House Speaker Nancy Pelosi escalated Democrats’ impeachment drive Monday by announcing a vote to formalize the probe into allegations that President Trump abused his office.
Mr. Trump and his Republican allies have been demanding a floor vote to formalize the proceedings, and the move will test whether there is bipartisan support to punish Mr. Trump over his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president during which he requested an investigation into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who has become a political rival.
The vote was announced one day after the president heralded the killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a victory that would be expected to boost the president’s approval rating.
Mrs. Pelosi’s timing appears to show confidence in the case that Democrats are building against the president. Public polling suggests support for impeachment has been growing slowly.
The Democrats’ resolution will establish a procedure for the impeachment hearings, which will be “open to the American people,” according to a letter sent Monday to House Democrats from the California Democrat.
The risk to the House Democrats is a lopsided vote that might reveal the inquiry as a partisan effort against the Republican president.
Republicans saw the announcement as a sign that Democrats are feeling backlash over their targeting of the president. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has been outspoken in his criticism of Democrats conducting impeachment hearings behind closed doors, claimed victory.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming response House Democrats heard from the American people and Senate Republicans in support of my resolution forced their hand. Today’s announcement is an acknowledgment of the success of our efforts last week,” said Mr. Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and staunch Trump ally.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Mr. Graham introduced a resolution urging the House to take a vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry and give more due process to the president and House Republicans.
In her letter Monday to House Democrats, Mrs. Pelosi dismissed the Republican argument that a vote was needed to give the president due process, saying it “has no merit.”
She pointed to a federal court ruling last week granting the House Judiciary Committee subpoena power over material from special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury in his investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election season. She said the judge recognized the House Democrats’ formal probe into the president. The Justice Department is appealing the judge’s order.
Mrs. Pelosi said Democrats will hold a formal vote this week to affirm “the ongoing, existing investigation that is currently being conducted by our committees.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said Mrs. Pelosi’s “backtracking” reveals that the impeachment process “has been botched from the start.”
“We will not legitimize the Schiff/Pelosi sham impeachment,” he said in a Twitter post.
Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who has been heavily involved in the closed-door hearings, said the vote doesn’t change much.
“The fact that House Democrats are now suddenly saying they’ll vote on an impeachment resolution to ‘ensure transparency’ is rich — considering they’ve spent weeks conducting interviews in secret, leaking their own talking points while locking down any and all information that benefits the president,” Mr. Meadows said in a statement to The Washington Times.
The resolution will authorize the disclosure of deposition transcripts, lay down due process rights for the president and set up a system to transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee so it can consider articles of impeachment.
“Nobody is above the law,” Mrs. Pelosi said at the end of the letter.
The White House said it couldn’t comment directly on the resolution until its text is released.
“Speaker Pelosi is finally admitting what the rest of America already knew: that Democrats were conducting an unauthorized impeachment proceeding, refusing to give the president due process, and their secret, shady, closed-door depositions are completely and irreversibly illegitimate,” said Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary.
Mrs. Pelosi announced the vote after a setback for Democrats when former White House adviser Charles Kupperman refused to testify Monday morning.
Mr. Kupperman, who took John R. Bolton’s place as national security adviser for a short period, filed a lawsuit Friday asking a judge to decide whether he had to comply with the Democrats’ subpoena. He argued that the subpoena put him in a legal bind: If he testified, he could unlawfully reveal confidential information; but if he refused, he would unlawfully defy Congress.
In light of that request, his attorneys informed lawmakers that he would not be appearing before members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Oversight and Reform Committee. Should the judge decide in favor of the House subpoena, Mr. Kupperman will testify, his attorneys said.
“It is President Trump, and every president before him for at least the last half a century, who have asserted testimonial immunity for their closest confidential advisers,” Mr. Kupperman’s attorneys wrote in a letter.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House intelligence committee, said that argument has “no basis in law.”
“A private citizen cannot sue the Congress to try and avoid coming in when they’re served with a lawful subpoena,” he said.
However, Samuel Dewey, a lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery who used to lead congressional investigations, told The Washington Times that Democrats won’t have a contempt case against Mr. Kupperman because of executive privilege.
“There’s an odd notion that seems to be going around that when a witness doesn’t appear on the schedule set by the committee that is automatically contempt,” Mr. Dewey said. “That’s absolutely wrong.”
He argued that rather than jumping to contempt, Democrats need to properly overrule executive privilege by holding a hearing and vote to do so.
The impeachment investigation is centered on allegations that the president tried to subvert typical channels of foreign policy and pressure Ukrainian leaders into opening investigations for his personal political gain in 2020.
Mr. Schiff also slammed Republican leaders for continuing to defend the president.
“Where is their duty to this institution? Where is their duty to the Constitution? Where is their respect for the rule of law? This will not be our last president,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republicans have defended witnesses who have resisted congressional subpoenas. They argue that it’s an unfair process at its foundation.
Despite the setback, Mr. Schiff said the investigation will continue as planned and won’t be slowed by bitter legal battles. He warned that if witnesses continued to not cooperate, they would build a “powerful case” of obstruction against Mr. Trump.
“We are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope in the courts,” he said. “We will not allow the White House to delay our investigation.”
Mr. Dewey said Mr. Kupperman’s strategy of going to the courts to decide his fate is “unprecedented” and poses a significant legal question. It’s not clear whether any other potential witnesses will try to do the same.
Democrats have lined up a packed schedule for the next two weeks, including a deposition with Timothy Morrison, who reportedly told William Taylor, a top diplomat to Ukraine, about military aid being contingent on Ukrainian investigations into Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, as well as the 2016 presidential election.