The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, on Thursday said she had directed the House Committee on Judiciary to start drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
In an announcement Thursday afternoon, Ms Pelosi said she had found enough evidence that Mr Trump had committed criminal offences strong enough to support his impeachment from office.
“The facts are uncontested,” Ms Pelosi said in the televised announcement. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit, at the expense of our national security.”
The Speaker made the announcement a day after three constitutional lawyers invited by Democrats to give testimony at the impeachment hearing said Mr Trump’s offences were impeachable. An expert invited by the Republican members of Congress said Mr Trump had not done anything to warrant impeachment.
At issue in the politically-charged case was whether Mr Trump used his position to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to probe former Vice President Joseph Biden and other Democrats. Mr Biden has been shaping up to be the biggest challenger to Mr Trump in 2020.
The Democrat-led House said Mr Trump had threatened to withhold over $390 million in crucial military support to Ukraine if his demands were not met.
Mr Trump strongly denied the allegations, releasing transcripts of the telephone call and saying there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Republican House members in the minority have rallied behind Mr Trump, agreeing with the president that the impeachment was a witch hunt. They repeatedly attacked and undermined Democrats argument throughout the trial.
But following about eight weeks of hearing, Ms Pelosi announced Thursday that the House would proceed with adopting articles of impeachment against Mr Trump, and subsequently remove him from office.
“His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” the Speaker said. “Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment.”
Mr Trump appeared to have anticipated Ms Pelosi’s announcement, tweeting hours earlier that the Democrats should expedite the impeachment in the House so that it could move to the Republican-led Senate where he was confident that the process would be quashed.
He lampooned Democrats as “crazy” and said he could not wait to defend himself before the Senate.
“If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business,” he wrote.
The Senate would have to ratify the impeachment before Mr Trump could be removed from office, a scenario that no one expects would happen. In 1998, former President Bill Clinton was impeached by a Republican-led House, but the Senate did not ratify it and he served out his tenure, leaving office in January 2001 after two terms.
If anything, political observers said the potential impeachment of Mr Trump by the House could weaken the president’s overall appeal ahead of the 2020 presidential election.