The near party-line vote came as Tim Morrison, a top official on Trump’s National Security Council, testified in a closed-door deposition. Morrison backed up previous testimony that the president withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country into announcing investigations into former vice president Joe Biden and interference in the 2016 election, according to his prepared remarks and people familiar with his testimony, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door proceedings. He said he got the information directly from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, the administration official who communicated that apparent quid pro quo to Ukrainian leaders.
Trump has vehemently denied the arrangement, which is the focus of the impeachment probe.
Together, the events marked significant progress for the House’s five-week-old inquiry — and triggered an escalation in the partisan rancor that has dominated the impeachment process and much of Trump’s presidency.
The vote was the House’s first on impeachment and the Democrats’ response to repeated GOP complaints about a closed-door process. The expansive inquiry with a new phase of public hearings is likely to extend into the 2020 election year with a Senate trial.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who resisted impeachment for months, said this week that she has found the evidence against Trump convincing. Still, she said, there has been no final decision on impeachment.
“We’ve had enough for a very long time,” Pelosi said Monday at a roundtable with columnists, adding that the House investigators would pursue additional corroboration of witness accounts.
Complicating the investigation was a judge’s decision Thursday to hear arguments Dec. 10 on whether Charles Kupperman, a former deputy national security adviser, should be an impeachment witness — a late date that means the issue may not be resolved before a House vote. Democrats also have requested testimony next week from Kupperman’s former boss, onetime national security adviser John Bolton, whose decision could be affected by the judge’s ruling.
After the House vote, the White House accused Democrats of having an “unhinged obsession” with impeachment, with press secretary Stephanie Grisham calling the effort a “blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the president.”
Trump, who had no public events on his daily schedule, tweeted: “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”
In a private lunch with several Senate Republicans, Trump made his case against impeachment and repeatedly praised his own decision to release a rough transcript of the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when Trump urged Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. Zelensky was awaiting not only the congressionally appropriated aid but a meeting with Trump.
“He said a number of times that he’s really glad there’s a transcript, that he’s really glad he released it,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of the senators who attended the lunch.
House Republicans, who spent weeks calling for a vote on the inquiry, began to pivot from complaints about the process toward a more robust defense of Trump’s actions.
“There is nothing in that phone call that is wrong or impeachable,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Morrison’s testimony carried both the significance of a firsthand account and the weight of that testimony coming from someone with a solid Republican résumé.
In his opening remarks, Morrison confirmed the substance of last week’s testimony from the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., and noted that he asked the National Security Council’s legal adviser and deputy to review Trump’s call with Zelensky.