U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has claimed that President Donald Trump attempted to cover up his request to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Pelosi said an impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats would focus narrowly on the Ukraine episode and that other instances in which Trump may have abused the power of his office would be considered later.
It came as a whistleblower whose complaint was revealed in a newly declassified document claimed Trump likely abused his office for personal gain.
The Democratic-led US House Intelligence Committee released the complaint amid controversy around Trump's call to Zelensky.
The Democrats have accused the US president of asking Zelensky to look into corruption involving Trump's possible 2020 election rival, Biden.
"The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call," the whistleblower said.
"They told me that there was already a 'discussion ongoing' with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials' retelling, that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain."
Trump, alleged the whistleblower, used the July 25 telephone conversation to "advance his personal interests" by seeking to "pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President's 2020 reelection bid".
"I am deeply concerned that the actions described below constitute 'a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or executive order' that 'does not include differences of opinion concerning public policy matters,' consistent with the definition of an 'urgent concern'," the report said.
It also said that White House officials knew about the call and intervened to "lock down" all records of it showing they understood the gravity of the situation.
The report was made public before the scheduled start of a House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing at which acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is testifying after refusing for weeks to share the report with Congress.
Maguire said that he believed the whistleblower "had done the right thing."
The chairman of the Democratic-led House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff asked Maguire whether he could guarantee that the whistleblower would be able to testify fully and freely under the protection of the law, to which he replied "yes".
The White House called the declassified report "nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings — all of which shows nothing improper."
“Nothing has changed with the release of this complaint, which is nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings—all of which shows nothing improper.
"The President took the extraordinary and transparent steps of releasing the full, unredacted, and declassified transcript of his call with President Zelensky, which forms the heart of the complaint, as well as the complaint itself.
"That is because he has nothing to hide. The White House will continue to push back on the hysteria and false narratives being peddled by Democrats and many in the mainstream media, and President Trump will continue to work hard on behalf of the American people as he always does,” said White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement to the press.
The whistleblower complaint said Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani played a central figure in the alleged interference effort and that attorney general William Barr also seemed to be implicated.
It also said that multiple US and Ukrainian officials were led to believe that Trump would only talk to Zelensky if he agreed to "play ball".
Trump denounced the report on Twitter saying:
Reports about the call prompted Democrats on Tuesday to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump, accusing him of seeking foreign help to smear Biden.
The US Consitution stipulates that the House has the power to impeach a president for "high crimes and misdemeanours". Democrats control the House and Trump's Republicans control the Senate.