WASHINGTON (CN) – As Washington roils under the weight of a historic impeachment inquiry, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi fielded questions about the process and the future under President Trump in a televised town hall Thursday night.
Just that morning, Pelosi advanced the inquiry further with orders for the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees to begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
Pelosi underlined the decision Thursday night during the CNN-hosted town hall moderated by Jake Tapper, explaining the driving force behind her choice to invoke the rarely used measure.
“If we were not to proceed, it would be clear our democracy is gone, our president is king, and he can do whatever he wants in violation of the law, undermining our checks and balances,” Pelosi said.
Despite the president’s protests, Pelosi denies that the inquiry was politically motivated. Rather, the choice to impeach Trump was made with at least two premises in the speaker’s mind: that President Trump abused his power and violated his oath of office when he solicited political investigations for his personal benefit from a foreign power; and the need to fulfill the vow all members of Congress make to uphold the U.S. Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic.
It has been just over two months since the impeachment inquiry was triggered on the heels of a whistleblower complaint citing “urgent” concern about President Trump’s call with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky in July.
The whistleblower alleged Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate his 2020 election opponent Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter and the Ukrainian energy conglomerate Burisma Holdings. The concerns of the whistleblower were found credible by the intelligence community’s inspector general.
Though Ukraine ultimately never followed through on announcing an investigation – a move that could have had ramifications on the 2020 election – Pelosi it was the very request, as well as the president’s refusal to comply with congressional requests for records and testimony, that led to this moment in history. Multiple top Trump administration officials corroborated reports about the request over weeks of testimony before the House this fall.
Whether the instances of obstruction laid out in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report of interference in the 2016 election will be included in the final drafting of impeachment articles remained a mystery after the town hall.
“With all due respect, we’re not writing the articles here tonight,” Pelosi quipped.
But she did say that the president’s actions, according to Mueller’s report, were “impeachable offenses.”
What happened between Trump and Zelensky merely sealed the president’s fate.
“The Ukraine ordeal removed all doubt," the speaker said. "He undermined national security, jeopardized the integrity of our elections and he violated his oath of office.”
When fielding questions about Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who announced this week he was traveling to Ukraine to continue investigating the Bidens – he is there making a documentary series for the conservative One America News network – Pelosi’s response was cool.
“I’m a busy person,” she said. “I don’t have time to keep track of Rudy Giuliani, I just don’t.”
Pelosi may not be keeping tabs on him, but prosecutors in the Southern District of New York reportedly have Giuliani’s business dealings in Ukraine and with indicted associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman under scrutiny.
Pelosi remarked on “the arrogance of it all.”
“Every authority has said there’s no truth to the rumor that Ukrainians were interfering in elections,” she told Tapper.
She said Giuliani’s actions aren’t about defeating corruption in Ukraine or protecting American interests; rather, his actions are a favor to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his attempts to interfere in U.S. politics.
“And Giuliani’s pursuit in Ukraine just emboldens Putin,” she said.
The forum also gave the speaker opportunity to push back against the narrative espoused by the White House for months that House Democrats are “Do Nothing Democrats,” a familiar jab by the president who as recently as Thursday morning used the moniker to lash out at the impeachment in the House while demanding Democrats “do it now, fast,” so the process will move to the Republican-controlled Senate.
In reality, Congress this year has passed 70 pieces of legislation, while the House since Democrats took over the body has passed 400 pieces of legislation.
Legislation has languished as a result of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s self-professed “grim reaper” approach and back-burnering House-passed legislation as he largely prioritizes appointing Trump-picked judges.
The subject of the courts came up frequently Thursday. Pelosi answered criticism that, instead of impeachment, Democratic lawmakers should have relied on the courts to force Trump into compliance.
“The point is this information should be made available to Congress,” she said of the multiple subpoenas for records and testimony pertaining to Ukraine, Trump’s tax records, and more that Congress has sought for weeks and months.
Pelosi was mum about how the process would unfold in the Senate once the House has completed the inquiry.
To be mostly silent on this count is a prudent step as the congressional conflict heats up. Lawmakers in both bodies are often quick to delineate their respective territories.
Trump’s engagement with Ukraine is regularly likened to an existential and outsized threat to the rule of law by Democrats in the House.
At one point Thursday night, Pelosi was asked whether she faces an existential crisis of her own: If impeachment ultimately fails when it moves to the Senate, and Trump is re-elected later, would she or the Democrats be responsible or hold themselves to blame? Further, what then would happen to the rule of law Democrats have for weeks argued has been so flagrantly disrespected?
“Let’s not even contemplate that, really," she said. "The damage this administration has done to America – we’re a great country, we can sustain. But two terms? I don’t know.”
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