Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that President Donald Trump committed “bribery,” an impeachable offense, by trying to force Ukraine into tarnishing a political rival to help him in the 2020 election.
The speaker’s remark is one of her strongest statements yet on the scandal engulfing Trump that is threatening his presidency. Bribery is one of the specific crimes spelled out in the Constitution as an impeachable offense.
“I am saying what the president has admitted to and said it’s perfect — it’s perfectly wrong. It’s bribery,” Pelosi told reporters during her weekly press conference Thursday. “The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That’s bribery.”
Still, Pelosi cautioned, she isn’t yet ready to say whether the House will vote to impeach Trump, an outcome many lawmakers think is all but certain to happen by the end of this year.
“We haven’t made a decision to impeach. That’s what the inquiry is about,” she said when pressed by reporters, noting President Richard Nixon still had strong public support in the weeks before he resigned from office.
“By the way, what President Trump has done on the record in terms of acting to advantage a foreign power to help him in his own election and the obstruction of information about that — the coverup — makes what Nixon did look almost small,” she said. “But again, an inquiry is an inquiry.”
Pelosi’s repeated use of the word “bribery” is a notable departure from recent weeks in which Democrats used convoluted terms like “quid pro quo” and “insidiousness” to describe Trump’s alleged behavior.
Ahead of the first impeachment hearing Wednesday, Democrats made a concerted decision to simplify their language as they try to make their impeachment case to the American public.
Pelosi also offered her first extended comments on the House’s Wednesday impeachment hearing, in which two career diplomats presented damning evidence directly tying Trump to efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden to benefit the president’s reelection efforts.
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified for the first time about a close aide who overheard Trump inquiring about the status of his desired “investigations,” just a day after the president raised the issue with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the now infamous phone call on July 25.
“The devastating testimony corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry and that the president abused power and violated his oath by threatening to withhold military aide and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into his political rival,” Pelosi said.
It was “a clear attempt of the president to give himself the advantage in the 2020 election,” she added.
The House Intelligence Committee will hear public testimony from several more witnesses over the next week, including Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, on Friday.
In closed-door testimony to House investigators last month, Yovanovitch described the successful effort by Trump’s allies, spearheaded by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to have her forcibly removed from her post over the objections of other senior officials.