Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump on Tuesday in a momentous step asserting that the US president abused his office and deserves to be removed.
If the charges — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — are approved by the full House of Representatives in a vote expected next week, it would make Trump the third US leader ever impeached and placed on trial in the Senate.
An angry Trump dismissed the charges as “ridiculous” but Democrats insisted presidents are not untouchable.
“We must be clear: No one, not even the president, is above the law,” said House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler.
“When he betrays that (public) trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the constitution, he endangers our democracy and he endangers our national security.”
Trump is alleged to have wielded the power of the presidency for personal and political gain by pressuring Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 US election.
The Democrats submitted their articles of impeachment in a formal House resolution, which is expected to be voted out of the Judiciary Committee this week before heading to a full House vote.
In forceful language the articles laid out the Democrats’ case that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” warning that he would “remain a threat to the Constitution” if allowed to remain in office.
Trump, who has long assailed the Democrats for pursuing impeachment, maintained his fighting posture by blasting the “ridiculous” process and renewing his familiar claim that he is the victim of a witch hunt.
– ‘President king’ –
The White House meanwhile called the impeachment effort a “pathetic attempt” to overturn the 2016 election result.
“The president will address these false charges in the Senate and expects to be fully exonerated, because he did nothing wrong,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
Trump’s accusers say he conditioned vital military aid and a much-sought White House meeting on Kiev announcing it would investigate former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner to challenge Trump in 2020.
Trump also pressed his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky to probe a debunked Kremlin conspiracy theory that it was Kiev, and not Moscow, that interfered in the 2016 US election.
The charges also focus on Trump’s efforts to block Congress from fully investigating his actions — which Democrats see as a violation of its constitutional right to conduct oversight of the executive branch.
Trump has refused to cooperate with any aspect of the inquiry and ordered his entire administration to do the same.
As a result, key figures in the Ukraine saga, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, have not testified before lawmakers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking at a forum in Washington, described the move as sad but necessary.
“If we allow one president — any president, no matter who she or he may be — to go down this path we are saying goodbye to the republic and hello to a president king,” she said.
– ‘Overwhelming, uncontested’ evidence –
The Democratic impeachment move marks a solemn and deeply serious moment for the nation, which has been sharply divided over whether to advance removal proceedings against the sitting president.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff oversaw weeks of public hearings in which witnesses including Trump administration officials and US diplomats testified about the pressure on Ukraine.
“The evidence of the president’s misconduct is overwhelming and uncontested,” Schiff said, adding that Trump’s misconduct “goes to the heart” of whether Americans can conduct a free, fair 2020 election.
Boosting the already extraordinary Washington drama, Democrats and Republicans came together shortly after the impeachment announcement to agree on a modified North American trade pact that includes improved labor standards, clearing the path towards final ratification.
The long-sought deal could provide Democrats in swing districts with cover as they return home for the holidays able to claim a bipartisan victory on economic policy, potentially defusing resentment over impeachment.
Congressional Republicans have largely remained loyal to the president, and were quick to describe the impeachment articles as sour grapes by Democrats for losing in 2016.
“Democrats still can’t get over the fact that Trump won the election and they lost,” top House Republican Kevin McCarthy told reporters.
Should Trump be impeached, as expected, he faces a weeks-long January trial in the US Senate, where Republicans hold a majority.
Removal from office is unlikely, given that conviction requires a two-thirds vote in the 100-member chamber, and no Republicans have yet signaled they would side with Democrats against the president.