House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued on Thursday that the President’s actions in the Ukraine scandal constitute “bribery” and that President Donald Trump has admitted to it himself, the latest and most high-profile Democrat to use that word when describing Trump’s conduct.
“What the President has admitted to and says it’s perfect, I’ve said it’s perfectly wrong. It’s bribery,” the California Democrat said at her weekly news conference Thursday. Trump has repeatedly claimed that his now-famous July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect.”
During the call, which is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry, Trump asks the Ukrainian President for “a favor” and goes on to suggest that Ukraine look into the family of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a publicly released transcript, and foreign interference in the 2016 US election.
Asked to explain what she believes the bribe was in the case of the President’s contacts with Ukraine, 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.”
Pelosi’s comments come a day after the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry, which featured testimony from the top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.
Public hearings mark the start of the next phase in the inquiry, where House Democrats will be under increasing pressure to make a compelling case to the American public about the President’s actions.
One of the challenges facing Democrats is whether they can clearly explain what they believe is at stake and describe the alleged wrongdoing.
Congressional Republicans have defended the President, arguing that his actions do not amount to impeachable conduct and that Democrats are pushing a partisan inquiry and have been looking for any excuse to attempt to get the President out of office since he was elected.
The White House has similarly dismissed the inquiry. “This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted on Wednesday in response to the first public hearing of the inquiry.
In contrast, Pelosi on Thursday called the recent testimony “devastating” and said it “corroborated evidence of bribery.”
“The devastating testimony 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,” Pelosi said, adding, “A clear attempt by the President to give himself the advantage in the 2020 election.”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, has also raised the accusation of bribery.
In an interview with NPR on Tuesday, Schiff cited bribery as a potentially impeachable offense.
“I don’t think any decision has been made on the ultimate question about whether articles of impeachment should be brought,” Schiff said, adding, “That will be the purpose of these hearings and the subsequent work done in the Judiciary Committee. But 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.”
Pelosi was asked during her news conference if bribery could be an article of impeachment against the President.
“I don’t know about that. We haven’t even made a decision to impeach,” she said in response. “That’s what the inquiry is about.”
Pelosi further argued that the Trump-Ukraine controversy is more serious than the Watergate scandal, saying what the President did “makes what Nixon did look almost small.”
“What President Trump has done on the record in terms of acting to advantage his – a foreign power to help him in his own election and the obstruction of information about that, the cover-up, makes what Nixon did look almost small.”
CNN’s Haley Byrd contributed to this report.