House Democrats moved aggressively to draw up formal articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Thursday, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying he "leaves us no choice" but to act swiftly because he's likely to corrupt the system again unless removed before next year's election.
A strictly partisan effort at this point, derided immediately by Trump and other leading Republicans as a sham and a hoax, it is a politically risky undertaking. Democrats say it is their duty, in the aftermath of the Ukraine probe, while Republicans say it will drive Pelosi's majority from office.
Congress must act, Pelosi said. "The democracy is what is at stake."
"The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution," she said in a somber address at the Capitol. "He is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections."
Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong. He tweeted that the Democrats "have gone crazy."
At the core of the impeachment probe is a July phone call with the president of Ukraine, in which Trump pressed the leader to investigate Democrats, including political rival Joe Biden. At the same time the White House was withholding military aid from Ukraine, an ally bordering an aggressive Russia.
Drafting articles of impeachment is a milestone moment, only the fourth time in U.S. history Congress has tried to remove a president, and it intensifies the rigid and polarizing partisanship of the Trump era that is consuming Washington and dividing the nation.
The speaker delivered her historic announcement in solemn tones at the Capitol, drawing on the Constitution and the Founding Fathers in forcefully claiming Congress' oversight of the president in the nation's system of checks and balances. Democrats are already beginning to prepare the formal charges, pushing toward House votes, possibly before Christmas.
"Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment," Pelosi said.
Seemingly eager to fight, Trump tweeted that if Democrats "are going to impeach me, do it now, fast." Though he has fought the House investigation, trying to bar current and former officials from testifying, he said he now wants to move on to a "fair trial" in the Senate.
Approval of articles of impeachment is considered likely in the Democratic-majority House. Conviction in a following trial in the Republican-dominated Senate seems very unlikely.
Once reluctant to pursue impeachment, warning it was too divisive for the country and needed to be bipartisan, Pelosi is now leading Congress into politically uncertain terrain for all sides just ahead of the election year.
Republican are standing lockstep with Trump, unswayed by arguments that his actions amount to wrongdoing, let alone impeachable offenses. That is leaving Democrats to go it alone in a campaign to consider removing the 45th president from office.
Pelosi emphasized the Russia connection, from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into 2016 election interference to the president's phone call this summer with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that set off alarms in Washington.
Russia and President Vladimir Putin benefited most from Trump's actions toward Ukraine, she said.
"All roads lead to Putin. Understand that," she declared at a news conference. "That was the a-ha moment."
She spoke solemnly and calmly, but that changed when she was asked as she was leaving if she hates Trump.
Pelosi stiffened, returned to the podium and responded sharply that the president's views and politics are for the voters to judge at elections but impeachment "is about the Constitution." She said that as a Catholic, she does not hate the president but rather is praying for him daily.
Trump quickly tweeted back that he didn't believe her.
Trump's allies argue that voters, not lawmakers, should decide the president's future. But Democrats say the nation cannot wait for the 2020 election, alleging Trump's past efforts to have foreign countries intervene in the presidential campaign are forcing them to act to prevent him from doing it again. Pelosi said the still-anonymous whistleblower's complaint about Trump's Ukraine call changed the dynamic, creating the urgency to act.
The number of articles and the allegations they will include will be both a legal and political exercise for the House committee chairmen, who will be meeting privately. They must balance electoral dynamics while striving to hit the Constitution's bar of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Pulling from the House's 300-page investigation of the Ukraine matter, Democrats are focusing on at least three areas — abuse of power, bribery and obstruction — that could result in two to five articles, they say.
They argue that Trump abused the power of his office by putting personal political gain over national security interests; engaging in bribery by holding out $400 million in military aid that Congress had approved for Ukraine; and then obstructing Congress by stonewalling the investigation.
Some liberal Democrats want to reach further into Trump's actions, particularly regarding the findings from special counsel Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. That could produce an additional article of obstruction not only of Congress, but also of justice.
But more centrist and moderate Democrats, those lawmakers who are most at risk of political fallout from the impeachment proceedings, prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans can more easily understand.
