House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday she would deliver an unusual public statement on the status of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, Pelosi met behind closed doors with her Democratic caucus, asking, "Äre you ready?"
The answer was a resounding yes, according to those in the room.
Democrats are charging toward a Christmastime vote on removing the 45th president, a situation Pelosi hoped to avoid but which now seems inevitable. She is to make a public statement on impeachment at 9 a.m.
Three leading legal scholars testified Wednesday to the House Judiciary Committee that Trump's attempts to have Ukraine investigate Democratic rivals are grounds for impeachment, bolstering the Democrats' case.
A fourth expert called by Republicans warned against rushing the process, arguing this would be the shortest of impeachment proceedings, with the "thinnest" record of evidence in modern times, setting a worrisome standard.
Trump is alleged to have abused the power of his office by putting personal political gain over national security interests, engaging in bribery by withholding $400 million in military aid Congress had approved for Ukraine; and then obstructing Congress by stonewalling the investigation.
Across the Capitol, the polarizing political divide over impeachment, only the fourth such inquiry in the nation's history, was on display.
Democrats in the House say the inquiry is a duty. Republican representatives say it's a sham. And quietly senators of both parties conferred on Wednesday, preparing for an eventual Trump trial.
"Never before, in the history of the republic, have we been forced to consider the conduct of a president who appears to have solicited personal, political favors from a foreign government," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chair of the Judiciary panel, which would draw up articles of impeachment.
Nadler said Trump's phone July 25 call seeking a "favor" from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wasn't the first time he had sought foreign help to influence an American election, noting Russian interference in 2016. He warned against inaction with a new campaign underway.
"We cannot wait for the election," he said. " If we do not act to hold him in check, now, President Trump will almost certainly try again to solicit interference in the election for his personal political gain."
Trump, attending a NATO meeting in London, called the hearing a "joke" and doubted many people would watch because it's "boring."
Once an outsider to the GOP, Trump now has Republicans' unwavering support. They joined in his name-calling the Judiciary proceedings a "disgrace" and unfair, the dredging up of unfounded allegations as part of an effort to undo the 2016 election and remove him from office.
"You just don't like the guy," said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel. Trump rewarded some of his allies with politically valuable presidential tweets as the daylong hearing dragged into the evening.
At their private meeting Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers also delivered a standing ovation to Rep. Adam Schiff, whose 300-page Intelligence Committee report cataloged potential grounds for impeachment, overwhelmingly indicating they want to continue to press the inquiry rather than slow its advance or call a halt for fear of political costs in next year's congressional elections.
Meanwhile, Trump's team fanned out across the Capitol with Vice President Mike Pence meeting with House Republicans and White House officials conferring with Senate Republicans to prepare for what could be the first presidential impeachment trial in a generation.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who has declined for now to participate in the House proceedings, relayed Trump's hope that the impeachment effort can be stopped in the House and there will be no need for a Senate trial, which seems unlikely.
White House officials and others said Trump is eager to have his say. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, "He feels like he has had no opportunity to tell his side of the story."
Trump lambastes the impeachment probe daily and proclaims his innocence of any wrongdoing at length, but he has declined to testify before House hearings or answer questions in writing.
At the heart of the inquiry is his July phone call asking Ukraine to investigate rival Democrats including Joe Biden as he was withholding aid from the ally, which faced an aggressive Russia on its border.
At Wednesday's session, three legal experts called by Democrats said impeachment was merited.
Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor, said he considered it clear that the president's conduct met the definition of "high crimes and misdemeanors." Said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, "If what we're talking about is not impeachable ... then nothing is impeachable."
The only Republican witness, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, dissented from the other legal experts. He said the Democrats were bringing a "slipshod impeachment" case against the president, but he didn't excuse Trump's behavior.
"It is not wrong because President Trump is right," Turley said. "A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record."
New telephone records released with the House report deepened Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's known involvement in what investigators call the "scheme."
Asked about that, Trump told reporters he doesn't know why Giuliani was calling the White House Office of Management and Budget, which was withholding the military aid to Ukraine.
"You have to ask him," Trump said. "Sounds like something that's not so complicated. ... No big deal."
Based on two months of investigation sparked by a still-anonymous government whistleblower's complaint, the Intelligence Committee's impeachment report found that Trump "sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process and endangered U.S. national security." When Congress began investigating, it says, Trump obstructed the investigation like no other president in history.
Republicans defended the president in a 123-page rebuttal claiming Trump never intended to pressure Ukraine when he asked for investigations of Biden and his son.
While liberal Democrats are pushing the party to incorporate the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and other actions by Trump, more centrist and moderate Democrats prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans understand.
Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment in a matter of days, with a Judiciary Committee vote next week. The full House could vote by Christmas. Then the matter would move to the Senate for a trial in 2020.
A U.S. federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Deutsche Bank and Capital One must comply with a House subpoena, which has demanded U.S. President Donald Trump's financial records.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, in a two-to-one ruling, was in favor of ordering "prompt compliance" with the subpoena from the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees.
The subpoena is part of a congressional probe into the president's dealings with Deutsche Bank, which is reportedly under investigation for its role in a money-laundering scheme.
The Second Circuit and the D.C. Circuit have both ruled that Trump's accounting firm must comply with separate subpoenas from the Manhattan district attorney and House investigators.
The president has asked the Supreme Court to intervene in some of those cases.
Jay Sekulow, Trump's personal attorney, tweeted on Tuesday that "we believe the subpoena is invalid as issued."
"In light of the Second Circuit decision, we are evaluating our next options including seeking review at the Supreme Court of the United States," Sekulow added.
Last month, the Supreme Court ordered a temporary stay, meaning Trump's financial records could remain outside the hands of investigators.
U.S. media earlier reported that Deutsche Bank has lent Trump's businesses millions of dollars in the past years and Capital One is among the banks where Trump holds personal accounts.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his NATO counterparts are gathering as infighting between some of its biggest member countries threatens to undermine the credibility of the military alliance.
The leaders of the 29-member trans-Atlantic organization are meeting Wednesday at a luxury hotel and golf resort in outer London for a half-day session.
They are due to publish a declaration underlining their commitment to NATO on its 70th birthday, and to show that the alliance is adapting to modern threats and potential new adversaries like China.
Trump and President Emmanuel Macron clashed Tuesday over the French leader's criticism of NATO. Macron says NATO needs "a wake-up call" and he has complained of a lack of U.S. leadership.
The United States is by far the biggest and most influential member of NATO.
The House Judiciary Committee is moving swiftly to weigh findings by fellow lawmakers that President Donald Trump misused the power of his office for personal political gain and then obstructed Congress' investigation as possible grounds for impeachment.
Responsible for drafting articles of impeachment, the Judiciary Committee prepared Wednesday morning for its first hearing since the release of a 300-page report by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee that found "serious misconduct" by the president.
The report did not render a judgment on whether Trump's actions stemming from a July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president rose to the constitutional level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" warranting impeachment. That is for the full House to decide. But its findings involving Trump's efforts to seek foreign intervention in the American election process provide the basis for a House vote on impeachment and a Senate trial carrying the penalty of removal from office.
"The evidence that we have found is really quite overwhelming that the president used the power of his office to secure political favors and abuse the trust American people put in him and jeopardize our security," Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told The Associated Press.
"It was a difficult decision to go down this road, because it's so consequential for the country," Schiff said. But "the president was the author of his own impeachment inquiry by repeatedly seeking foreign help in his election campaigns."
Schiff added: "Americans need to understand that this president is putting his personal political interests above theirs. And that it's endangering the country."
The session Wednesday with legal scholars will delve into possible impeachable offenses, but the real focus will be on the panel, led by Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and made up of a sometimes boisterous, sharply partisan division of lawmakers.
In a 53-page opening statement obtained by the AP, Republican witness Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, will say that the Democrats are bringing a "slipshod impeachment" case against the president based on secondhand information. Still, Turley doesn't excuse the president's behavior.
"It is not wrong because President Trump is right," according to Turley. He calls Trump's call with Ukraine "anything but 'perfect," as the president claims. "A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record," he says.
The remaining three witnesses, all called by Democrats, will argue for impeachment, according to statements obtained by theAP.
Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill argues, "If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning."
The political risks are high for all parties as the House presses only the fourth presidential impeachment inquiry in U.S. history.
In a statement, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, "Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump." She said the report "reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing."
Trump, attending a NATO meeting in London, called the impeachment effort by Democrats "unpatriotic" and said he wouldn't be watching Wednesday's hearing.
The "Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report" provides a detailed, stunning, account of a shadow diplomacy run by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, resulting in layers of allegations that can be distilled into specific acts, like bribery or obstruction, and the more amorphous allegation that Trump abused his power by putting his interests above the nation.
Based on two months of investigation sparked by a still-anonymous government whistleblower's complaint, the report relies heavily on testimony from current and former U.S. officials who defied White House orders not to appear.
The inquiry found that Trump "solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection," Schiff wrote in the report's preface. In doing so, the president "sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security," the report said. When Congress began investigating, it added, Trump obstructed the investigation like no other president in history.
Along with revelations from earlier testimony, the report included previously unreleased cell phone records raising fresh questions about Giuliani's interactions with the top Republican on the intelligence panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, and the White House. Nunes declined to comment. Schiff said his panel would continue its probe.
