WASHINGTON — Escalating her case for impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of committing bribery by seeking to use U.S. military aid as leverage to persuade the Ukrainian government to conduct investigations that could politically benefit Trump.
The shift toward bribery as an impeachable offense, one of only two crimes specifically cited in the Constitution, comes after nearly two months of debate over whether Trump's conduct amounted to a "quid pro quo" — a lawyerly Latin term describing an exchange of things of value.
Wednesday's public testimony from two senior diplomats, Pelosi, D-Calif., said, "corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry and that the president abused power and violated his oath by threatening to withhold military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into his political rival."
Bribery, she suggested, amounted to a translation of quid pro quo that would stand to be more accessible to Americans: "Talking Latin around here: E pluribus unum - from many, one. Quid pro quo - bribery. And that is in the Constitution attached to the impeachment proceedings."
Article II of the Constitution holds that the president and other civil federal officials "shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."
Pelosi's remarks came a day after William Taylor, the top American envoy in Kyiv, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state overseeing Ukraine policy, told lawmakers in the House's first public impeachment hearing since 1998 that they were deeply troubled by an apparent perversion of U.S. policy done at the apparent behest of Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Trump himself.
Republicans, meanwhile, used much of their time to dismiss the testimony of Taylor and Kent as "hearsay" and "second-hand" information that could not elucidate Trump's personal action or motives surrounding the requests for investigations targeting Hunter Biden, son of former vice president Joe Biden, who is now running against Trump, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine not Russia tried to undermine Trump's 2016 campaign.
In a message to Trump and response to the GOP criticism, Pelosi said, "If the president has something that is exculpatory - Mr. President that means you have anything that shows your innocence -then he should make that known."
For weeks, Democrats have privately discussed multiple potential impeachment articles centering on abuse of power, contempt of Congress and other abuses requiring the House to make a case that they amount to "high crimes and misdemeanors." More recently, multiple Democrats have embraced bribery as a more direct summation of Trump's alleged conduct.
"When you're trying to persuade the American people of something that is really pretty simple, which is that the president acted criminally and extorted in the way a mob boss would extort somebody, a vulnerable foreign country, it's probably best not to use Latin words to explain it," Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a House Intelligence Committee member, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., also used the word in an interview this week with National Public Radio: "On the basis of what the witnesses have had to say so far, there are any number of potentially impeachable offenses, including bribery, including high crimes and misdemeanors."
Asked why Trump's conduct amounted to bribery Thursday, Pelosi said, "The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That's bribery."
Speaking to reporters Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., dismissed Wednesday's hearing and the impeachment probe generally as a waste of Congress's time - referring to a March comment Pelosi made to The Washington Post Magazine where she called impeachment unwise "unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan" to warrant it.
"There's nothing compelling," McCarthy said. "There's nothing overwhelming, and the only bipartisan vote we had was to end impeachment."
The House Intelligence Committee will reconvene Friday for a second public hearing featuring Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled to Washington in May following a smear campaign pushed by Giuliani and other Trump allies. Lawmakers are also set to hear private testimony from David Holmes, a Kyiv embassy official who is said to have overheard Trump discussing investigations in a July 26 phone call with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Sondland and several other witnesses are scheduled to testify publicly next week.