IT'S ON: Trump impeachment proceedings announced
Nancy Pelosi has announced an official impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump over alleged abuses of power.
Ms Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, said the President had "breached his constitutional responsibilities" over allegations he sought the help of a foreign country to harm a political rival.
"Today, I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry," she said. "I'm directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella … The president must be held accountable."
An impeachment inquiry is the investigation that precedes a vote on the floor of the House to remove a sitting president.
In this case, it will serve to give Democrats more tools to try to extract information from an unwilling Trump administration, following allegations Mr Trump pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the son of his political rival Joe Biden.
If they receive enough sufficient evidence, the Democrats can then move to craft articles of impeachment - criminal charges - and send them to the full House where the voting process will commence.
Responding to the announcement, Mr Trump accused the Democrats of "presidential harassment", describing Ms Pelosi's announcement as "breaking news Witch Hunt garbage".
Such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage. So bad for our Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
During her speech, Ms Pelosi accused the President of compromising America's national security.
"I can say with authority the Trump administration's actions undermine both our national security and our intelligence and our protections of whistleblowers," she said.
"The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution, especially when the president says, 'Article Two says I can do whatever I want'.
"The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonourable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.
"The President must be held accountable. No one is above the law."
Ms Pelosi did not take questions after her statement.
The House Speaker has previously shown little appetite for impeachment during the first three years of Mr Trump's tumultuous presidency, despite a push among Democrats in the US Congress to impeach Mr Trump having gained momentum in that time.
The matter became the subject of a whistleblower's complaint which alleged Mr Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden and his son despite a lack of known evidence that either did anything wrong.
Congressional Democrats called the action an abuse of power, and charged that Mr Trump was using US aid as a weapon to pressure Ukraine into helping bring down a political rival.
Mr Trump on Tuesday declared that he would release an unredacted transcript of his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
"I am currently at the United Nations representing our Country, but have authorised the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine," he wrote on Twitter at 2:12pm.
"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!" the president continued.
Former Vice President Joe Biden called on Congress to investigate Mr Trump.
"Denying Congress the information, which it is constitutionally entitled to, and obstructing its efforts to investigate actions is not the conduct of an American president. It's an abuse of power," Mr Biden said.
"Donald Trump leaves Congress, in my view, no choice but to initiate impeachment. That would be a tragedy, but a tragedy of his own making."
He added that Congress should demand the information they need to investigate Mr Trump.
"I can take the political attacks. They'll come and they're go, and in time they'll soon be forgotten, but if we allow a president to get away with shredding the United States constitution, that will last forever," Mr Biden said.
More than 150 of the 235 Democratic members of the 435-seat House support impeachment or the opening of an inquiry into removing the president.
No House Republicans have come out in favour of impeachment and Republicans currently control the Senate, making conviction unlikely.
A US president has never been ousted from office by impeachment, but the threat alone can bring one down - Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid certain removal in the Watergate scandal.
Two presidents beat the process: the House formally impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, but in both cases they were acquitted in the Senate.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
If politicians believe a president is guilty of what the US Constitution calls "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours," the process begins in the House of Representatives.
Any member can introduce an impeachment resolution, which like any other bill would be sent to a committee, most likely the House Judiciary Committee.
The committee can review the evidence it receives, or carry out an investigation itself.
If the evidence is strong enough, the committee crafts articles of impeachment - criminal charges - and sends them to the full House.
The House can pass the articles by a simple majority vote, "impeaching" the president.
The articles then go to the Senate, where a trial takes place, with representatives from the House acting as prosecutors and the president and his attorneys presenting his defence.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial in the Senate. The 100-member Senate then votes on the charges, with a two-thirds majority necessary to convict and remove the president.
If the president is convicted, the vice president would then take over the White House.
WHAT KIND OF CHARGES DO PRESIDENTS FACE?
The accusations have to meet the constitutional standard of "high crimes or misdemeanours," which is very broad.
In the cases of Mr Clinton and Mr Nixon, independent prosecutors conducted extensive investigations and amassed evidence to support criminal charges.
Mr Nixon was accused of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt. Mr Clinton, in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, was accused of perjury and obstruction. Mr Trump could conceivably face charges of abuse of power for using his office to pressure Ukraine to conduct a politically-motivated investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who had business dealings in Ukraine.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in the Russia election meddling investigation, also detailed multiple instances of alleged obstruction of justice by Mr Trump that could arguably support charges.
IS IT ABOUT LAW OR POLITICS?
Both. Given the momentous nature of an effort to remove the president, a clear crime with strong evidence - stronger than for an average citizen - is required.
At the same time, it is very much a political decision.
In past impeachment proceedings, support and opposition ran along party lines, though in Mr Nixon's case the offences were so egregious that Republican backing for him quickly disintegrated.
In Democrat Mr Clinton's case, Republicans controlled the entire Congress. But when impeachment charges went to the Senate, the 45 Democratic Senators stayed united to block a two-thirds vote for conviction.
With Mr Trump, Democrats are divided for political reasons.
Ms Pelosi has previously argued that impeaching Mr Trump would go nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate and could damage the party's effort to win full control of the Congress and the White House in the November 2020 elections.
Others in the party say Mr Trump needs to be held accountable - that Democratic voters demand it.
- with AFP