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US Democrats to launch formal impeachment inquiry of Trump
[WASHINGTON] Top US Democrat Nancy Pelosi was expected to announce a formal impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump on Tuesday, amid mounting allegations of abuse of power by the US president.
Pelosi was to speak at 5pm (2100 GMT) after meeting with members of her party, where impeachment calls are surging despite concerns by the Democratic leadership that such a move could hurt their chances in the 2020 White House battle.
Citing sources close to the speaker, several US media reported Pelosi would announce the start of a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, the first step in a process that could ultimately lead to Mr Trump's removal from office.
"It's absolutely essential that the president be held accountable. No one is above the law," Ms Pelosi said at a Washington forum, without confirming her plans on impeachment.
"I've said, as soon as we have the facts, we're ready. Now we have the facts. We're ready," she said.
The ramped-up calls for impeachment have been fuelled by a scandal over Mr Trump's reported attempt to pressure the incoming president of Ukraine to open a corruption investigation into his main challenger for the White House, Joe Biden, and Mr Biden's son Hunter.
Triggering the confrontation was an as yet secret whistleblower complaint centered on Mr Trump's phone call July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
TRUMP SLAMS NEW 'WITCH HUNT'
Seeking to head off the looming threat of impeachment, Mr Trump earlier on Tuesday announced he would release the transcript of the call, in which he allegedly tied aid to Kiev to the opening of a corruption probe into Mr Biden.
"I am currently at the United Nations representing our Country, but have authorised the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine," Mr Trump tweeted.
"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!
"This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!"
But that was not likely to appease Democrats.
Mr Biden himself - a former vice-president who had until now held off from calling impeachment -announced on Tuesday he now supported the move unless Mr Trump fully cooperates with congressional investigations into the Ukraine scandal and other controversies.
"We have a president who believes there is no limit to his power," Mr Biden told a news conference. "We have a president who believes he is above the law."
"If he continues to obstruct Congress and flaunt the law, Donald Trump leaves Congress in my view no choice but to initiate impeachment," Mr Biden said. "That would be a tragedy, but a tragedy of his own making."
The White House has refused to release to Congress the secret complaint from an intelligence community whistleblower that reportedly depicts Mr Trump seeking help from Ukraine to fight Mr Biden, currently the Democratic Party's frontrunner for the presidential nomination.
Mr Trump has admitted he spoke to Mr Zelensky about Mr Biden in the call, and said on Tuesday he had halted aid to the country temporarily, before it was unfrozen last week.
But he rejected charges that the two were tied; he said the aid freeze was to prod European countries to increase their support for the Ukraine government.
BIDEN: TRUMP NOT ABOVE THE LAW -
Launching an impeachment probe is a politically perilous step 14 months before the 2020 elections.
Ms Pelosi, who was credited with winning back control of the House in 2016, had until now stiffly resisted the move, hoping to keep the focus on capturing the Senate and White House in 2020.
But after seven moderate Democrats declared themselves in support of a full-blown impeachment probe late Monday, analysts counted at least 170 of the party's 235 House members in support.
"The president of the United States may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and he sought to use US taxpayer dollars as leverage to do it," the seven, including Afghanistan and Iraq wars veteran Jason Crow and ex-CIA agent Abigail Spanberger, wrote in the Washington Post.
"This flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand."