A bitterly divided US House of Representatives on Thursday approved rules for an impeachment inquiry set to go public against President Donald Trump.
Responding to this major move, Trump tweeted it is the greatest witch hunt in American history.
If lawmakers vote to impeach Trump, he will be the third president to face such a proceeding after former presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
The investigation against Trump centres on whether he pressured president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to open a probe against Joe Biden, potential democratic presidential candidate and his rival, and his son Hunter who worked in a corruption-hit gas company in that country.
Thursday’s resolution passed by a 232-196 vote gives the House Intelligence Committee chaired by democratic representative Adam Schiff powers to open hearings, release transcripts of closed-door witness testimony and issue a report.
Republicans on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees can seek witnesses and documents. However, Democrats can block these requests.
Democrats expect public hearings to begin by the middle of this month.
Republicans view the impeachment process as highly biased and unfair. They argue the Democrats want Trump to be removed by hook or by crook as they cannot defeat him in the 2020 elections.
According to them, the impeachment move is improper with only months to go before the election.
They opposed the ‘secret’ hearings by various house committees as Democrats leaked information to sully
Trump’s image and give credibility to their allegations against him.
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Democrats are wasting time on a sham impeachment.
Republican lawmaker Devin Nunes said Democrats are trapped in their own web of lies.
First they called Trump a Russian agent, then a money launderer, tax cheat and fraudulent businessman. Now they do not like the way he talks to foreign leaders such as Zelensky.
During the House debate, Republican lawmaker Steve Scalise displayed a poster carrying the message ‘Soviet-style impeachment proceedings’ over an image of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
Schiff said the resolution has set the stage for the next phase of the investigation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a sad day as “no one comes to Congress to impeach a president.”
Democrats’ efforts to convict Trump may not succeed as they need two-thirds majority in the Senate. All Republicans voted against the resolution on Thursday and it is unlikely they will change their minds and vote against Trump.