WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sharpened the focus of Democrats’ impeachment case against President Donald Trump on Thursday, accusing the president of committing bribery when he withheld vital military assistance from Ukraine at the same time he was seeking its commitment to publicly investigate his political rivals.
The speaker’s explicit allegation of bribery, a misdeed identified in the Constitution as an impeachable offense, was significant. Even as Pelosi said no final decision had been made on whether to impeach Trump, it suggested Democrats are increasingly working to put a name to the president’s alleged wrongdoing and moving toward a more specific set of charges that could be codified in articles of impeachment in the coming weeks.
“The devastating testimony corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry, and that the president abused his power and violated his oath by threatening to withhold military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into his political rival — a clear attempt by the president to give himself an advantage in the 2020 election,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference in the Capitol.
Democrats have begun using the term “bribery” more freely in recent days to describe what a string of diplomats and career Trump administration officials have said was a highly unusual and inappropriate effort by Trump and a small group around him to extract a public promise from Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and a discredited theory about Democrats conspiring with Ukraine to interfere in the 2016 election.
The House Intelligence Committee convened the House’s first public impeachment hearing in two decades Wednesday with testimony from William B. Taylor Jr., the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, a senior State Department official responsible for policy toward the country.
They told the committee Trump and his allies inside and outside of the government placed the president’s political objectives at the center of U.S. policy toward Ukraine, using both $391 million in security assistance Congress had appropriated for Ukraine’s war with Russia as well as a White House meeting that was coveted by the country’s new leader as leverage.