(CN) – Former Vice President Joe Biden, front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, called on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings Tuesday unless President Donald Trump complies with an investigation into his dealings with Ukraine.
“Using its full constitutional authority, Congress should demand the information it has a legal right to receive,” Biden said in a brief speech from his hometown in Delaware. “And if the president does not comply – if he continues to obstruct Congress and flout the law – Donald Trump will leave Congress no choice but to initiate impeachment.”
Biden’s call for possible impeachment is remarkable given the constraint he has shown on the issue on the campaign trail, distinguishing himself from other candidates such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has vociferously and repeatedly called for the impeachment of Trump over his conduct with Russia during the 2016 election.
But the Ukraine matter presents a new issue for Trump and his supporters since it occurred during his presidency.
A so far unnamed whistleblower in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence filed a complaint with the agency’s inspector general, claiming Trump engaged in unethical behavior by pressuring Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden.
The president later withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid to Ukraine, causing observers to accuse the president of a quid pro quo arrangement whereby Ukraine would receive the aid in exchange for an investigation of Biden and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden took a seat on the board of Ukraine’s largest private gas company, Burisma, in 2014.
Biden spent little time on the allegations made by Trump and forwarded by right-wing media outlets regarding potential corruption, dismissing such allegations as “baseless, not true and without merit.”
But he was careful to point out that impeachment would not be solely about the existence of a quid pro quo arrangement. Instead, Biden said impeachment should be predicated on the abuse of power associated with the president’s refusal to hand over documents relevant to an investigation into the matter.
“We have a president who believes there is no limit to his power,” Biden said. “We have a president who believes he can do anything and get away with it. We have a president who believes he is above the law.”
Trump denies wrongdoing and on Tuesday appeared to try to control the spiraling controversy by promising to release the transcript of his call with Zelensky on Wednesday.
“I am currently at the United Nations representing our country, but have authorized the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine,” he tweeted moments before Biden went before the cameras. “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.”
While a release of the transcript may prove palliative, Biden and other leading Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say the investigation encompasses more than one phone call.
Democrats are enraged the inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has been prevented from sharing the whistleblower complaint with Congress, as required by law.
“There is no requirement there be a quid pro quo in the conversation,” Pelosi said at an event Tuesday afternoon.
Pelosi is expected to announce the launch of impeachment proceedings during a speech slated Tuesday evening.
Biden meanwhile has made the political calculation that impeachment is no longer a pet project of the most leftward faction of the Democratic Party, but is signaling that even his base of moderate Democrats and independents will find Trump’s latest conduct rises to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” – the constitutional threshold for impeachment.
“Denying Congress the information to which it is constitutionally entitled – and obstructing its efforts to investigate his actions – is not the conduct of an American president,” Biden said. “It’s an abuse of power.”