The GOP Leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy, said Pelosi is more concerned about tearing the president down than building the country up. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized Democrats for focusing on impeachment over other issues, though many House-passed bills are waiting for action in his chamber. "It's all impeachment, all the time," he said.
At the White House, press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted that Pelosi and the Democrats "should be ashamed."
House members are preparing to vote on the articles of impeachment in the Judiciary Committee, possibly as soon as next week. The committee set a Monday hearing to receive the Intelligence Committee's report outlining the findings against the president.
The House is expecting a full vote by Christmas. The would send the issue to the Senate for a trial in the new year.
The Pentagon is considering sending several thousand additional troops to the Middle East to help deter Iranian aggression, amid reports of escalating violence in Iran and continued meddling by Tehran in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the region.
John Rood, defense undersecretary for policy, told senators Thursday that Defense Secretary Mark Esper "intends to make changes" to the number of troops deployed in the region. Other officials said options under consideration could send between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East, but they all stressed that there have been no final decisions yet. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The troop deliberations follow several decisions since spring to beef up the U.S. presence in the Middle East because of a series of maritime attacks and bombings in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. and others have blamed on Iran.
President Donald Trump has approved those increases, even though he also routinely insists that he is pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East and withdrawing from what he calls "endless wars" against extremists. In October, Trump told his supporters that despite the sacrificing of U.S. lives in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, the region is less safe and stable today. "The single greatest mistake our country made in its history," he said, "was going into the quicksand of the Middle East."
Asked about a possible troop increase, Trump told reporters Thursday: "We'll announce whether we will or not. Certainly there might be a threat. And if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly. But we will be announcing what we may be doing — may or may not be doing."
Later Thursday, Trump's national security adviser Robert O'Brien said the president was open to sending more troops to the Middle East. "If the troops are needed to deter Iran, we have the capacity to move them into the region — although I don't think that's happening right now," O'Brien said on Fox News Channel's "Special Report with Bret Baier."
Military leaders have argued that the U.S. needs to increase its presence in the region in order to deter Iran from conducting more and broader attacks. Rood provided no details to back up why the additional troops are needed, but said the U.S. is concerned about recent intelligence indications suggesting an increased threat from Iran.
Rood was asked several times about reports that 14,000 more troops could be sent to the region. He repeatedly said Esper hasn't made a decision yet, but didn't specifically confirm or deny the number, so his answers appeared only to confuse senators. Shortly after the hearing, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah sent out a statement flatly denying the 14,000 number, saying Esper told the Senate committee chairman Thursday morning that "we are not considering sending 14,000 additional troops" to the region.
The troop discussions came as the Trump administration on Thursday accused Iranian security forces of killing more than 1,000 people in crackdowns against recent protests that have swept the country.
The estimated death toll is significantly higher than previously estimates from human rights groups and others, and the administration did not present documentary evidence to back up the claim. But Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told reporters the tally was based on a variety of reports coming out of Iran as well as intelligence analyses.
Speaking at the State Department, Hook said the U.S. had received and reviewed video of one specific incident of repression in the city of Mahshahr in which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps had mowed down at least 100 protesters with machine-gun fire.
He said the video was one of tens of thousands of submissions the U.S. has gotten since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed last month for Iranians to submit evidence of atrocities by the authorities in putting down the protests. In it, he said IRGC forces can be seen opening fire on protesters blocking a road and then surrounding those who fled to nearby marshlands where they were sprayed with bullets.
"In this one incident alone the regime murdered as many as 100 Iranians and possibly more," Hook told reporters at the State Department. He did not display the video but said the actions it depicted corresponded to accounts of a brutal nationwide crackdown on the demonstrations, which started in response to gasoline price increases and rationing.
"We have seen reports of many hundreds more killed in and around Tehran," he said. "And, as the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens since the protests began." The dead include 13- and 14-year-old children, he said.