Republicans defended the president in a 123-page rebuttal claiming Trump never intended to pressure Ukraine when he asked for a "favor" — investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden. They say the military aid the White House was withholding was not being used as leverage, as Democrats claim — and besides, the $400 million was ultimately released, although only after a congressional outcry. Democrats, they argue, just want to undo the 2016 election.
For Republicans falling in line behind Trump, the inquiry is simply a "hoax." Trump criticized the House for pushing forward with the proceedings while he was overseas, a breach of political decorum that traditionally leaves partisan differences at the water's edge.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy called on Democrats to end the impeachment "nightmare." He said, "They're concerned if they do not impeach this president they cant beat him in an election."
Democrats once hoped to sway Republicans to consider Trump's removal, but they are now facing a ever-hardening partisan split over the swift-moving proceedings that are dividing Congress and the country.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a critical moment of her leadership as she steers the process ahead after initially resisting the impeachment inquiry, warning it was too divisive for the country and required bipartisan support.
Possible grounds for impeachment are focused on whether Trump abused his office as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open investigations into Trump's political rivals. At the time, Trump was withholding $400 million in military aid, jeopardizing key support as Ukraine faces an aggressive Russia at its border.
The report also accuses Trump of obstruction, becoming the "first and only'' president in U.S. history to "openly and indiscriminately" defy the House's constitutional authority to conduct the impeachment proceedings by instructing officials not to comply with subpoenas for documents and testimony.
For Democrats marching into what is now a largely partisan process, the political challenge if they proceed is to craft the impeachment articles in a way that will draw the most support from their ranks and not expose Pelosi's majority to messy divisions, especially as Republicans stand lockstep with the president.
While liberal Democrats are pushing the party to go further and incorporate the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and other actions by Trump, more centrist and moderate Democrats prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans understand.
Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment against the president in a matter of days, with a Judiciary Committee vote next week. The full House could vote by Christmas. Then the matter moves to the Senate for a trial in 2020.
The White House declined an invitation to participate Wednesday, with counsel Pat Cipollone denouncing the proceedings as a "baseless and highly partisan inquiry." Cipollone, who will brief Senate Republicans on Wednesday, left open the question of whether White House officials would participate in additional House hearings.
House rules provide the president and his attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses and review evidence before the committee, but little ability to bring forward witnesses of their own.
The U.S. House Judiciary Committee unveiled on Monday the four legal experts for its first hearing as part of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
The hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, will feature testimony from Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School and director of the Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law; Pamela Karlan, a professor of public interest law at Stanford Law School; Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law; and Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University Law School, according to the House Judiciary Committee.
"We expect to discuss the constitutional framework through which the House may analyze the evidence gathered in the present inquiry," the Committee's Chairman Jerry Nadler said in a letter to Trump last week.
The New York Democrat also said they will discuss whether Trump's alleged actions "warrant the House's exercising its authority to adopt articles of impeachment."
However, neither Trump, who's in London for a NATO summit, nor his counsel Pat Cipollone is expected to attend Wednesday's hearing.
In a letter to Nadler on Sunday, Cipollone said the White House won't participate in the hearing, citing concern that the House panel won't afford Trump "a fair process."
Nadler called White House's response "unfortunate" in a statement on Monday.
Speaking to reporters outside the White House before leaving for London, Trump called the impeachment inquiry "a hoax," while accusing Democrats of doing "an absolute disgrace" to the nation.
"So the Democrats, the radical-left Democrats, the do-nothing Democrats, decided when I'm going to NATO - this was set up a year ago - that when I'm going to NATO, that was the exact time," Trump said. "This is one of the most important journeys that we make as president."
House Democrats are conducting an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations that could benefit him politically. Lawmakers are also examining whether the Republican tied a White House meeting or aid for Ukraine to those investigations.
The House Intelligence Committee concluded its public hearings prior to the Thanksgiving recess after it heard testimony from a series of current and former Trump administration officials and has spent the Thanksgiving recess drafting a report of its findings.
The panel, led by Democrat Adam Schiff, is reportedly reviewing a draft of the report before turning over the impeachment inquiry to the House Judiciary Committee. A vote on adopting the report is scheduled for Tuesday evening.
In a separate report, House Republicans defended Trump's dealings with Ukraine and accused Democrats of trying to overturn the results of the 2016 elections.
Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing or a "quid pro quo," tweeted he has read the Republican report and called it a "great job."
The president will be impeached if the House approves any of the articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee has recommended by a simple majority vote.
But conviction can only happen in the Senate and requires at least two-thirds of its members, or 67 senators, to vote in favor. Currently, the Senate has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents.