Pelosi launches formal Trump impeachment inquiry
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House is launching a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, setting up a dramatic constitutional clash just over a year before the presidential election.
"Today I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry," Pelosi said at the Capitol late Tuesday afternoon. The inquiry marks just the fourth time in American history a president has faced a viable threat of impeachment.
The speaker has long resisted calls from many progressive lawmakers to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, but Democrats appear to have reached a breaking point over the administration's refusal to hand over a whistleblower complaint related to Mr. Trump's interaction with a foreign leader.
"This week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically," Pelosi said. "The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections."
The current furor stems from a call Mr. Trump made to the president of Ukraine in July, in which he admitted discussing Joe Biden in the context of fighting "corruption" in the country. Mr. Trump and his allies, in particular personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, have accused Biden of pushing for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor while he was vice president in order to benefit his son. The prosecutor was widely seen as corrupt, and no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden has emerged.
In August, an anonymous member of the intelligence community filed a whistleblower complaint with the intelligence community inspector general, who determined it constituted an "urgent concern" requiring congressional notification under federal law. However, after consulting with the Justice Department and White House, the acting director of national intelligence came to a different conclusion, and has refused to provide the complaint to congressional committees.
Pelosi said the administration's refusal to provide the complaint was a "violation of the law" that "undermine[s] both our national security and our intelligence."
One after another on Monday and Tuesday, Democrats from vulnerable House districts who had been resisting previous calls for impeachment came out in favor of initiating impeachment proceedings, citing concerns over Mr. Trump's potential pressuring of a foreign leader to investigate a domestic political opponent.
The president directed his acting chief of staff to hold off on releasing nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine shortly before the call in July, according to a senior administration official with direct knowledge of the administration's actions.
Mr. Trump, who is in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, reacted angrily to Pelosi's statement, calling it a "total Witch Hunt!" Earlier in the day he said he would release the transcript of the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is part of the whistleblower complaint.
"You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo!" the president tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
That concession, however, did nothing to temper Democrats' demands for the complaint itself. Congressman Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the whistleblower wants to testify before the committee, and wrote a letter to attorneys representing the individual to request a voluntary interview on Thursday. -- Stefan Becket
Earlier updates appear below:
Trump campaign: "Bogus" impeachment inquiry will backfire
10:40 p.m.: The president's reelection campaign denounced the impeachment inquiry as a "bogus" and "fact-free" political ploy by congressional Democrats to relitigate the 2016 presidential election.
"They can't stand the will of the American people as manifested in the election of Donald Trump, so they seek to impeach him before the facts have even come to light," campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement to CBS News.
"In doing so, Democrats have exposed their radical hatred for President Trump and helped to pave the way for a landslide victory for President Trump on November 3, 2020," she added.
McEnany said the video tweeted by the president mocking impeachment calls by Democrats had been in the campaign's possession for six weeks and "long before" details about Mr. Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president emerged this month.
"We just didn't think Democrats were stupid enough to go down this road that will surely backfire," McEnany said.
White House discussing whether to share whistleblower complaint with Congress
9:38 p.m.: The White House and the intelligence community are discussing ways to allow the whistleblower who made the complaint last month to share information with Congress, CBS News has learned.
Earlier on Tuesday, Jason Klitenic, the general counsel of the office of the director of national intelligence, responded to a letter from the whistleblower's counsel, saying that his office is currently communicating with executive branch "stakeholders" to determine the path forward on matters of privilege and confidentiality. -- Paula Reid
Intel chief defends decision to withhold whistleblower complaint
7:57 p.m.: Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence who is withholding the whistleblower complaint, issued a statement defending his decision-making in light of Pelosi's critical comments.
"I have sworn an oath to the Constitution 11 times in my 36 years of public service and view it as a covenant with every American that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of my office," he said. "In light of recent reporting on the whistleblower complaint, I want to make clear that I have upheld my responsibility to follow the law every step of the way."