Speaking at the White House, Trump said Iran had "killed hundreds and hundreds of people in a very short period of time" and called for international pressure to be applied. "They are killing protesters. They turned off their internet system. People aren't hearing what's going on," he told reporters while hosting a lunch for the ambassadors of U.N. Security Council members.
Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and there was no immediate comment on state media in Iran.
There was no known public video that supported Hooks' allegation of a massacre in Mahshahr, although he said the State Department had gotten more than 32,000 responses to Pompeo's appeal for videos and other evidence using the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which is popular in Iran.
Nor has there been any widely accepted claim matching Hook's death toll of more than 1,000. Amnesty International believes at least 208 people have been killed and that the number could be higher. Iran has disputed that figure, but has refused to offer any nationwide statistics of the number of injuries, arrests or deaths from the unrest.
However, Hook's numbers appear to match a figure put out late Wednesday by the Iranian exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which has paid Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for speeches at its events in the past.
The MeK alleged late Wednesday that more than 1,000 people had been killed. It published a list of 320 people it said it had identified so far as having been killed but did not provide proof.
Iran has alleged MeK supporters and those backing exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, the son of the country's late shah, of being behind the unrest alongside foreign powers. It has not offered evidence to support those allegations.
In addition to the deaths, Hook said more than 7,000 protesters had been detained, with many sent to two prisons. Hook said that Pompeo had notified Congress on Thursday that both prisons would be hit with U.S. sanctions for gross human rights abuses. It was not immediately clear when those designations would occur.
Hook's comments come as the U.S. steps up its "maximum pressure campaign" on Iran that it began after withdrawing from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal last year. That campaign has been highlighted by the imposition of increasingly tough sanctions and an increase in rhetoric critical of Tehran and its leadership.
As part of the pressure campaign, Hook announced that the U.S. is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the whereabouts of a top IRGC commander now believed to be supporting rebels in Yemen. He said Abdul Reza Shahalai was responsible for numerous attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and had been behind a foiled plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States in a Washington restaurant.
Indian police on Friday fatally shot and killed four men suspected of raping and killing a woman in southern India, leading some to celebrate their deaths as justice in a case that has sparked protests across the country.
The men, who were in police custody and had not been formally charged with any crime, were taken to the crime scenes, both where the rape and killing are suspected of taking place and the spot where the woman's body was burned about half a kilometer (a third of a mile) away, according to Shreedharan, an official in the police commissioner's office who uses one name.
Another police official said the suspects tried to grab an officer's firearm and escape. That officer spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The burned body of a 27-year-old woman was found last week by a passer-by in an underpass near Hyderabad after she went missing the previous night.
The high-profile case has sparked protests across India. About 300 people gathered at the crime scene in Shadnagar, a town in the state of Telangana about an hour southwest of Hyderabad, to praise police for killing the suspects.
Some hugged officers and lifted them into the air chanting "long live police," while others showered them with flowers.
But in New Delhi, some observers condemned the police killing.
"This type of justice is counterfeit," said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association.
"The killings are a ploy to shut down our demand of accountability from governments, judiciary and police, and dignity and justice for women. We demand a thorough investigation into this," she said.
Maneka Gandhi, a lawmaker from India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and a former Cabinet minister, accused police of taking the law into their own hands.
"They would've been hanged by court anyway. If you're going to kill the accused before any due process of law has been followed, then what's the point of having courts, law and police?" she said.
Federal prosecutors are accusing singer R. Kelly of scheming with others to pay for a fake ID for an unnamed female a day before he married R&B singer Aaliyah, then 15 years old, in a secret ceremony in 1994.
The revised indictment filed Thursday in New York, accuses Kelly of paying a bribe in exchange for a "fraudulent identification document" for someone identified only as "Jane Doe" on Aug. 30, 1994.
A day later, Kelly, then 27, married Aaliyah in a secret ceremony arranged by Kelly at a hotel in Chicago. The marriage was annulled months later because of her age. Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
The U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment about who the fake ID was meant for, and the indictment didn't mention the wedding, but a person familiar with the investigation confirmed the "Jane Doe" was Aaliyah. The person wasn't authorized to discuss details of the new charge and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kelly's attorney, Douglas Anton, called the latest charge against his client "ridiculous and absurd."
