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House launches Trump impeachment inquiry n Pelosi, more Democrats swayed by Trump's call with Ukraine's president urging probe of Biden's son n Trump OKs release of full call transcript.

Byline: Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick and Michael Balsamo Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, yielding to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a divided nation into an election-year clash between Congress and the commander-in-chief.

The probe focuses partly on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government to undermine Democratic foe Joe Biden and help his own re-election. Pelosi said such actions would mark a "betrayal of his oath of office" and declared, "No one is above the law."

The impeachment inquiry, after months of investigations by House Democrats, sets up the party's most direct and consequential confrontation with the president, injects deep uncertainty into the 2020 election campaign and tests anew the nation's constitutional system of checks and balances.

Trump has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.

Meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, he previewed his defense in an all-caps tweet: "PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!"

Pelosi's brief statement, delivered without dramatic flourish but in the framework of a constitutional crisis, capped a frenetic weeklong stretch on Capitol Hill as details of a classified whistle-blower complaint about Trump burst into the open and momentum shifted toward an impeachment probe.

For months, the Democratic leader has tried calming the push for impeachment, saying the House must investigate the facts and let the public decide. The new drive was led by a group of moderate Democratic lawmakers from political swing districts, many of them with national security backgrounds and serving in Congress for the first time.

The freshmen, who largely represent districts previously held by Republicans where Trump is popular, are risking their own reelections but said they could no longer stand idle. Amplifying their call were longtime leaders, including Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon often considered the conscience of House Democrats.

"Now is the time to act," Lewis said in an address to the House. "To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy."

At issue are Trump's actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he is said to have asked for help investigating former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine -- prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge but acknowledged he blocked the funds, later released.

The Trump-Ukraine phone call is part of the whistleblower's complaint, though the administration has blocked Congress from getting other details of the report, citing presidential privilege. Trump has authorized the release of a transcript of the call, which is to be made public today.

"You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call," Trump said.

The Trump administration is also reviewing whether the whistleblower's complaint can be released to Congress, according to a person familiar with the issue who spoke on condition of anonymity. It could go to Congress by Thursday.

Behind closed doors Pelosi told colleagues she want the inquiry done "expeditiously," according to a senior Democratic aide unauthorized to discuss the private meeting. The aide was granted anonymity.

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kiev.

The likelihood of an impeachment probe had faded after Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers.

Since then, the House committees have revisited aspects of the Mueller probe while also launching new inquiries into Trump's businesses and various administration scandals that all seemed likely to drag on for months.

But details of Trump's dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. The burden will likely now shift to Democrats to make the case to a scandal-weary public. In a highly polarized Congress, an impeachment inquiry could simply showcase how clearly two sides can disagree when shown the same evidence rather than approach consensus.

Building toward this moment, the president has repeatedly been stonewalling requests for documents and witness interviews in the variety of ongoing investigations.

After Pelosi's Tuesday announcement, the president and his campaign team quickly released a series of tweets attacking Democrats, including a video of presidential critics like Pelosi and Rep. Ilhan Omar. It concluded, "While Democrats 'Sole Focus' is fighting Trump, President Trump is fighting for you."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Pelosi's "efforts to restrain her far-left conference have finally crumbled."

Today, the House is expected to consider a symbolic but still notable resolution insisting the Trump administration turn over to Congress the whistleblower's complaint. The Senate, in a bipartisan moment, approved a similar resolution Tuesday.

The lawyer for the anonymous whistle-blower released a statement saying he had asked Trump's director of national intelligence to turn over the complaint to House committees and asking guidance to permit the whistle-blower to meet with lawmakers.
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Author:Mascaro, By Lisa; Jalonick, Mary Clare; Press, Michael Balsamo Associated
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Geographic Code:4EXUR
Date:Sep 25, 2019
Words:873
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