Democratic congressional leaders have unveiled articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, a historic move set in motion by a whistleblower complaint warning the president was using the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in a US election.

Democrats outlined two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The charges were announced by House judiciary chair Jerry Nadler, flanked by speaker Nancy Pelosi, intelligence chair Adam Schiff and other members of the Democratic leadership.

Nadler said: “Today in service to our duty to the constitution and to our country the House committee on the judiciary is introducing two articles of impeachment, charging the president of the United States, Donald J Trump, with committing high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The articles were unveiled after almost three months of investigation of alleged wrongdoing by Trump, who is accused of withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting from Ukraine in exchange for investigations into the former vice-president Joe Biden, his political rival, and a baseless conspiracy theory which says Ukraine intervened in the US election in 2016.

Trump has denied any misconduct. After the announcement he tweeted the phrase “witch hunt” in capital letters.

Democrats had weighed as many as four articles, including an obstruction of justice charge relating to Trump’s conduct during special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow.

While the impeachment articles focus on Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine scheme, Nadler said, the articles went to a “pattern” of presidential behavior.

According to the text of the first article, Trump “used the powers of the presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process. He thus ignored and injured the interests of the Nation.

“President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”

The second article states that “in the history of the Republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate” his behaviour.

Explaining the charges, Nadler said: “A president who places himself above accountability, above the American people and above Congress’s power of impeachment … is a president who sees himself as above the law.

“We must be clear no one not even the president is above the law.”

The move means that by the end of next week, Trump could become the third president in US history to be impeached. Andrew Johnson survived impeachment in 1868, as did Bill Clinton in 1999. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before being formally impeached.

The House judiciary committee will vote on the articles, followed by the full House. As Democrats control the lower chamber, a trial in the Senate is likely to follow in January. Republicans are in control there, making Trump’s conviction and removal unlikely.

Representative Eliot Engel, the chair of one of the committees to investigate Trump, said Democrats had chosen not to include articles explicitly relating to the Mueller material.

“It was a matter of a judgment being made,” Engel told CNN. “Prevailing feeling was we were better off with two, because the obstruction of justice brought in a whole bunch of things and it was a mixed bag of tricks.

“The consensus was we were better off standing with two rock solidly and not spread ourselves too thin.”

On Twitter, former US attorney Barb McQuade said Democrats were “wise to frame articles of impeachment as abuse of office rather than violation of criminal statute”.

“That’s the difference between impeachment and criminal prosecution,” she tweeted.

Adam Schiff speaks, in front of a portrait of George Washington.



Adam Schiff speaks, in front of a portrait of George Washington. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

On Capitol Hill, Pelosi walked into a conference room with gold-trimmed mirrors and wood paneling just after 9am. She was trailed by the six committee chairs who have led investigations into Trump since the party took the House nearly a year ago.

Schiff said the House was moved reluctantly to action by the risk of allowing Trump’s alleged abuses to go unchecked.

“If allowed to stand it would decimate Congress’ ability to conduct oversight of this president or any in the future,” he said.

Replying to critics who urged Democrats to wait until they could obtain testimony and documents from witnesses the White House has blocked, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, Schiff said the slow pace of court appeals made that option nonviable and warned: “The integrity of our next election is at risk.”

“The argument ‘Why don’t you just wait?’ amounts to this: ‘Why don’t you just let him cheat in one more election? Why not just let him cheat one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time? That is what that argument amounts to.’”

Trump has betrayed the public trust, Nadler said.

“When he betrays that trust and puts himself before country he endangers the constitution, he endangers our democracy and he endangers our country.

“We do not take this action lightly but we have taken an oath to defend the constitution and unlike President Trump, we understand that our duty first and foremost is to protect the constitution and to protect the interests of the American people,” said Nadler. “That is why we must take this solemn step today.”

When Schiff finished speaking, the Democratic leaders filed out of the room in the same way they entered it, solemnly and without answering questions.



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