An intelligence whistleblower's complaint showing Trump pressuring Ukraine's president to supply dirt on election rival Joe Biden left the White House reeling and Trump doubling down with an implicit threat against witnesses to the call.
"The clarity of the president's actions is compelling and gave us no choice but to move forward," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"This is about the national security of our country: The president of the United States being disloyal to his oath of office, jeopardizing our national security, and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections."
Schiff to lead impeachment effort
She announced that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who accused Trump of acting like a "mafia boss" this week, would take the lead in the investigation.
"They will take the time that they need and we won't have the calendar be the arbiter," she said in an interview with MSNBC.
"But...it doesn't have to drag on."
The fast-moving events have shaken the foundations of Trump's tempestuous two-and-a-half-year presidency.
On Monday, September 23, Trump blithely swatted away a whistleblower report that alleged he sought to pressure Ukraine for information that could damage Biden, the leading democratic candidate to contest the presidency in 2020.
At the same time, Pelosi was pushing back against mounting pressure in her party to impeach Trump, trying to keep the focus on battling next year's elections.
But the tables have turned with the release of a memo on Trump's July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, which confirmed he pressed for dirt on the Bidens, followed by the whistleblower's complaint, which alleged the White House had attempted to cover up the call.
Democrats now appear able to muster the majority they need to vote through an impeachment motion in the House – for only the third time in US history – setting the stage for a possible trial of the president by the Republican-controlled Senate.
We should move quickly
"We should move quickly but not hurriedly, and we should focus on this Ukraine call," Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN Friday.
"As a former prosecutor, I should tell you that cases are made much easier when the defendant cops to the act, and here the president is not denying what he said."
"We don't need to have a months-long hearing ... We have the president's own words, and we have his conduct after the fact," he said, referring to Trump's attack on the still anonymous whistleblower and other potential White House witnesses against him, labelling them spies and traitors.
"You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now," Trump told US diplomats in a meeting at the United Nations.
Swalwell said the remarks, made Thursday, September 26, to a crowd from the US Mission to the United Nations, showed "a consciousness of guilt. Innocent people don't talk that way."
Trump opened Friday with a series of Twitter attacks on Schiff, who has already asked that the whistleblower, identified by the New York Times as a CIA officer who once worked in the White House, testify before his committee.
He accused Schiff of "fraudulently" reading the official White House memorandum of the Ukraine call in a hearing on the whistleblower's complaint Thursday.
"He completely changed the words to make it sound horrible, and me sound guilty," Trump said.
"I am calling for him to immediately resign from Congress based on this fraud!" – Rappler.com