US President Donald Trump (Photo: AP)
US President Donald Trump (Photo: AP)

Donald Trump becomes the fourth US president to face impeachment

  • A White House transcript confirmed that Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to probe Joe Biden
  • Trump has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the spectre of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support

Washington plunged into an impeachment crisis on Wednesday, as House Democrats opened an investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign season dealings with Ukraine. Trump repeatedly prodded Ukraine’s president to look into Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript released by the White House.

“Whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great," Trump said in the summer phone call. He was referring to attorney general William Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement official.

The president’s words set the parameters of the political debate to come, with Trump dismissing it as routine and Democrats saying that it laid the predicate for an impeachment inquiry.

The release came against the backdrop of Trump’s meetings with world leaders at the UN, a remarkable split screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. On Trump’s schedule for Wednesday: a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose contacts with Trump are now central to the impeachment inquiry.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the formal impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, yielding to pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election-year clash between Congress and the commander in chief. The probe injects deep uncertainty into the 2020 election campaign and tests anew the nation’s constitutional system of checks and balances.

(Graphic: Sarvesh Kumar Sharma/Mint)
(Graphic: Sarvesh Kumar Sharma/Mint)

The inquiry marks just the fourth time in American history a president has faced a viable threat of impeachment.

Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the spectre of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support. “There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have," he tweeted on Wednesday from New York. “The Democrats are frozen with hatred and fear. They get nothing done. This should never be allowed to happen to another President. Witch Hunt!"

While Pelosi’s announcement adds weight to the work being done on the oversight committees, the next steps are likely to resemble the past several months of hearings and legal battles, except with the possibility of actual impeachment votes.

Her statement, delivered without flourish but in the framework of a constitutional crisis, capped a frenetic week-long stretch on Capitol Hill as details of a classified whistleblower complaint about Trump burst into the open and momentum shifted towards an impeachment probe.

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