WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday will deliberate over what charges to bring against President Donald Trump, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered the Judiciary Committee to draft formal articles of impeachment.
The committee could draft and recommend the articles by Dec. 12, after more than two months investigating, interviewing witnesses and holding hearings into whether the Republican president abused the power of his office.
In a televised announcement on Thursday, Pelosi said she had directed Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary panel’s chairman, to draw up the formal charges, which will subsequently be put for a vote in the full House.
She called it a historic day.
“It was taking us across a threshold on this that we just had no choice. I do hope that it would be remembered in a way that honors the vision of our founders, what they had in mind for establishing a democracy,” Pelosi told CNN later Thursday.
At the heart of the Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry is Trump’s request that Ukraine launch an investigation targeting Joe Biden. The former vice president is a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.
Trump denies wrongdoing and has not cooperated with the investigation, which he calls a hoax. He could face an impeachment charge of obstruction of Congress in addition to one alleging abuse of power. Some lawmakers and legal experts have speculated that he could also face charges of bribery or obstruction of justice.
After refusing all requests to hand over documents and ordering administration officials not to testify, Trump faces another deadline on Friday.
Nadler has given the president until 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) to say whether he or his legal counsel will participate in upcoming Judiciary proceedings by calling witnesses, introducing evidence and making a presentation.
“We’re still waiting until 5 o’clock tomorrow to hear from the president, whether he wants to present to the committee, and if he wants to, it will be done – I presume – next week. That’s all I’m going to say,” Nadler said on Thursday as he left a meeting with Pelosi.
Committee Republicans have been given the same deadline to request witnesses, including any they might want to subpoena.
HIGH CRIMES OR RUSHED PROCESS?
The Judiciary Committee has held just one hearing since five days of public hearings before the House Intelligence Committee ended Nov. 21.
On Wednesday, three constitutional law experts called by Democratic lawmakers told the committee that Trump had committed impeachable offenses. A fourth expert called by Republicans called the inquiry rushed and its findings inconclusive.
Nadler has scheduled another hearing for Monday, at which lawyers for the Judiciary and Intelligence committees will discuss the impeachment investigation.
The probe is focusing on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter and into a discredited theory promoted by Trump and his allies that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption. They have denied wrongdoing and the allegations have not been substantiated.
Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine – a vulnerable U.S. ally facing Russian aggression – as leverage to pressure Kiev into investigating the Bidens, and promising Zelenskiy a coveted White House meeting.
Republicans accuse Democrats of conducting a politically motivated witch hunt aimed at ousting Trump. They say Trump’s actions in Ukraine were focused on weeding out corruption.
If the House passes the articles of impeachment as expected, the U.S. Senate would hold a trial on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for his removal.
No U.S. president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Republican Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House began the process in the Watergate corruption scandal.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Jeff Mason; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Peter Cooney and Chizu Nomiyama