Impeachment pressure grows, Trump remains defiant

AFP Washington Sep 23, 2019, 10.34 PM(IST)

File photo of Donald Trump. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

A defiant Trump said he is taking the impeachment threat "not at all seriously" and sought to make the controversy about Biden, accusing the former vice president, without evidence, of engaging in corruption in Ukraine.

Pressure escalated Monday for US Democrats to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, who faces accusations that he sought to extort Ukraine into revealing dirt on his political rival Joe Biden.

A defiant Trump said he is taking the impeachment threat "not at all seriously" and sought to make the controversy about Biden, accusing the former vice president, without evidence, of engaging in corruption in Ukraine.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned of "a grave new chapter of lawlessness" as Democrats ramped up demands that the administration release a secret whistleblower complaint that sparked the latest crisis.

The complaint reportedly centers on Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, and a possible attempt to coerce Zelensky into digging up damning information about Biden's son's business dealings in Ukraine.

Trump himself acknowledged Sunday that the conversation addressed alleged corruption involving Biden and son Hunter.

"The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption... and largely the fact that we don't want our people, like vice president Biden and his son, creating... the corruption already in the Ukraine," Trump said. 

On Monday, he followed up with a bald attack on the Democratic frontrunner in the 2020 race for the White House.

"What Biden did is a disgrace. What his son did is a disgrace. The son took money from Ukraine and from China," Trump said, without providing details.

To date there has been no evidence that implicates the Bidens in illegal conduct in Ukraine.

'Impeachable offense' 

Several Democrats now argue that Trump's call for Ukraine to investigate Biden -- and what they suspect was a threat to condition $250 million in aid to Ukraine on an investigation of Biden -- is impeachable conduct. That view may be pushing House leaders towards a tipping point for launching removal proceedings.

"I mean, extorting a foreign leader for the purposes of getting that leader to do your political work to try to find dirt on your opponent is extortion," House Democrat Jim Himes told CNN Monday.

"Of course it's an impeachable offense," he added.

"I can't tell you that the House will move into impeachment mode right away, but this really ups the ante."

With pressure building, a handful of Republicans in the US Senate -- which would hold a trial of Trump should the House impeach him -- have signalled they want the president to be more transparent about the call and the whistleblower's complaint.

"I would just urge the president -- you know, he's talking openly about the conversation -- to release as much as possible," Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump loyalist, told the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

On Sunday, Senator Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 and no fan of Trump, sounded a severe warning that evidence of Trump asking Ukraine's president to investigate Biden "would be troubling in the extreme."

But most congressional Republicans have either defended the president or remained silent.

All eyes will be on Washington Thursday, when the administration official who blocked release to Congress of the whistleblower document, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, is scheduled to testify publicly on the issue before a House panel.

Launching impeachment proceedings could be a politically risky move ahead of a presidential election, especially given the high hurdle of convicting the president in the Republican-led Senate.

Of the 235 House Democrats, 137 of them, plus Republican-turned-independent Justin Amash, support launching an impeachment inquiry, according to a CNN count.

Democrat leaders have hesitated to pull the impeachment trigger. But Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said his own reservations about impeachment were fading over Trump's Ukraine call.

"I have been very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment (but) the president is pushing us down this road," he said Sunday.

"This seems different in kind, and we may very well have crossed the Rubicon here."