Democrats weigh impeachment as Trump calls Ukraine scandal 'ridiculous'

Washington (AFP) –

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As Donald Trump addressed world leaders at the United Nations Tuesday, outraged Democrats weighed impeachment in Washington over a mounting abuse of power scandal pitting the president against his top rival for the White House in 2020, Joe Biden.

Biden was poised to make a statement on Trump's "ongoing abuse of power" while Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi summoned a party meeting to address the surging demands for the president's impeachment.

The burgeoning scandal centers on Trump's reported attempt to pressure the new president of Ukraine to open a corruption investigation into Biden and his son Hunter.

Triggering the confrontation is an as yet secret whistleblower complaint centered on Trump's phone call July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

- Trump admits he froze Ukraine aid -

News reports late Monday said the White House froze military aid to Ukraine just days before Trump urged Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.

Trump confirmed Tuesday that he had withheld the aid, but insisted it related to pressuring European countries to put up more to support Kiev.

Yet the White House continued to block the release of the whistleblower complaint and a transcript of the call.

"I think it's ridiculous, it's a witch hunt," Trump said in New York before addressing the United Nations General Assembly.

"I'm leading in the polls. They have no idea how they stop me. The only way that they can try is through impeachment."

- 'Flagrant disregard for law' -

Calls for impeachment intensified after the latest disclosures, which come on top of multiple congressional investigations into Trump's alleged attempts to collude with Russia, obstruction of justice, and profiteering from his office.

After seven moderate Democrats declared themselves in support of a full-blown impeachment probe late Monday, analysts counted a total of around 150 of the party's 235 House members in support.

"The president of the United States may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and he sought to use US taxpayer dollars as leverage to do it," the seven, including Afghanistan and Iraq wars veteran Jason Crow and ex-CIA agent Abigail Spanberger, wrote in the Washington Post.

"This flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand."

- Pelosi: possibly 'no choice' but impeachment -

That increased pressure on Pelosi, who as leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives sets their legislative and political agenda.

The wily San Francisco representative has so far resisted impeachment, preferring to focus on beating Trump and Congressional Republicans in the November 2020 election.

Pelosi, 79, takes credit for retaking a resounding Democratic majority in the House in the 2018 congressional elections, and believes a similarly focused effort can regain control of the Senate and White House next year.

In addition, polls suggest American voters have no stomach for an impeachment investigation and Democrats recognize that even if it results in impeachment by the House, the Republican-controlled Senate would have the final say.

But Trump's latest scandal and refusal to bow to demands from Congress for information could leave Democrats "no choice" but to pursue impeachment, Pelosi said Monday.

- Biden to make statement -

Pelosi was scheduled to meet with party members Tuesday afternoon.

Senior Democrats are still awaiting the White House response to their demands for records on relations with Ukraine and the account of the unnamed intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint led to the allegations against Trump.

In addition, on Thursday acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who blocked the release to Congress of the whistleblower's complaint reportedly on the direction of the White House, is scheduled to testify on the issue before the House Intelligence Committee.