WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AP) - US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday (Dec 5) said she has instructed the House Judiciary panel to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
"The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution," Pelosi told reporters, from the Speaker's offices at the Capitol, the same location where she declared the formal launch of the House investigation into Trump's actions towards Ukraine.
The Democratic-led panel on Wednesday heard from four legal experts as US lawmakers considered whether Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival rose to the level of impeachable offences.
The House Intelligence panel this week submitted findings from its inquiry into Trump's push for Kiev to launch an investigation related to former US vice-president Joe Biden, a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into the discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 US election.
Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding US$391 million (S$532 million) in security aid to Ukraine - a US ally facing Russian aggression - to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce the investigation.
Shortly before Pelosi's statement, Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing, urged House Democrats on Thursday to move fast if they are going to impeach him so that the Republican-led Senate can take up the issue.
"If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business," Trump tweeted.
The House may vote by year's end on the formal impeachment charges known as articles of impeachment. Those could include abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.
Judiciary panel Democrats on Wednesday said they may look beyond Trump's relations with Ukraine to include Trump's earlier alleged efforts to impede former US Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into his 2016 campaign's relations with Russia, but they stopped short of saying that could trigger a separate charge.
'SENSE OF URGENCY'
A number of House Democrats have also urged fast action, citing concerns over interference in the November 2020 presidential election in which Trump is seeking a second term.
"I feel a sense of urgency. We need to act now," US Representative Karen Bass, a Democrat on the Judiciary panel, told CNN on Thursday.
If the House votes to impeach Trump, the Senate would hold a trial to decide whether to remove the president from office.
Trump's fellow Republicans in both chambers have stood by him, and have accused Democrats of seeking to overturn the 2016 election and rushing the process.
Republicans in the Senate have given no signs they would break with the president now. On Wednesday, Republican senators met White House lawyer Pat Cipollone to plot their strategy, Politico reported.
Trump and the White House refused to participate in the House proceedings, but Kellyanne Conway told reporters at the White House on Thursday that they would be more likely to participate in the Senate trial.
"If it does come to us, I think it will be along party lines," Republican Senator Rand Paul told Fox News in an interview on Thursday, adding that the "frivolous and partisan" effort could harm vulnerable Democrats in next year's elections.
Polling has shown Americans are also largely divided along party lines over impeachment.