Sen. Durbin calls for Trump probe, House Speaker Pelosi launches ‘official impeachment inquiry’
By Ted Cox
President Donald Trump is under an “official impeachment inquiry.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin began the day on Tuesday declaring himself the highest-ranking member of the Senate to call for an impeachment probe of President Trump.
The news came as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, spurred by Trump’s latest Ukraine controversy, prepared to initiate formal impeachment proceedings, and she announced later Tuesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., that the U.S. House would launch an “official impeachment inquiry.”
Pelosi added, “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
The findings on collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russians meddling in the 2016 election, as well as Trump’s efforts to obstruct the ensuing investigation into that, all laid out in the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, have built pressure for impeachment for months, but Pelosi resisted until the recent controversy over Ukraine came to light.
Prodded by the latest revelations accusing the president of withholding aid from Ukraine in order to push that nation to launch an investigation into the leading Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, Durbin posted a series of tweets, beginning Tuesday morning: “Today, I am calling for the initiation of a formal impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives of President Donald Trump.”
He immediately added: “His admission that he solicited negative info from the president of Ukraine concerning his potential opponent, Joe Biden, while withholding $250 million in U.S. security aid for Ukraine is beneath the dignity of any president and by any reasonable legal standard merits an impeachment inquiry.”
Durbin, who as minority whip is the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said he was driven by White House attempts to stonewall on various issues, including refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas.
News broke of Trump’s latest impeachable offense last week, when it was found that a whistleblower in the U.S. intelligence community had flagged the substance of a recent phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Inspector General Michael Atkinson, a Trump appointee with an established reputation as a nonpartisan, by-the-book professional, deemed the report of “urgent concern,” language that dictates that the report should be forwarded to Congress.
“The refusal of the president and attorney general to release the whistleblower report as required by law has also convinced me that an impeachment inquiry is the only course we can follow under our Constitution to make certain the American people know the facts,” Durbin tweeted.
Pelosi, who has thus far held back Democrats from pursuing a formal impeachment inquiry, issued an ultimatum to the White House this week demanding that the report be forwarded to Congress by Thursday or else she’d have little choice but to back an impeachment probe. She met with various elements of the Democratic caucus throughout the day on Tuesday before announcing the formal impeachment inquiry late in the afternoon.
“I can say with authority the Trump administration’s actions undermine our national security and our intelligence and our protection of whistleblowers,” Pelosi said. “The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution.
“The president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions that would benefit him politically,” she added, calling it “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of the national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution.”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (One Illinois/Ted Cox)
Durbin delivered a somber, stately, withering speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, calling out not only Trump but Republicans who’ve provided him political cover. “As I consider the revelations that President Trump is using his office to extort Ukraine to support his political reelection campaign, I wonder why there’s so much silence on the other side of the aisle,” he said. “This is an outrageous development.”
He added, however, that it was entirely consistent with how both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have reacted to charges of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He cited how President Obama, aware of Russian interference leading up to that election, sought a bipartisan response denouncing that interference, but that McConnell said he “didn’t want to get involved — and he didn’t.”
Now, Durbin added, “President Trump is at it again … strong-arming Ukrainian President Zelensky” to give his campaign ammo on Biden. “No president, not this president, no president can solicit or strong-arm a foreign country to further his own campaign,” Durbin said. “That is unacceptable under the Constitution of the United States, which I remind my colleagues we are sworn to uphold and defend.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has, like Pelosi, resisted impeachment, but he submitted a resolution Tuesday calling for the report to be sent to the Senate and House Intelligence committees and accused the Trump administration of attempts at “covering it up.” The Senate voted unanimously to affirm that resolution.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, of Western Springs, has also held out against initiating formal impeachment proceedings, but he likewise softened his opposition Tuesday, tweeting: “No president can withhold foreign assistance in order to force a country to investigate someone because they are a political opponent. If (Trump) conducted a quid pro quo such as this, it would be an impeachable offense. The whistleblower complaint deserves a full investigation.”
Lipinski and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Moline are the only holdouts among the 13 Democrats in Illinois’s U.S. House delegation not to support an impeachment probe. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago has gone on the record supporting outright impeachment.
U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove cited Tuesday how he came out in favor of impeachment in June, based on the findings of the Mueller report, before adding, “Now, over the past few days, we have learned that the president apparently grossly abused the powers of his office to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political opponent. Some may excuse that type of behavior by an unelected individual when it occurs in Trump Tower, but the Congress and the American people cannot turn a blind eye when it comes from the president of the United States and it happens in the White House. Donald Trump has risked our national security and invited yet another foreign government to intercede to influence our elections. Donald Trump is so singularly focused on promoting his own fortunes — political and otherwise — that he is incapable of defending the constitutional rights and respecting the will of the American people. His behavior is a clear and present danger to our Republic.”
U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia of Chicago cited his support for impeachment in May, but pointedly added Tuesday, “We recently learned that President Trump attempted to pressure Ukraine’s president into investigating a political opponent by withholding military aid. In simpler words: Trump tried to bribe a foreign power to help his own campaign.
“President Trump has a pattern of stonewalling congressional investigations, lying, and obstructing justice to cover up his corrupt actions,” Garcia said. “Our president should not cut deals with foreign governments for his own personal gain. It is our job as members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to protect the votes and the voices of the American people. Our democracy is not for sale.”
Republicans in the Illinois congressional delegation have thus far been opposed to impeachment. Only U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan has broken ranks among Republicans in Congress to support impeachment, but that could change with an investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
If the substance of the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian leader proves true, that would not only mean that Trump solicited the aid of a foreign power to smear an opponent in next year’s presidential election, but that he used U.S. financial support to extort it, while withholding that $250 million in security aid could only benefit Russia and its President Vladimir Putin in their ongoing conflict with Ukraine.