Trump impeachment: Democrats unveil formal charges

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The Democratic-controlled US House Judiciary Committee has unveiled charges against President Donald Trump, a key move in impeaching him.

The first article revealed by committee chief Jerry Nadler accuses Mr Trump of abuse of power and the second accuses him of obstructing Congress.

The president is said to have withheld aid to Ukraine for domestic political reasons.

He insists he has done "nothing wrong" and dismissed the process as "madness".

If the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee votes to approve the articles later this week, they will then be submitted to 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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The impeachment process was launched after an anonymous whistleblower complained to Congress in September about a July phone call by Mr Trump to the president of Ukraine.

We knew it was coming. The talk has been of little else, impeachment seems to be the only thing I've been reporting on for these past couple of months.

But when the chairman of the Judiciary Committee charged the president with "high crimes and misdemeanours", it still made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. For all the sound and fury of today's politics, this is not an everyday occurrence.

If the House of Representatives votes to impeach Donald J Trump, he will join Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998) as the only other presidents to be sanctioned in this way since American independence.

But that's for the history books. It's what happens next that matters. Will this be a grievous blow to Donald Trump winning a second term, or will the American people see this as a political hit job against their president?

The language is of upholding the Constitution, but don't be gulled: there is raw political calculation too.

What exactly is Mr Trump accused of?

He is alleged to have committed "high crimes and misdemeanours" (a phrase from the US Constitution) on two counts, outlined by Mr Nadler:

  • The first allegation is that he exercised the powers of his public office to "obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest", by allegedly pressuring Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 presidential election
  • The second allegation is that "when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented categorical and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry…", thereby obstructing Congress

Mr Trump "sees himself as above the law", Mr Nadler said. "We must be clear, no-one, not even the president, is above the law."

The integrity of the presidential election was at stake, the committee chief added.

In the July phone call to Ukraine's leader, Mr Trump appeared to tie US military assistance for Ukraine to its launching of investigations that could help him politically.

In return for those investigations, Democrats say Mr Trump offered two bargaining chips – $400m (£304m) of military aid that had already been allocated by Congress, and a White House meeting for President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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

The first investigation Mr Trump wanted from Ukraine was into former Vice-President Joe Biden, his main Democratic challenger, and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company when his father was President Barack Obama's deputy.

The second Trump demand was that Ukraine should try to corroborate a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the last US presidential election. This theory has been widely debunked, and US intelligence agencies are unanimous in saying Moscow was behind the hackingRead More – Source