privately given there has not been prior federal or congressional inquiries into the allegations against Trump. Democrats control the House and therefore represent the majority on each committee, but a combined 47 House Republicans sit on the three committees.
Witnesses have already provided damning testimony against Trump, who maintains he did nothing wrong
The president was accused in a whistleblower complaint from a US intelligence official of using the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. This is linked to a July 25 phone call in which Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden over the latter’s work for a Ukrainian natural-gas company.
Trump also wanted Zelensky to launch an investigation meant to discredit the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
The White House released a memo summarizing the July 25 call that corroborated details in the complaint.
At the time of the call, Trump had moved to freeze up roughly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, which is continuing to face Russian aggression and a conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Based on testimony from US diplomats and officials thus far, the decision to freeze the aid was part of Trump’s efforts to pressure Zelensky into launching an investigation into Biden. Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, also explicitly said there was a quid pro quo in public remarks to reporters. Mulvaney later walked back these comments.
Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong.
Given there have been no prior investigations into this matter, Democrats have argued they’ve been adhering to proper procedure and avoided allowing the process to turn into a public spectacle as they seek to understand what transpired and determine whether there’s enough evidence to bring articles of impeachment against Trump.
Republicans have also complained that House Democrats are not respecting “due process” via the way they’ve handled the inquiry so far. But legal experts have pushed back against that characterization based on the way impeachment works. Impeachment is often interpreted as meaning removal from office, but that is not accurate. When a public official is impeached, it means charges have been formally filed against the official.
According to the Constitution, a president can be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
If Trump is impeached in the House, which would require a simple majority vote, a trial would then be held in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. A two-thirds majority vote is required in the Senate to remove a president from office. Only two US presidents, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, have been impeached, and both were acquitted in the Senate.