This afternoon, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced an official impeachment inquiry into Individual Number One — Donald Trump.
Just after 5 PM Eastern, Pelosi delivered a short speech in support of impeachment at the Capitol to a room absolutely packed full of reporters and television cameras.
Pelosi’s action comes in the midst of an evolving scandal involving Donald Trump, the President of Ukraine, Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter.
For months, Trumpworld has become fixated on a complex conspiracy theory – peddled mainly by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s surrogate and personal lawyer – that centers on a 2015 visit then-Vice President Biden made to Kiev.
Trump’s cronies claim that Biden used his position to influence Ukrainian lawmakers to fire the country’s chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin, in order to protect Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian business partners from corruption investigations. You can read the details of this conspiracy theory, and the real truth behind the story, here.
Trump’s allies have been using this story to throw shade at Biden, who Trump seems to consider his most likely Democratic challenger, for months.
Speaker Pelosi’s decision to throw her support behind an impeachment inquiry comes amid reports that Donald Trump himself misused his authority to solicit foreign assistance for his 2020 reelection campaign.
The scandal began when reports emerged that a whistleblower from a U.S. intelligence agency had expressed serious concerns about a call between Trump and a foreign leader. That leader turned out to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the newly-elected President of Ukraine, who Trump called on July 25th.
In that conversation, Trump allegedly pressed Zelenskiy to investigate Hunter Biden. Trump has admitted that Biden was discussed during the call.
An inquiry centering on Hunter Biden would, in theory, also ensnare Joe Biden and – according to many Republicans’ calculations – thereby harm the top Democratic candidate campaigning to displace Trump in November of next year.
Giving credence to the idea that Trump pressured Zelenskiy into investigating the Bidens is reporting that Trump ordered that $400 million in U.S. military aid be held back from Ukraine before his call to Zelenskiy.
This would have created an obvious quid pro quo situation for the Ukrainian President. Ukraine has been bogged down in a quasi-war against Russian-backed separatist militants in the east of the country since 2014.
Nancy Pelosi’s decision to proceed with an official impeachment inquiry follows months of lobbying by progressive activists in support of impeachment.
For Pelosi, though, Trump’s latest misconduct appears to have been the catalyst for choosing this moment to make a public pronouncement for impeachment.
“For the past several months, we have been investigating in our committees and litigating in the courts so the House can gather all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article I powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity, approval of articles of impeachment,” Pelosi said.
“And this week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically.”
“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections. Therefore, today, I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry. I’m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry. The president must be held accountable.”
“No one is above the law,” she added.
Republicans are already mischaracterizing Pelosi’s move as simply the latest stage in a “witch hunt” against Trump. However, many appeared surprised by her announcement, having not expected it to come today.
Democratic presidential candidates, on the other hand, cheered the move, with Tom Steyer, Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and others applauding Pelosi.
The Democratic National Committee also gave its full backing to Pelosi’s move.
“I stand with Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats as they move forward with this impeachment inquiry,” said DNC Chair Tom Perez.
“Based on the president’s own admission, he has committed a gross abuse of power. Congress has an obligation to thoroughly investigate this matter and other wrongdoing; anything less would be an abdication of its constitutional responsibility to serve as a check on the executive branch.”
“Donald Trump has made countless promises to the American people, but he’s proven that he’s only capable of serving himself — and that there is no line he won’t cross to do so. Americans are tired of it, and they deserve better.”
“Democrats are fighting day in and day out to expand access to health care, raise wages, help the American worker, and uphold the rule of law. That is our promise to America – and unlike this president, we keep our promises.”
Democratic senators from the Pacific Northwest were also supportive.
“I support Speaker Pelosi’s decision to initiate a formal impeachment inquiry,” said Senator Maria Cantwell. “No one is above the law. We must safeguard our democracy and stop foreign interference in our elections.”
“What the House of Representatives did by opening an impeachment inquiry is essential to protecting the well-being of the country,” agreed Senator Ron Wyden.
Today’s announcement by Speaker Pelosi is no guarantee that impeachment efforts will actually succeed. Only two presidents in history have ever been impeached by the House of Representatives: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Richard Nixon avoided impeachment over the Watergate scandal by resigning in 1974, before the House could vote on impeachment.
And even if the House does impeach Trump, it wouldn’t result in his removal from office. Impeachment is akin to indictment in a criminal proceeding.
If Trump is impeached, he would face a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts — but with the proceedings orchestrated in large part by Mitch McConnell.
Senate Republicans are already circling the wagons in support of Trump and all but promising to vote to acquit him from whatever charges the House brings.
Nonetheless, there is value to the House impeaching Trump. If Trump is not impeached, it sends a terrible message that there are no consequences for blatant abuses of power, leaving our democracy in a perilous situation.