US Politics: Democrats begin impeachment proceedings against Trump

Trump is the fourth US president to face an impeachment investigation
Trump says Democrats are pursuing a witch hunt against him
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Donald Trump has accused the Democratic Party of pursuing a witch hunt against him, after his political opponents launched an official impeachment inquiry into the president. Tradefair brings you the latest from US politics...

"The president must be held accountable. No-one is above the law,"

- House speaker Nancy Pelosi

The US Democratic Party this week took the action that many of its members have been demanding for years - launching official impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. The move followed allegations Trump had pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, the former vice-president and one of the leading contenders for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.

Having previously resisted calls to begin an impeachment inquiry, Nancy Pelosi, the current speaker of the House of Representatives, said the president "must be held accountable".

Trump becomes the fourth president in US history to face an impeachment investigation. In response, he repeated a claim he has made many times in the past: that he is the victim of a witch hunt.

What triggered the inquiry?

Leaders of the Democratic Party united behind the move to begin impeachment proceedings following a complaint by an intelligence whistleblower, which related to a telephone conversation between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, on July 25th.

It's alleged that, during the call, Trump pressured Zelensky to look into unsubstantiated claims of corruption against Biden and his son, Hunter. The complainant also claimed the president threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine unless Zelensky agreed to investigate Biden.

After coming under pressure from Congress, the White House agreed to release a memo summarising the call, which revealed that Trump had urged Zelensky to work with the US attorney general in looking at Biden and his son, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called the transcript a "smoking gun", adding: "If this is the version of events the president's team thinks is most favourable, he is in very deep jeopardy."

Pelosi gave an official statement saying Trump had betrayed his oath of office and violated the law.

"This week the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take action that would benefit him politically," she added.

"The president must be held accountable. No-one is above the law."

Trump and his Republican allies, however, have insisted the call was innocent and argued the transcript contains nothing incriminating.

'No quid pro quo'

The memo - which only summarises what was said on the call, rather than giving a verbatim account - refers to Trump asking Zelensky for a "favour", shortly after the Ukrainian leader raises the subject of military aid.

Trump also says there has been "a lot of talk" about Biden and the possibility he had intervened to stop the prosecution of his son in Ukraine in 2016.

"A lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the [US] attorney general would be great," the US president adds.

Trump's take on the call transcript was that it shows "no quid pro quo" with Ukraine, in that there is no explicit offer of US military aid in exchange for an investigation into Biden.

He also said the conversation with Zelensky was friendly, and an exchange that had been built up as "the call from hell" was actually a "nothing call".

Regarding his political opponents at home, Trump took to Twitter to accuse the Democrats of being "frozen with hatred and fear", adding that they "get nothing done". He also claimed he has received harsher treatment than any other president in the history of the United States.

What happens next?

The official announcement from Pelosi means lawmakers now have the green light to investigate the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, to determine whether the US president committed an impeachable offence.

Six congressional committees that are already investigating Trump will continue their work, but now as part of a formal impeachment inquiry.

The next phase after that would be a vote on one or more articles of impeachment in the House of Representatives, where the Democrats currently hold a majority of 235 seats to the Republicans' 198. The president's political opponents could therefore have the power to pass an article of impeachment through the lower house of Congress.

However, the article would then move on to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it would have to secure a two-thirds majority to convict the president and remove him from office. This means at least 20 Republican senators would have to defect and vote against Trump for impeachment to succeed.

For the time being, members of Congress will want to conduct a closer examination of the whistleblower's complaint and any evidence relating to the phone call with the Ukrainian president.

It has been an extraordinary week in Washington, and the consequences of the political chaos have been clear to see on the stock markets.

On Tuesday, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite indexes experienced their worst days in a month, largely because of fears around Trump's political future. The following day, however, suggestions from the president that a trade deal between China and the US could arrive sooner than expected boosted the Nasdaq by 1.1%, while both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 rose by 0.6%.

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