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House Speaker Pelosi Opens Trump Impeachment Inquiry

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., heads to a meeting with her caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 24, 2019.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., heads to a meeting with her caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 24, 2019.

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has announced a formal impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump and allegations he sought a foreign government's help with his 2020 re-election bid.

Pelosi made her announcement after huddling inside the Capitol with House Democratic leaders as the number of Democratic lawmakers who back impeachment proceedings grew throughout the day Tuesday.

"The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution," Pelosi said. "The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law."

For months, Pelosi has resisted opening a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump over earlier allegations of obstruction of justice stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report.

But the pressure on Pelosi has grown in recent days over reports Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden over a high-paying job his son Hunter Biden had with a Ukrainian gas company.

Biden has been the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination and a potential rival to Trump in the 2020 election.

Trump said he would release the "complete, fully declassified and unreacted" transcript of his July telephone call with Zelenskiy on Wednesday.

But Pelosi and other Democrats say there is much more to the allegations against Trump than just a telephone call.

Trump had confirmed he told his staff to withhold $400 million in aid to Ukraine days before the July phone call. Democrats want to know whether Trump pressured Zelenskiy into investigating Biden, knowing the Ukrainian government badly wanted the U.S. aid.

"You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo! This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!" Trump tweeted Tuesday.

He said he withheld the money until other countries, including those in Europe, also helped Ukraine.

The current controversy began last week when reports emerged that an unidentified whistleblower in the national intelligence community became alarmed about a series of actions inside the Trump administration. They include what is now known to be Trump's telephone call with Zelenskiy.

This person contacted the intelligence inspector general, who called the complaint "serious" and "urgent."

But acting National Intelligence director Joseph Maguire has refused to turn over the inspector's report to Congress, which the law requires him to do.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Tuesday that the whistleblower's lawyer informed him that he or she wants to meet with the committee. Schiff said that meeting could take place as soon as this week.

The Senate, by unanimous consent, agreed on a non-binding resolution that the whistleblower's complaint be immediately handed over to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
As vice president under Barack Obama, Joe Biden went to Ukraine in 2016 and threatened to withhold billions of dollars in U.S. loan guarantees unless the government cracked down on corruption. Biden also demanded that Ukraine's chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin be fired.

Shokin had previously investigated the gas company in which Hunter Biden served on the board. But the probe had been inactive for a year before Joe Biden's visit. Hunter Biden has said he was not the target of any investigation and no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Bidens has surfaced.

Biden Tuesday said if Trump does not comply to a congressional demand to hand over all the information related to the Ukraine situation, "Donald Trump will leave Congress no choice but to initiate impeachment."

"This isn't a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is a national's an abuse of strikes at the heart of the sworn responsibility the president has to put the national interest before his personal interest," Biden said.

Ukrainian President Zelinskiy plans to meet with Trump Wednesday during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

VOA asked Zelenskiy about the current controversy. He declined to comment other than saying "We have an independent country. We're ready for everything."

He said he believes his talks with Trump will be "very warm."