US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — A Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives committee approved charges of abuse of power and obstruction against Republican US President Donald Trump on Friday, making it almost certain he will become the third US president in history to be impeached.

The House judiciary committee voted along party lines to approve an article of impeachment charging Trump with abusing the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate a possible rival in the 2020 presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden.

The panel also backed a second article charging Trump with obstructing Congress’s investigation of the scandal.

The full House, where the Democrats hold a majority, is likely to approve the charges next week, completing the impeachment process and sending Trump for trial in the Senate within weeks. But the Republican-led chamber is unlikely to vote to find the president guilty and remove him from office.

In raucous hearings, Republicans have defended Trump and accused Democrats of a politically motivated farce, while Democrats have accused the president of endangering the US constitution, jeopardising national security, and undermining the integrity of the 2020 election by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden in a July phone call.

The abuse of power charge also accuses Trump of freezing nearly $400m in US security aid to Ukraine and offering a possible White House meeting to Zelensky to get him to publicly announce the investigations of Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Trump also asked Ukraine to investigate a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.

The obstruction charge accuses the president of impeding the House’s efforts to investigate the scandal by instructing current and former members of his administration not to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry.

Trump and Republicans say the president did nothing improper in his call with Zelensky, and that there is no direct evidence he withheld aid or a White House meeting in exchange for a favour.

Trump will be the third US president to be impeached. Democrat Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for perjury for lying about a sexual relationship with a White House intern, but he was acquitted in the Senate. Democrat president Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 but not convicted in the Senate.

Republican president Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before he was impeached over his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

Trump is running for re-election in 2020, a contest expected to be a bitter and partisan battle with a Democratic nominee who will be chosen next year. Biden, a former vice-president, is among the leading Democratic contenders.

Reuters

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