Maguire, who will testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, said he is "committed to protecting whistleblowers and ensuring every complaint is handled appropriately. I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration and Congress to find a resolution regarding this important matter." -- Stefan Becket
White House: Inquiry derails "any chances" of legislative compromise
7:46 p.m.: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Pelosi's decision to open an inquiry will derail any chance of bipartisan legislation in an already divided Congress.
"In a far departure from all of the work and results of this President, House Democrats have destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country by continuing to focus all their energy on partisan political attacks," Grisham said in a statement.
"Their attacks on the President and his agenda are not only partisan and pathetic, they are in dereliction of their Constitutional duty," she added.
Grisham said that despite the looming clash between the two branches of government, Mr. Trump will "continue to be vigorous in laying out the facts and standing up for the many forgotten men and women who elected him." -- Camilo Montoya-Galvez
Whistleblower wants to talk to Congress directly, lawyer says
7:20 p.m.: The anonymous whistleblower intends to reach out directly to the intelligence committees, according to the whistleblower's attorneys, who wrote to the acting director of national intelligence (DNI) seeking guidance about how to do so securely.
In a letter released Tuesday, attorney Andrew Bakaj wrote to the DNI in accordance with federal statute to provide "formal notice of our intent to contact the congressional intelligence committees directly." He requested "direction on doing so in accordance with appropriate security practices."
In a letter in response, Jason Klitenic, general counsel for the DNI, said the office was "consulting with other Executive Branch stakeholders" and would provide guidance soon.
"Please know that the DNI's highest priority is ensuring that the women and men of the Intelligence Community have everything they need to carry out their mission in support of our nation's security," Klitenic wrote. "This includes supporting the rights of whistleblowers to provide information to Congress."
Klitenic wrote the office has "every reason to believe that your client -- our IC colleague -- has acted in good faith and fully complied with the law." -- Stefan Becket
GOP leader: Pelosi "does not speak for America" on impeachment
6:27 p.m.: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy responded to Pelosi's announcement in an abbreviated but impassioned statement at the Capitol.
Flanked by Minority Whip Steve Scalise, McCarthy said Pelosi could not "unilaterally" decide the House is undertaking impeachment proceedings.
"Speaker Pelosi happens to be the speaker of the House, but she does not speak for America when it comes to this issue," McCarthy said. "She cannot decide unilaterally what happens here."
He said her announcement was no different than the Judiciary Committee's current informal inquiry. and suggested Pelosi's decision was motivated by bitterness about the results of the 2016 election.
"This election is over," McCarthy said. "I realize 2016 did not turn out the way Speaker Pelosi wanted it to happen, but she cannot change the laws of this Congress. She cannot unilaterally decide we are in an impeachment inquiry."
Both lawmakers left without taking questions. -- Grace Segers
Pelosi: "It's really a sad day for our country"
6:13 p.m.: Later in the Capitol, Pelosi told reporters the Ukraine episode marked a "sea change" in how she approached the question of impeachment, and said it was a "sad day" for the country.
"The president of the United States has admitted that he spoke to the president of another country -- that would be the Ukraine -- about something that would assist him in his election," she said. "So, that has changed everything."
Pelosi said the inspector general's determination that the whistleblower complaint constitutes an "urgent concern" meant she "accelerated the pace of how we go forward" with the inquiry.
"It's really a sad day for our country. I feel very sad about it," Pelosi said. "I hope the Republicans will join us as they have joined in the Senate by unanimous consent, passing a resolution for the release of the information." -- Julia Boccagno
Pelosi lays out impeachment rationale: "No one is above the law"
5:57 p.m.: Pelosi on Tuesday outlined the rationale behind her decision to launch a formal impeachment inquiry, a shift from her earlier reluctance to do so.
"The president must be held accountable," she said. "No one is above the law."
In her statement, Pelosi faulted the current head of the agency responsible for overseeing the intelligence community for not turning over the whistleblower complaint to Congress, a decision she said was illegal.
"On Thursday, the inspector general testified before the House Intelligence Committee stating that the acting director of national intelligence blocked him from disclosing the whistleblower complaint," she said, referring to Joseph Maguire, the acting director. "This is a violation of law. The law is unequivocal."
