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October 21, 2021

Trump impeachment: House votes to formalise inquiry

The US House of Representatives has passed a resolution to formally proceed with the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

The measure detailed how the inquiry will move into a more public phase and was not a vote on whether the president should be removed from office.

It was the first test of support in the Democratic-controlled House for the impeachment process.

The White House condemned the vote, which passed along party lines.

Only two Democrats – representing districts that Mr Trump won handily in 2016 – voted against the resolution, along with all Republicans, for a total count of 232 in favour and 196 against.

The resolution also sets out the rights Mr Trump’s lawyers would have.

President Trump is accused of trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating unsubstantiated corruption claims against his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son who worked with Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

Mr Trump denies wrongdoing.

After the vote, the White House Press Secretary said in a statement: “Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats have done nothing more than enshrine unacceptable violations of due process into House rules.”

Also on Thursday, another White House official began testifying in the impeachment inquiry. He was expected to corroborate earlier statements about conditions placed to the release of US military aid to Ukraine.

Republicans have criticised Democrats for the closed hearings – in which Republican lawmakers have also taken part. But Democrats insist they were needed to gather evidence ahead of the public stage of the investigation, and deny allegations they have been secretive.

The resolution moves the inquiry into a new phase, which could eventually see articles of impeachment recommended against Mr Trump. If that happened, and the House voted to pass the articles, a trial would be held in the Senate.

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A historic clash ahead

Republicans have been clamouring for weeks for the Democrats to hold a full vote that will formalise the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. Now they got one.

It won’t alter the dynamic in Washington, however.

Republicans will continue to object to what they see as an unfair process with a preordained result. Democrats will push ahead with an investigation that they always intended would culminate in dramatic public hearings and (perhaps) an impeachment vote.

This doesn’t mean that Thursday’s proceedings are meaningless, however. For the first time since 1998, the House is taking a significant step toward impeaching a president.

The resolution gives the public some idea what to expect in the days ahead – including lots of Intelligence Committee sparring between Democrats and Republicans, a look at the transcripts from some of the high-profile witness depositions already conducted and, at some point, a formal report that could serve as the basis of articles of impeachment.

It’s not exactly uncharted territory in US history, but the course being set leads toward a historic clash with the presidency at stake.

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What does the resolution say?

In the first stage, the House Intelligence Committee will hold public hearings in the coming weeks. It will have the right to make public transcripts of depositions taken in private.

Media captionTrump impeachment: Last week was the most dramatic so far

In the second stage, a public report on the findings will be sent to the House Judiciary Committee which will conduct its own proceedings and report on “such resolutions, articles of impeachment, or other recommendations as it deems proper”.

President Trump’s lawyers will be allowed to take part in the Judiciary Committee stage.

Republicans will be able to subpoena documents or witnesses although they could still be blocked as both committees are controlled by Democrats.

What’s behind the impeachment inquiry?

At the heart of the impeachment inquiry, which was announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month, is a phone call on 25 July between Mr Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill on 17 October
Image captionHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry last month

A rough transcript of the call shows Mr Trump asking for an investigation into the Bidens. Joe Biden is a frontrunner in the race for the Democratic nomination ahead of next year’s presidential election.

The call was the subject of a complaint by a whistleblower, whose identity has been closely protected by lawmakers. On Wednesday, a conservative author named a CIA officer as the whistleblower.

Media captionWhat does it take to impeach a president?

What about Thursday’s testimony?

Tim Morrison, who served as top adviser on Russia and Europe at the National Security Council, is testifying before lawmakers.

He was one of the officials authorised to listen in on Mr Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine, and resigned from his position on Wednesday.

Mr Morrison is due to provide a first-hand account of conversations with Ukrainian officials about the president’s alleged demands tying military aid to investigation into the Bidens.

This would confirm prior testimony by Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, House investigators invited former US National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify on 7 November. His lawyer, Charles Cooper, told US media his client was not willing to appear voluntarily but that he was ready to accept a subpoena – or legal summons to compel testimony – on Mr Bolton’s behalf.

US media say Mr Bolton was alarmed by a back-channel operation in Ukraine carried out by President Trump’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who acknowledged last month having asked Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden.

This article was originally published on BBC NEWS

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