The Brooklyn prosecutors had already charged R. Kelly with racketeering, kidnapping, forced labor and sexual exploitation. They alleged he and his employees and assistants picked out women and girls at concerts and groomed them for sexual abuse.
The 52-year-old singer, who is being held without bond, is scheduled to stand trial in federal court in Chicago in April on child pornography and obstruction of justice charges before facing trial in Brooklyn. Kelly, whose given name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was acquitted in 2008 on charges of videotaping himself having sex with a girl who prosecutors allege was as young as 13.
R. Kelly's attorneys have long maintained that he was unaware of Aaliyah's age when they married. The Illinois marriage license used for the wedding said she was 18.
The indictment didn't identify the person who was paid the bribe in order to get the fake ID, except to say that the person was a public employee.
Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, worked with R. Kelly on her debut album "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number."
A blind prisoner convicted of killing his estranged girlfriend by setting her on fire in her car was put to death Thursday in Tennessee's electric chair, becoming only the second inmate without sight to be executed in the U.S. since the reinstatement of the nation's death penalty in 1976.
Lee Hall, 53, was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m. at a Nashville maximum-security prison, prison officials said. He chose the electric chair over Tennessee's preferred execution method of lethal injection — an option allowed inmates in the state who were convicted of crimes before January 1999. He also became the first blind inmate in U.S. modern history to die by electrocution.
Hall was asked if he had final words Thursday night. He asked for water so he could speak but was told there wasn't any. "People need to learn forgiveness and love and make this world a better place," Hall said shortly before being put to death.
Hall had his vision when he entered death row decades ago, but his attorneys say he later became functionally blind from improperly treated glaucoma. Only one other known blind inmate has been executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976: Clarence Ray Allen, 76, received a lethal injection in California in 2006.
Court documents state that Hall killed 22-year-old Traci Crozier on April 17, 1991 by setting her car ablaze with a container of gasoline that he lit and tossed in her vehicle while she was inside and trying to leave him. The container exploded and Crozier suffered burns across more than 90% of her body, dying the next day in the hospital.
Crozier's sister, Staci Wooten, and her father, Gene Crozier, had said earlier they planned to watch Hall's execution.
Defense attorney Kelly Gleason had asked the federal courts to stop Hall from being put to death after other attempts in state courts and with Tennessee's governor had failed. But late Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the inmate's 11th-hour request for a stay of execution. The court gave no explanation for its decision.
Previously, Hall's attorneys had been fighting for months to delay the execution plan, arguing that courts should have had the opportunity to weigh new questions surrounding a possible biased juror who helped hand down the death sentence decades ago against Hall, who was formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr.
The woman — simply known as "Juror A"— acknowledged publicly for the first time this year that she failed to disclose she had been repeatedly raped and abused by her former husband during Hall's jury selection process. Hall's attorneys argued the omission deprived him of a fair and impartial jury — a right protected in both the Tennessee and U.S. constitutions
However, both the Tennessee Supreme Court and Gov. Bill Lee declined to step in despite pleas from Hall's attorneys for more time to explore the possible legal concerns.
Lee, a Republican, has not intervened in any of the four execution cases that have come across his desk since he became governor in January. He also has previously declined to weigh in on whether he approves of the state's increased usage of the electric chair, noting instead that it's a legal option in Tennessee.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on whether use of the electric chair violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but it came close about 20 years ago after a series of botched electrocutions in Florida.
Meanwhile, state courts in Georgia and Nebraska have declared the electric chair unconstitutional.
The high court has also neither set an upper age limit for executions nor created an exception for a physical infirmity.
Tennessee is one of six states in which inmates can choose the electric chair, but it's the only state that has used the chair in recent years. Three out of five recent inmates put to death in Tennessee have chosen the chair since the state began resuming executions in August 2018.