Trump blasts censure idea as House panel prepares impeachment report vote

LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday rejected the possibility of U.S. lawmakers censuring him instead of impeaching him over accusations he improperly pressured Ukraine to probe a political rival, as Democrats prepared to lay out their case for impeachment.

Trump, speaking at a wide-ranging, nearly hour long news conference at the NATO summit in London, lashed out at Democrats in the House of Representatives who are leading the impeachment inquiry into the Ukraine matter and denounced the censure idea raised by some members of Congress as "unacceptable."

The Democratic-controlled House Intelligence Committee, which has spearheaded the impeachment probe, is scheduled to vote on its findings later on Tuesday. The matter will then go to the House Judiciary Committee, which will launch its proceedings on Wednesday.

The full House would then vote on the formal impeachment charges. If the House votes to impeach Trump, then a trial would be held in the Republican-led U.S. Senate.

So far, analysts doubt Trump's fellow Republicans would convict and remove him from power, although some lawmakers have raised the idea of a censure in recent days as a way to rebuke the president's actions without the risk of removal from office.

"I did nothing wrong," Trump said in London. "You don't censure somebody when they did nothing wrong."

Trump has called the impeachment probe a "hoax" pushed by Democrats as part of an effort to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential election. Opinion polls show Americans are bitterly divided over whether to impeach Trump.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, in a television interview on Monday night, said the panel was finalizing its report for a public release on Tuesday, with panel members expected to vote on it Tuesday night.

Schiff told MSNBC his committee would continue its investigation even while the judiciary panel did its work.

Republicans, in an advance rebuttal report released on Monday, said Democrats had not established that Trump had committed an impeachable offense.

At issue is whether the Republican president misused the power of his office to pressure Kiev to investigate former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Lawmakers and the public have heard testimony from current and former officials that military aid was withheld from Ukraine and that a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was conditioned on Kiev probing Biden and his son Hunter as well as a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

In an interview with the New York Times on Tuesday, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal said Kiev was aware the U.S. aid had been withheld in July, in what the newspaper said was the first public acknowledgment by Ukraine that its top officials knew about the delay in the midst of Trump's pressure campaign.

'UNPATRIOTIC'

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary panel will hear from constitutional lawmakers as they decide whether to put forward the formal articles of impeachment. The White House, in a defiant response earlier this week, said it would not participate in the process.

The president and other administration officials have criticized the timing as Trump attends the summit overseas, although former Democratic President Bill Clinton also faced impeachment during a 1998 trip to Israel.

In London, Trump repeated his defense that his calls with Zelenskiy were "perfect" and that the impeachment inquiry was "a hoax," accusing Democrats of a three-year effort to undo his 2016 election victory as he seeks re-election next November.

"It is done for purely political gain, they are going to see whether or not they can do something in 2020 because otherwise they are going to lose," he said at the summit.

He also raised questions about his rivals' patriotism, particularly as he traveled overseas and sought to negotiate on a range of issues, although he said he did not think it weakened his position while at the NATO summit.

"I think it's very unpatriotic for the Democrats to put on a performance where they do that. I do. I think it's a bad thing for our country," Trump said.

"Does it cast a cloud? Well, if it does, then the Democrats have done a very great disservice to the country, which they have. They've wasted a lot of time," he added.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who controls the chamber and is leading Democrats' impeachment push, declined to discuss impeachment during her visit to Madrid for a climate summit this week, saying it was inappropriate to talk about such a domestic matter while abroad.

"We aren't here to talk about impeachment of the president of the United States," Pelosi said in response to a question.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in London and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Susan Heavey and Paul Simao; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

12/03/2019 15:01

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