WASHINGTON (CN) – Spurred by reports that President Donald Trump enlisted the aid of Ukraine to dig up political dirt on his 2020 election rival Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that House Democrats will launch an impeachment inquiry into the president.
“The president must be held accountable, no one is above the law,” Pelosi said in a statement at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Pelosi said Tuesday the inquiry will be in the hands of the committees already marshaling a host of investigations into Trump and his administration. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler has repeatedly said his committee is already in the midst of an impeachment inquiry.
Trump took to Twitter to condemn Pelosi’s announcement, calling it a “witch hunt.”
“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,” Trump tweeted. “So bad for our Country!”
Pelosi discussed the House’s path forward on impeachment at a meeting with House Democrats in the basement of the Capitol Thursday afternoon. Leaving that meeting, Representative Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told reporters he is satisfied with Pelosi’s handling of the issue.
“When you ask somebody for help, by nature, you owe that person, and that’s a betrayal of the country,” Swalwell said, on why the Ukraine story pushed Democrats towards opening a formal inquiry.
But House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said Pelosi’s announcement does not change the nature of the investigations into Trump that are already active. Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, made a similar point, saying on Twitter the House still must vote for the inquiry to be official.
McCarthy also accused Democrats of going to extreme lengths to justify an impeachment they have been set on since the 2016 election.
“Speaker Pelosi happens to be the speaker of this House, but she does not speak for America when it comes to this issue,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “She cannot decide unilaterally what happens here.”
The controversy has been brewing for the past two weeks on the heels of reports about a July 25 call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff brought the matter to light by revealing that the call was flagged in a secret whistleblower complaint from someone in the intelligence community.
Though still under seal, the complaint reportedly says Trump urged Zelensky in the call to investigate what he believed were corrupt business dealings in Ukraine involving Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son.
The Washington Post reported Monday that, mere days before the call, Trump ordered a $400 million military aid package to Ukraine be put on hold.
President Trump has admitted to discussing Biden but also says the conversation was above board. Trump maintains the conversation did not veer into a quid pro quo discussion over the aid package and he promised Tuesday to release a transcript of the call.
“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call,” Trump tweeted this morning. “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!”
Disclosure of the transcript has no bearing, however, on whether the whistleblower complaint will remain sealed. That matter will be primarily left up to House Intelligence Committee, which will hear testimony Thursday from Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, in an open setting. The committee gave Maguire until Thursday to turn over the whistleblower complaint or face formal subpoena and possibly charges of contempt.
The Senate unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution Tuesday afternoon stating the whistleblower complaint should be made public.
While the House picks up steam on impeachment, a flurry of activity is also expected to unfold in the Senate. Though Republicans hold the majority there and are exceedingly unlikely to support any impeachment measure, Senate Democrats are reportedly now weighing a nonbinding resolution that will send the whistleblower complaint to the Senate and related intelligence committees.
If Republicans support the resolution, then they go on record voting against the president. If they do not support the resolution, they effectively signal to voters that the executive branch can operate unchecked by Congress.
So far, more than two-thirds of the Democrats 235-member caucus back some sort of impeachment action. Michigan independent lawmaker Justin Amash has also called for an impeachment investigation.
“I think this may be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said Tuesday. The Illinois Democrat told reports the evidence to impeach Trump was strong and had built up steadily.
“I think we have to move forward,” Durbin said.
Calls for impeachment built throughout the day, as did anticipation for Pelosi’s response.
Around 3 p.m. Tuesday, Representative Schiff was seen entering Pelosi’s office in the Capitol with House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel joined the huddle shortly after.
Schiff confirmed Tuesday that the committee received word from the whistleblower’s attorney.
“We have been informed by the whistleblower’s counsel that their client would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the Acting DNI as to how to do so,” the California Democrat tweeted. “We’re in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistleblower’s testimony as soon as this week.”
Representative Al Green, a Texas Democrat who has been pushing impeachment since 2017, said Pelosi’s announcement Tuesday is a step in the right direction and that he hopes the House can vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year.
“I must tell you, it feels good to see it happen,” Green told reporters Tuesday.