US lawmakers will start debating whether to draw up articles of impeachment against Donald Trump on Wednesday, based on a report detailing "overwhelming evidence" the US president committed misconduct in office and obstruction.
The House Intelligence Committee report published Tuesday accused Trump of subverting national security as he pressured Ukraine for dirt on a Democratic election rival.
Immediately dismissed by the White House as the product of a "one-sided sham process," the document forms the basis for the House Judiciary Committee to draw up formal charges, or articles of impeachment, in the coming weeks.
Behind closed doors, the Democratic-led panel voted 13 to 9 on Tuesday, along strict party lines as expected, to officially adopt and issue the report to the committee.
The 300-page document, meant to serve as the basis for the charges against Trump, also mapped out in detail what it called an unparalleled effort of obstruction, including witness intimidation, to stifle the investigation into Trump's Ukraine scheme.
"The president placed his personal political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election process, and endangered US national security," said the final report on the Intelligence Committee's investigation.
"President Trump and his senior officials may see nothing wrong with using the power of the office of the president to pressure a foreign country to help the president's reelection campaign," it said.
"However, the Founding Fathers prescribed a remedy for a chief executive who places his personal interests above those of the country: impeachment."
- 'The president's dirty work' -
The report, the product of a rapid-fire probe sparked by a whistleblower's complaint in August, mapped out a months-long scheme by Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and senior diplomats to pressure Ukraine's president into investigating Joe Biden, the current favorite to win the Democratic 2020 White House nomination.
Trump also pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a "conspiracy theory" that it was Ukraine, and not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 US election, to benefit the Democrats.
In both cases, the report said, Trump conditioned nearly $400 million in US military aid and a high-profile summit with Zelensky on Kiev opening the investigations.
Democrat Adam Schiff, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, said the White House demands left Ukraine, which is under constant threat from Russia-backed rebels, vulnerable as Trump sought help for his 2020 re-election.
"This report chronicles a scheme by the president of the United States to coerce an ally, Ukraine, that is at war with an adversary, Russia, into doing the president's dirty work," he told reporters.
- 'Ramblings of a basement blogger' -
Secondly, the report said, Trump actively sought to obstruct the congressional probe, refusing to provide documents to investigators, preventing witnesses from appearing, and threatening some of those who did appear.
"Donald Trump is the first president in the history of the United States to seek to completely obstruct an impeachment inquiry undertaken by the House of Representatives," it said.
"President Trump's ongoing effort to thwart Congress' impeachment power risks doing grave harm to the institution of Congress."
In London for a NATO summit, Trump again accused the Democrats of playing a political game.
"The impeachment is a hoax. It's turned out to be a hoax. It's done for purely political gain," he said.
His spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham dismissed both the report and Schiff's investigation.
"At the end of a one-sided sham process, Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump," she said in a statement.
The report "reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing."
- Impeachment before Christmas? -
If, as expected, the articles are passed by the Democratic-led House, the case will go to the Republican-controlled Senate for trial in January.
The Judiciary panel, which begins meeting Wednesday, has set no formal timeframe.
But Democrats aim to hold a full House impeachment vote before the body goes on break for Christmas.
Schiff said that while the Judiciary Committee meets, his panel could continue investigating other angles of the Ukraine scheme, including whether Trump actually began much earlier to pressure Zelensky's predecessor Petro Poroshenko for the investigations, and whether some members of Congress were involved.
But he stressed the need to move quickly, accusing Trump of seeking election help not only from Ukraine but Russia and China.
"There is I think grave risk to the country with waiting until we have every last fact when we already know enough about the president's misconduct to make a responsible judgement," Schiff said.