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A US congressional panel leading the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump debated the evidence against him, setting off a pivotal week as Democrats move forward to hold a full House vote before Christmas.
The judiciary committee of the House of Representatives convened on Monday to formally receive the investigative findings against President Donald Trump on charges of wrongdoing in his dealings with Ukraine.
The Democrat-led committee formally reviewed evidence from impeachment investigators at an all-day hearing. It's a key step before determining whether to level charges, known as articles of impeachment, against the president. A full House vote on this is currently expected before Christmas.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said he expects the body to vote soon, possibly this week, on at least two or more charges against the Republican president.
"The evidence shows that Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States, has put himself before his country," Nadler said in his opening statement during the hearing on Monday.
"He has violated his most basic responsibilities to the people. He has broken his oath," Nadler said, before adding: "I will honor mine."
Simple majority in House, but two-thirds in Senate
The committee vote will set up an inevitable clash with Trump and his Republican allies, who maintain that Democrats are on a partisan mission to unseat a president who has done nothing to merit impeachment.
No Republican in the lower chamber has come out in favor of impeaching Trump. Doug Collins, a Republican member on the judiciary committee, said that Democrats were pursuing impeachment because of a "personal vendetta."
"They can't get over the fact that Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States and they don't have a candidate who can beat him," Collins said.
The hearing was briefly interrupted on Monday by a protester shouting: "We voted for Donald Trump!" and repeatedly yelling that the Democrats were committing "treason."
Trump also slammed the House Democrats, tweeting anew against the "Witch Hunt!" and deriding the "Do Nothing Democrats."
A vote in the House in favor of impeachment would trigger a trial in the Senate. But there, a two-thirds majority would be needed to remove the president from office. A conviction is considered highly unlikely — the Republicans have 53 of 100 Senate seats; Trump's opponents would ultimately require 20 Republican Senators in their corner.
Abuse of power?
The move toward drafting articles of impeachment began after details of a July telephone conversation emerged between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. According to the notes from the call, Trump pressed Zelenskiy to launch investigations into US Democrat presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son. The House Intelligence Committee heard testimony that Trump was delaying the delivery of aid to the country until Zelenskiy announced such an investigation.
Trump is accused of abusing his power by putting personal gain over national security interests. By withholding nearly $400 million (€360 million) in military aid to Ukraine that Congress had approved, Democrats say that he was engaging in bribery.
sri/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)