Congress formally opened a new, public phase of its presidential investigation Thursday as US lawmakers voted for the first time to advance the impeachment process against Donald Trump.
“Today, the House takes the next step forward as we establish the procedures for open hearings conducted by the House Intelligence Committee so that the public can see the facts for themselves,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said shortly before the vote.
The chamber voted largely along party lines, 232 to 196, to formalize the process, which also provides for opportunities for Trump’s counsel to cross-examine witnesses.
The momentum now puts the House on a path to potentially passing articles of impeachment against Trump. If the House impeaches the president it would set up a Senate trial under the US Constitution in which the president would face potential removal from office.
“The president is in very bad shape in this impeachment,” said Laurence Tribe, a professor of law at Harvard University, who has advocated for Trump’s impeachment.
“The idea that the fix is in and there is no way the Senate would convict is premature,” Tribe said.
At issue in the impeachment inquiry is whether Trump abused the powers of his office and damaged national security by withholding US military aid to Ukraine and orchestrating a pressure campaign for domestic, personal political gain.
Democrats allege Trump used the leverage of nearly $400m in security aid to obtain a promise from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate Joe Biden, a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination to challenge Trump in 2020, and his son, Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
According to testimony, the Trump administration also sought an investigation related to the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has denied that there was any “quid pro quo” (Latin for “favour for a favour”) and labelled the investigation a “witch-hunt”.