Nancy Pelosi Announces Formal Impeachment Inquiry Into President Trump

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump at the Capitol Building on Sept. 24, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After months of urging fellow Democrats to proceed with caution and infuriating progressives by staving off calls to impeach President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced she was initiating an official impeachment inquiry.

"The president must be held accountable," Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, said in prepared remarks after meeting with her caucus, adding that "no one is above the law."

Pelosi was moved to act after a seismic shift among her caucus in recent days, following allegations that Trump used his position to pressure a foreign ally to investigate a political foe.

Many Democrats who had been on the fence about impeachment — including a handful from swing districts in California — changed their minds and began publicly speaking out about the need for a formal investigation.

In a series of tweets, President Trump accused the Democrats of "more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage," and noted that Democrats haven't yet seen the transcript of the call with the Ukrainian president. Prior to Pelosi's announcement today, Trump said he would be willing to release the transcript on Wednesday.

Pelosi has long stated that although impeachment is a political act, it must not be seen as partisan in nature, but rather have at least some support from both parties, as it ultimately did with President Richard Nixon.

But allegations contained in a recent whistleblower complaint have prompted a number of Democrats who had been on the fence about impeachment to change their minds.

Among them is Pelosi, who now says that regardless of what's in the transcript, any attempt to block the release of the whistleblower complaint is itself "a violation of the law."

That complaint centers around Trump's phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which the president allegedly urged the Ukrainian leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian oil company.

It has also been reported that Trump ordered military funding to be withheld a week before his July 25 conversation with President Zelensky.

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The question is whether Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, intended his release of the funds to be an understood outcome of such an investigation, even if he did not explicitly promise that.

Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, said he’s surprised Pelosi didn’t wait until the transcript of the call was released to announce the official inquiry.

“It just seems odd to announce a vote on an impeachment inquiry today when you’re going to have information as to whether there’s any basis for it tomorrow,” he said.

“I mean I frankly just don’t understand why we don’t wait and read it and find out what’s there before taking a precipitous step. … You don’t start an impeachment proceeding to find out whether the president has done something that might be impeachable — you see a wrongdoing and impeachment is the remedy for that.”

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But McConnell noted that an actual impeachment hearing does give the House judicial authority — including the ability to issue subpoenas — and said that if the House wants to continue to investigate the president, it’s better that they pass a resolution of impeachment than "all the sort of halfway measures that we've been seeing over the past month."

“The proper thing is to pass a resolution of impeachment so that they have these powers and so that the electorate can hold them accountable for whether they are acting appropriately,” he said.

How the electorate will respond to any impeachment inquiry has been on the minds of many Democrats elected to swing districts in 2018 — including seven who ousted GOP incumbents in California last year.

Orange County Rep. Gil Cisneros was one of those freshmen withholding support for impeachment, but that changed this weekend.

Cisneros, along with six other Democrats with military or national security backgrounds, signed an opinion piece in the Washington Post over the weekend in which they argued that the "allegations are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent."

"We call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of 'inherent contempt' and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security," the article stated.

Cisneros wasn't the only one.

Among other California representatives who flipped seats in 2018 and are now calling for the formal inquiry are Rep. Katie Hill and Rep. Josh Harder.

Other Democrats elected in 2018 backed impeachment sooner. Congresswoman Katie Porter, of Irvine, announced in June that she would back an inquiry, and Rep. Mike Levin of Oceanside followed suit in July.

The members of Congress from California who actually held out the longest, though, weren't those most likely to lose their seats to partisan politics: They were members of Pelosi's leadership team, like Los Angeles Representative and Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff.

Schiff set off the latest controversy on September 13 by making public the whistleblower complaint. On Tuesday, after Pelosi's announcement, he finally announced his support for the investigation.

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