WASHINGTON - House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, saying he had abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress in its investigation of his conduct regarding Ukraine.
"We must be clear: no one, not even the president, is above the law," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said at a news conference. He was flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other House leaders.
At the heart of the Democrats' case is the allegation that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine to combat Russian military aggression, to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as a probe of an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
"The evidence of the president's misconduct is overwhelming and uncontested," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said as he outlined a case against Trump and argued that his conduct was too grave to let stand until next year's election.
"The argument, 'why don't you just wait?' comes down to this: Why don't you just let him cheat in just one more election?" Schiff said, calling impeachment "a question of duty."
The Democratic leaders left the news conference without taking questions. The Judiciary Committee plans to vote on the articles - the equivalent of a formal charge - on Thursday, and the full House is expected to vote next week.
A narrower focus on two articles of impeachment means Democrats will forgo laying out allegations of possible obstruction of justice as depicted in former special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election interference.
Some lawmakers, particularly on the House Judiciary Committee, had been pushing leadership to include obstruction of justice as a third charge, arguing that a focus on Ukraine alone would not establish a pattern of corrupt behavior stemming from the White House.
Moderate Democrats, however, were wary of voting on charges that Trump obstructed justice since Mueller's report was inconclusive on whether the president violated the law. Justice Department rules prohibit the indictment of a sitting president, one of the reasons Mueller said it was up to Congress to decide whether Trump violated his oath.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Tuesday that Trump aides had expected House Democrats to unveil four or five articles of impeachment instead of two.
The narrower focus, she argued during an appearance on Fox News, is a sign that Democrats are having a hard time selling impeachment in their districts.
"One of them is obstruction of Congress, which is code for, 'He didn't play nice with us,' " Grisham said. "'You guys didn't participate in Congress, so now we're going to go ahead and hit you with obstruction of Congress.' That's silly."
Shortly before noon, the House Judiciary Committee released the text of a nine-page resolution that includes two articles of impeachment narrowly focused on the issues of Trump's conduct in Ukraine and his obstruction of the impeachment inquiry.
The first article of impeachment is "abuse of power."
"Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election," the resolution says. "He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage."
The second article of impeachment is "obstruction of Congress."
The resolution says that Trump "interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, and assumed to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the 'sole power of Impeachment' vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives."
After the articles of impeachment were announced, Republican lawmakers fanned out across congressional podiums, cable news and social media to defend the president on Tuesday. Their arguments essentially boiled down to three key points: that the impeachment process has been unfairly handled by Democrats, that the true motivation for Democrats stems from a dislike of Trump and a desire to prevent a second term, and that the president did nothing wrong.
They also warned that impeaching Trump amounts to a historic overreach of power that runs counter to the Founders' intentions. At a Tuesday morning news conference, House Republican leaders slammed their Democratic colleagues on all these fronts.
"They were committed to impeachment regardless of the facts," said Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., He accused Pelosi of "[bowing] down to the most radical elements of her base."
"They're impeaching him because they're afraid he'll get reelected. . . . That's the abuse of power," he said.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., maintained that "this president did nothing that is impeachable."
Trump also took aim at two leaders of the inquiry, Nadler and Schiff. In tweets, Trump took issue with Nadler having said at the news conference that Trump pressured Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election.
"Ridiculous, and he knows that is not true," Trump said.
Trump cited statements by Ukraine’s president that he did not feel pressured by Trump. Democrats have argued that Zelensky would risk losing U.S. aid, among other things, if he acknowledged feeling pressured by Trump.
In his tweets, Trump also attacked Schiff as "a totally corrupt politician."
During a public appearance Tuesday afternoon, Pelosi said if House Democrats do not pursue the impeachment of Trump, they risk saying "goodbye to the republic" and "hello to the president-king.
"It's a very sad day actually, a solemn day," Pelosi said during a moderated conversation at Politico's Women Rule Summit in Washington.
Pelosi argued that lawmakers are honoring their oaths of office and would be "delinquent" if they did not seek to impeach Trump.
"I wish it were not necessary. I wish the president's actions did not make it necessary," she said.
