Democrats have announced two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, pushing towards historic votes on charges he threatened the integrity of the US election system and endangered national security in dealings with Ukraine.
House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen and women of the impeachment inquiry committees, declared at the US Capitol that they were upholding their solemn oath to defend the constitution.
Voting on the two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – is expected in a matter of days on the Judiciary Committee and by Christmas in the full House.
The president swiftly responded on Twitter, calling the charges a “WITCH HUNT!”
The White House said the charges were “baseless” and his re-election campaign called them “rank partisanship”.
To Impeach a President who has proven through results, including producing perhaps the strongest economy in our country’s history, to have one of the most successful presidencies ever, and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness! #2020Election
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2019
Democrats said they had no choice but to act because Mr Trump has shown a pattern of behaviour that poses risks to the democratic process ahead of the 2020 election.
“Our president holds the ultimate public trust. When he betrays that trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the constitution, he endangers our democracy, he endangers our national security,” said Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chairman, announcing the charges.
“Our next election is at risk. That is why we must act now. No one, not even the president, is above the law.”
Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said: “We stand here today because the president’s abuse of power leaves us with no choice.”
Mr Trump, who has declined to mount a defence in the House hearings, tweeted as the six Democratic House committee chairmen and women prepared to make their announcement.
“To Impeach a President who has proven through results, including producing perhaps the strongest economy in our country’s history, to have one of the most successful presidencies ever, and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness,” he wrote.
His allies also plunged into the fight. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Democrats are trying to “overthrow” the administration, and campaign manager Brad Parscale said Democrats are “putting on this political theatre because they don’t have a viable candidate for 2020 and they know it”.
The president’s son Eric embraced his father’s penchant for name calling, assailing Ms Pelosi and “her swamp creatures”.
Approval of the charges would send them to the Senate in January, where the Republican majority would be unlikely to convict Mr Trump.
Democratic leaders say Trump put his political interests above those of the nation when he asked Ukraine to investigate his rivals, including Democrat Joe Biden, and then withheld 400 million dollars in military aid as the US ally faced an aggressive Russia.
They say he then obstructed Congress by stonewalling the House investigation.
Mr Trump insisted in a new tweet that when he asked Ukraine’s president “to do us a favour” with the investigations he was requesting “’us’ is a reference to USA, not me!”
But Democrats say his meaning could not have been clearer in seeking political dirt on Mr Biden, his possible opponent in the 2020 election.