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Trump impeachment vote nears as lower house panel approves charges

In this Dec. 5, 2019, photo, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a luncheon with members of the United Nations Security Council in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- A House of Representatives panel on Friday approved charges against President Donald Trump for abusing the power of his office to boost his own chances of re-election in 2020, paving the way for a full House vote that will likely make him the third U.S. leader in history to be impeached.

    The Democratic-controlled House has pushed ahead with the proceedings even though the Senate, dominated by Trump's Republican Party, is expected to acquit the president in a trial to be held there following impeachment by the lower house.

    The two articles of impeachment against Trump, approved by the House Judiciary Committee, are abusing power to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival and obstructing Congress' probe into the scandal.

    Earlier this year, Trump allegedly conditioned the release of congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine -- funds the country needed to fight Russian aggression -- as well as a White House meeting with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the public announcement of investigations Trump apparently requested to sully a U.S. rival's reputation.

    The Democrats have called Trump unfit to serve as president in light of the matter, saying he acted against national security and attempted to corrupt U.S. elections by pressuring Ukraine for a personal favor.

    The president has also been condemned for obstructing the inquiry undertaken by the House, such as by directing government officials not to comply with subpoenas.

    Trump has denied any wrongdoing and Republicans have asserted that the impeachment inquiry returned "no direct evidence" that Trump withheld assistance or a meeting to pressure Zelenskyy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the frontrunners in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    The $391 million in military assistance was eventually released to Ukraine without the country announcing investigations related to the Bidens.

    Following their launch of a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump in late September, the Democrats have been rushing toward an impeachment vote apparently to minimize the impact on their campaigning in the lead-up to the presidential election next November.

    If Trump is impeached by the end of the year, a trial in the Senate would likely begin in January.

    Several senators who are vying for the Democratic presidential nomination may then need to stay in Washington for the trial during a period they would otherwise have used for last-minute campaigning ahead of the country's first presidential nomination contest in Iowa on Feb. 3.

    Although Iowa represents a limited number of American voters, the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the Midwestern state are closely watched as their results have traditionally impacted subsequent contests elsewhere in the United States.

    In U.S. history, only two presidents have been impeached -- Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 -- but neither was removed from office as the Senate acquitted them. Clinton faced the rebuke for perjury and obstruction in connection with his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

    Richard Nixon, facing likely impeachment for his role in covering up the Watergate political scandal, resigned in 1974 before the House could vote on the articles of impeachment against him.

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