The general counsel for Maguire's office has said it consulted with the Justice Department and determined the complaint did not rise to the level of an "urgent concern" that requires congressional notification. The relevant federal statute defines "urgent concern" as "a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or Executive order, or deficiency" related to an "intelligence activity."
The intelligence community inspector general revealed the complaint's existence in a letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff earlier this month.
Pelosi noted that she was involved in creating the office of director of national intelligence in 2004 and served in Congress when whistleblower laws were passed in the 1990s.
"I know what their purpose was and we proceeded with balance and caution as we wrote the laws," she added. "I can say with authority that the Trump administration's actions undermine both our national security and our intelligence and our protections of the whistleblowers." -- Camilo Montoya-Galvez
Judiciary Committee to take the lead in impeachment inquiry
5:43 p.m.: Pelosi said the House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Jerry Nadler, will take the lead in the impeachment proceedings, consolidating information from the six committees which have been investigating the president.
At the earlier meeting with House Democrats, Pelosi told the leaders of these six committees to determine their best cases for impeachment and send that information to the Judiciary Committee, according to The New York Times.
"I'm directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry," Pelosi said in her announcement.
Pelosi also thanked the chairs of the committees: Nadler, Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee, Eliot Engel of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Elijah Cummings of the Oversight Committee, Richard Neal of the Ways and Means Committee and Maxine Waters of the Financial Services Committee. -- Grace Segers
Trump reacts to impeachment inquiry: "A total Witch Hunt!"
5:19 p.m.: The president reacted angrily to Pelosi's statement:
Senate unanimously passes resolution demanding whistleblower complaint
4:45 p.m.: The Republican-led Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on the acting director of national intelligence to provide the whistleblower complaint to the intelligence committees.
The administration has so far refused to provide the complaint to Congress, saying the report does not constitute an "urgent concern" requiring congressional notification.
The upper chamber adopted the resolution introduced by Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer by voice vote on Tuesday afternoon.
The resolution says the House and Senate Intelligence Committees "should be allowed to evaluate the complaint in a deliberate and bipartisan manner consistent with applicable statutes and processes in order to safeguard classified and sensitive information." -- Stefan Becket
Nearly three-quarters of House Democrats back impeachment
4:39 p.m.: Roughly 170 Democratic lawmakers in the House have said they either support impeachment proceedings or have signaled they are open to them, according to a CBS News tally.
Support for impeachment has steadily grown over the past several months and spiked in the past several days, with several dozen members coming out in favor of or open to proceeding with an inquiry.
See the full list of lawmakers who support impeachment here. -- Stefan Becket
House to vote on whistleblower resolution on Wednesday
4:08 p.m.: The House will vote on a resolution Wednesday condemning the administration's refusal to give Congress the whistleblower report, Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said ahead of Tuesday's Democratic caucus meeting.
"It is imperative that the Acting Director of National Intelligence provide Congress the complaint, as specified under the law, and all requests for documents and testimony relating to this allegation," the leaders said in a statement. "On Wednesday, the House will vote on a resolution making it clear Congress's disapproval of the Administration's effort to block the release of the complaint and the need to protect the whistleblower."
Pelosi and Hoyer called on Republicans to join Democrats in "upholding the rule of law and oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution as Representatives of the American people." -- Stefan Becket
Biden calls Trump a threat to the "core values of this nation"
3:45 p.m.: The former vice president made a brief statement from Wilmington, Delaware, saying that the president is trying to smear him with false accusations. Biden said Congress has "no choice" but to launch impeachment proceedings if the administration doesn't hand over the whistleblower complaint and other material.
"Congress, in my view, should demand the information it has a legal right to receive. If the president does not comply, with such a request from the Congress, if he continues to obstruct Congress and flout the law, Donald Trump will leave Congress, in my view, no choice but to initiate impeachment," Biden said. "That would be a tragedy, but a tragedy of his own making." -- Stefan Becket