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Trump impeachment: Democrats unveil obstruction, abuse of power charges

The charges, if approved, would make Trump only the third US president to be impeached and placed on trial in the Senate

Donald Trump | Donald Trump impeachment

AFP | PTI  |  Washington 

Trump, Donald Trump

Democrats on Tuesday charged with two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by pressing his Ukraine counterpart for help in attacking his rivals in the 2020 election, making him only the third president in American history to face the ignominy.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler alleged that Trump, a Republican, was trying to undermine the 2020 election for his own benefit.

Nadler said that 73-year-old Trump put himself ahead of the interests of the country by abusing his powers and pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, his potential Democratic challenger in the 2020 election.

Nadler said the judiciary panel will introduce two articles "charging the president with high crimes and misdemeanours." He said the first is dedicated to "abuse of power," alleging that Trump has "exercised the powers of his office for his personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the public interest." The impeachment process was launched after an anonymous whistleblower complained to Congress in September about a July phone call by Trump to Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine.

Trump immediately lashed out following Democrats' announcement unveiling articles of impeachment against him.

In his tweets, Trump wrote "WITCH HUNT!" and called the Democrats' accusations against him "ridiculous" and "not true." "To Impeach a President who has proven through results, including producing perhaps the strongest economy in our country's history, to have one of the most successful presidencies ever, and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness!" Trump tweeted.

Trump said that he has done nothing wrong and his June phone call with the Ukrainian counterpart was perfect. "Read the Transcripts! 'us' is a reference to USA, not me!" he tweeted.

Describing these charges as baseless, the White House said Trump will address these false charges in the Senate and expects to be fully exonerated, because he did nothing wrong.

White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham called the two impeachment articles a "partisan, gratuitous, and pathetic attempt to overthrow the Trump Administration and the results of the 2016 election." But House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff said the Democrats had "no choice" but to unveil articles of impeachment against President Trump.

"We stand here today because the President's continuing abuse of his power has left us no choice. To do nothing would make ourselves complicit in the President's abuse of his high office, the public trust and our national security," he said at a joint press conference attended by top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Schiff said the Democrats cannot wait for courts to compel witnesses to testify and documents to be produced because it would mean President Trump could "cheat in just one more election." "Now some would argue, why don't you just wait? Why don't you just wait until you get these witnesses, the White House refuses to produce? Why don't you just wait until you get the documents the White House refuses to turn over? And people should understand what that argument really means," Schiff said.

"The integrity of our next election is at risk from our president who already sought foreign interference in the 2016 and now 2020 elections," Nadler said.

If impeached, Trump will be the third US President to face a trial in the Senate. While President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1869, President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, when it was clear impeachment was unavoidable.

On the first charge of abuse of power, Nadler said, "It is an impeachable offense for the president to exercise the powers of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest.

That is exactly what president trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election," Nadler said.

On the second charge of obstruction of Congress, he explained that "A president who declares himself above accountability, above the American people and above congress' power of impeachment — which is meant to protect against threats to our democratic institutions — is the President who sees himself as above the law." In the July phone call to Ukraine's president, Trump appeared to tie US military assistance to Ukraine launching investigations which could help him politically.

In return for those investigations, Democrats say Trump offered two bargaining chips - $ 400 million of military aid that had already been allocated by Congress, and a White House meeting for President Zelensky.

Democrats say this pressure on a weak US ally constitutes an abuse of power.

Trump's 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale issued a statement moments ago after the Democrats introduced the two articles of impeachment against President Trump.

"Americans don't agree with this rank partisanship, but Democrats are putting on this political theatre because they don't have a viable candidate for 2020 and they know it," Parscale said.

If the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee votes to approve the articles later this week, they will then be submitted to the Senate, the lower chamber for a full vote.

If, in turn, the articles are approved by the House - which is controlled by the Democrats - an impeachment trial in the Republican-held Senate will take place, possibly early in January.

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First Published: Tue, December 10 2019. 20:10 IST