A band of centrist House Democrats are skittish about backing a move to oust the president, privately floating the idea of a less severe punishment and the prospects of even voting against an impeachment charge against Trump.
A group of 10 moderate Democrats from Trump-carried districts discussed their desire to vote to censure rather than impeach Trump during a Monday night huddle, according to a person familiar with the conversation who requested anonymity to share private conversations. The idea had been batted around by moderates worried about political blowback since the Thanksgiving break.
Other moderate Democrats, eager to show independence from the party, have discussed voting down one article of impeachment pertaining to obstruction of Congress. These Democrats worry that there's not enough evidence to suggest Trump tried to flout the legislature's authority since ultimately these matters will be decided in the courts.
The idea of a censure has been raised multiple times before, including over the Thanksgiving recess by Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich.. However, Democrats in leadership argue that censuring Trump after all this work and investigation would be, essentially, acquitting him of wrongdoing - or at least suggesting his actions weren't that bad.
Meanwhile, three presidential contenders who are sitting U.S. senators - Cory Booker, D-N.J., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., - voiced their support for the House's decision to move forward with impeachment on Tuesday.
As sitting senators, each would be called upon to participate in a Senate trial should the House vote to impeach the president. Each is seeking the Democratic nomination for the chance to unseat Trump in November, but they emphasized their constitutional duties as senators in their statements.
"This is a sad, sobering moment for our country," Booker tweeted. "This President violated his oath to the American people. Now, those of us who swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution have a duty to follow ours."
In his tweet, Sanders, posting under his official Senate account, called Trump "the most corrupt president in history, and he must be held accountable."
"I strongly believe the announcement of articles of impeachment are appropriate and necessary, and I call on the full House to pass them," Sanders wrote. In the event impeachment passes the House, he called on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to "quickly schedule a full trial in the Senate, where I will uphold my constitutional responsibility as a juror."
Bennett went so far as to say that if “evidence of the president’s wrongdoing and abuse of power continues to remain consistent with what we’ve seen, it’s likely I would vote to impeach.”
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale insisted Tuesday that Democrats are pushing for impeachment of Trump because they don't have a candidate who can beat him at the ballot box in November.
"For months, Nancy Pelosi said she wouldn't move forward on impeachment because it was too divisive and it needed bipartisan support," Parscale said in a statement released shortly after Pelosi joined other Democrats in announcing the articles of impeachment.
"Well, it is divisive and only the Democrats are pushing it, but she's doing it anyway," Parscale said. "Americans don't agree with this rank partisanship, but Democrats are putting on this political theater because they don't have a viable candidate for 2020 and they know it."
In a separate statement, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called the articles of impeachment "yet another partisan attempt to overthrow a duly-elected President and rob voters of the chance to re-elect him in 2020."
But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., emphasized what he characterized as "extreme restraint" in pursuing Trump's impeachment in a statement issued after the two articles were unveiled.
"House Democrats never sought impeachment, instead demonstrating extreme restraint as we watched this president engage in actions and behavior that we believed to be abhorrent and anathema to our nation's highest principles," Hoyer said.
If the House votes to impeach, the matter is then taken up by the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signaled Tuesday that a Senate trial would start in early January and said he would be "totally surprised" if there are 67 senators who vote to remove Trump from office.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, McConnell said it remains unclear whether the trial would include testimony from witnesses, as Trump has publicly advocated.
Senate Democratic leadership warned their Republican colleagues not to indulge in conspiracy theories as the impeachment inquiry appeared to head toward a Senate trial.
In recent weeks, Republicans, including Sens. John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana and Ted Cruz of Texas have echoed Trump's debunked assertion that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election as they've ramped up their defense of the president.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., labeled the GOP senators who advanced this theory as the "conspiracy caucus," while Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said that Democrats had to play "whack a mole" to stymie these disproved claims.
"The president's government is still not buying this wild-eyed theory of Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 campaign, and yet we continue to whack these moles down," Durbin said. "I hope it's time we put this behind us once and for all."
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The Washington Post’s Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.