The White House, after months of fighting the impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House of Representatives, is now publicly embracing the likelihood of a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate.
President Donald Trump goaded Democrats in a tweet Thursday, saying “if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast so we can have a fair... trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business.”
It was a message that came even before U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed Democratic leaders on Thursday to “proceed with articles of impeachment” against the president, declaring that Trump has “abused the power of his office.”
Pelosi, in a brief but dramatic statement, contended that the Republican U.S. leader had defied the norms of presidential conduct, violating his sworn obligation to uphold the U.S. Constitution by asking Ukraine to launch an investigation of one of his chief 2020 Democratic challengers, former Vice President Joe Biden, to help him as he runs for re-election.
"The facts are uncontested," Pelosi said. "The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security."
Pelosi asked Congressman Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment hearings started Wednesday, and other Democratic committee chairs to draft the impeachment articles.
While Pelosi mentioned no timetable, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives could vote to impeach Trump before the Christmas holiday recess at the end of the month. That would set the stage for a January trial in the Republican-majority Senate, where Trump's conviction and removal from office remains unlikely.
Trump, on Twitter, reacted defiantly to Pelosi's statement, saying, "The Do Nothing, Radical Left Democrats have just announced that they are going to seek to Impeach me over NOTHING."
Trump contended that he had "two totally appropriate (perfect) phone calls" with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in one of which he asked for the investigation of Biden, his son Hunter's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election Trump won, not Russia, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded.
His request came at a time he was temporarily withholding $391 million in military assistance Kyiv wanted to fight pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country, although in September he released the aid without Ukraine opening investigations of the Bidens.
The request for such an investigation in exchange for military assistance is expected to be among the articles of impeachment against Trump. Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach said he had met Trump's personal attorney Rudy Guiliani in the capital, Kyiv, Thursday to discuss the creation of an interparliamentary body to fight corruption. Derkach posted a statement and photos of the meeting on Facebook.
Trump said the House move toward his impeachment "will mean that the beyond important and seldom used act of Impeachment will be used routinely to attack future Presidents. That is not what our Founders had in mind. The good thing is that the Republicans have NEVER been more united. We will win!"
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham tweeted, "Pelosi & the Democrats should be ashamed. @realDonaldTrump has done nothing but lead our country - resulting in a booming economy, more jobs & a stronger military, to name just a few of his major accomplishments. We look forward to a fair trial in the Senate."
Pelosi said Trump withheld the military aid Kyiv wanted and a "crucial Oval Office meeting" sought by Zelenskiy "in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival," Biden, who is leading Democratic rivals for the party nomination to run against Trump in next November's national election.
Pelosi, against more vocal Trump foes in the House, had for months voiced reluctance to pursue Trump's impeachment. She expressed fears that his impeachment would be a politically losing pursuit, since the Republican majority in the Senate has shown no indication it will turn against Trump and vote for his conviction to oust him from the White House. While a small number of Republican senators have criticized Trump's request to Zelenskiy, it would take at least 20 Republicans to turn against Trump to convict him.
But Pelosi, citing young America's Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776, on Thursday said Trump's "actions are in defiance of the vision of our founders - and the oath of office that he takes - to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
"Our democracy is what is at stake," she said. "The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections."
"In America," she said, "no one is above the law."
Pelosi's nationally televised statement came a day after three U.S. constitutional scholars told Congress that the U.S. leader committed impeachable offenses by pushing Ukraine to open investigations to benefit him politically. An expert called by Trump's Republican backers, however, argued there is a "paucity of evidence" to impeach Trump.
The Judiciary panel's hearing was part of the House Democrats' effort to impeach the country's 45th president, only the fourth time in the country's 243-year history that a U.S. leader has faced a formal impeachment proceeding. Articles of impeachment would first be considered by the 41-member Judiciary panel, where Democrats hold a 24-17 majority.
Two former U.S. presidents -- Andrew Johnson in the mid-19th century and Bill Clinton two decades ago -- were impeached but not convicted by the Senate and removed from office, while a third -- Richard M. Nixon -- resigned in 1974 in the face of certain impeachment.