It was a step more than 2½ years in the making and one that moves the president farther down the path of self-styled political martyrdom.
The product of Trump's norm-breaking presidency and Democrats' lingering anger over the outcome of the 2016 election, the impeachment inquiry has largely been welcomed by the Republican president's advisers, who believe it could backfire against Democrats. The president himself said the move could help his electoral chances, but he reacted in the moment with a cascade of angry tweets that accused Democrats of engaging in "a witch hunt" and "presidential harassment."
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A short time earlier, as word of Pelosi's decision first emerged, an agitated Trump sized up the politics of the moment and the developments that have quickly enveloped his presidency since it was revealed that a whistleblower complaint accused him of pressuring the leader of Ukraine to dig up damaging material about political foe Joe Biden's family.
"They're going to lose the election, and they figure this is a thing to do," Trump told reporters. Speaking of Pelosi, he added, "If she does that, they all say that's a positive for me, for the election. You could also say, 'Who needs it? It's bad for the country.'"
The revelations revolve in part around a July 25 phone call the president had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump is said to have asked for help investigating Biden and his son Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine, prompting speculation that he was holding up the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge but acknowledged he blocked the funds.
The West Wing and Trump's informal advisers have been divided over how to handle the story, according to the accounts of eight people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. Trump spent part of Monday night consulting with family members and confidants over what to do next.
Related: Donald Trump faces impeachment
Donald Trump faces impeachment inquiry
Donald Trump faces impeachment inquiry
ARCHIVO - En esta foto de archivo del 30 de noviembre de 2018, la entonces embajadora de EEUU en Ucrania, Marie L. Yovanovitch, habla en Kiev. Yovanovich declara el viernes 11 de octubre de 2019 ante las comisiones del Congreso que investigan al presidente Donald Trump antes de posiblemente iniciarle juicio político. (AP Foto/Efrem Lukatsky)
Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, arrives on Capitol Hill, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Washington, as she is scheduled to testify before congressional lawmakers on Friday as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - In this March 6, 2019 file photo, then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, sits during her meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, Ukraine. (Mikhail Palinchak, Presidential Press Service Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the House impeachment investigation during a formal signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at the White House in Washington, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Committee speaks to the media before a closed-door meeting regarding the ongoing impeachment inquiry against US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol October 8, 2019 in Washington,DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, of Utah, addresses the media at Midvale Senior Citizens Center Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Midvale, Utah. McAdams is changing his position to support the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. He said Friday he has not made a decision on whether the president should be impeached, but he supports investigating what he calls serious allegations. McAdams was previously one of a small handful of undecided House Democrats. He says he changed his mind because the Trump administration is unlikely to cooperate with an investigation unless it's conducted as an impeachment inquiry. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Staunch Trump ally Sen. Chuck Grassley pushes back against calls to out whistleblower
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., listens as Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and other House Democrats discuss H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which passed in the House but is being held up in the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters after the Trump administration blocked U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from giving testimony in the House of Representatives' impeachment investigation of Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: Tourists make photographs inside the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on October 01, 2019 in Washington, DC. Under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the House of Representatives has opened an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump following revelation that a whistleblower filed a complaint that Trump was seeking damaging information about a political opponent from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30 : President Donald J. Trump talks to reporters about the whistleblower after participating in a ceremonial Swearing-In of the Secretary of Labor Gene Scalia in the Oval Office at the White House on Monday, Sept 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - OCTOBER 01: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media on October 1, 2019 in Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine has been at the core of a political storm in U.S. politics since the release of a whistleblower's complaint suggesting U.S. President Donald Trump, at the expense of U.S. foreign policy, pressured Ukraine to investigate Trump's rival, Joe Biden, and Biden's son, Hunter. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on September 24, 2019 shows
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, on September 24, 2019 and
US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, September 20, 2019. - Amid mounting allegations of abuse of power by the US President, Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, the first step in a process that could ultimately lead to Trump's removal from office. (Photos by Mandel NGAN and SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN,SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., steps away from a podium after reading a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to audience applause after his address to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
WASHINGTON, DC - September 24: Surrounded by journalists, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) emerges from a meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, before the delivers a speech concerning a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Tuesday September 24, 2019. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Members of the White House press corps - holding in the Trump Bar at Trump Tower - watch U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) live on television as she announces an impeachment investigation of U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, New York, U.S. September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump ATTENDS a bilateral meeting with Iraq's President Barham Salih on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks to news reporters following an impeachment proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) walks through a House corridor following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL.) speaks to news reporters following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 1125 -- Pictured: Host Jimmy Fallon as Donald Trump during the "Trump U.N. Speech" Cold Open on September 24, 2019 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Protesters with "Kremlin Annex" call to impeach President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to the media in response to an announcement by Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at the Capitol Building September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry today after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) walks with her press secretary, Connor Joseph, to a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Spanberger is one of seven freshman members of the House with national intelligence or military backgrounds who recently spoke out in an opinion piece calling for an investigation of Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Reporters and congressional staff members wait outside a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Reporters crowd around Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., as he leaves the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on impeachment of President Trump on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, arrives for the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on impeachment of President Trump on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Protesters with Kremlin Annex with a light sign that reads "NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW" call to impeach President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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The president has alternately vented about what he sees as media and Democratic attempts to overplay the Ukraine story line while believing that the episode will work against his political foes. Frustrated by the rapid pace of developments and how they have overshadowed his time at the United Nations, Trump said he believed this was the Democrats trying to get a "do-over" after failing to take him down with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
For nearly a year, the White House as an institution and Trump personally have been goading Democrats to open impeachment proceedings. They've refused document requests and ignored subpoenas from Congress, claiming broad executive privilege to prevent the testimony of administration officials and even of people who've never formally worked at the White House.
His strategists have long believed impeachment could be a victory: that the American public would view the move as a purely partisan maneuver that would work against Democrats as it did for Republicans when they went that route against Bill Clinton 20 years ago.
Clinton was not facing reelection; Trump will be on the ballot in 14 months. Moreover, while Trump has largely been convinced by aides that impeachment could be good for his political future, the superstitious, legacy-minded president has told confidants that he is worried that, even if the GOP-controlled Senate were to acquit him as expected, impeachment would become the first line of his political obituary.
As word of the whistleblower complaint slowly made its way through the White House, initial concerns about what the president said on the call quickly gave way to the same sense of defiance that has defined the administration's interactions with Congress. One administration official said there were intense divisions among the West Wing staff and lawyers on whether to release the transcript, a move they believed would exonerate the president but set a dangerous precedent for future administrations. It also could ease the very tensions with Congress that the White House has seen to be politically advantageous.
Even while Trump was weighing whether to authorize the release, he insisted to those around him that the transcript would clear him of any wrongdoing. And he and his closest allies believe that when more is known about the Biden family's involvement in Ukraine, it could damage the electoral prospects of the one candidate Trump himself has mused could peel off some his support among white working-class voters in the Midwest.
By Tuesday, as it became clear that House Democrats were set on an impeachment inquiry, Trump approved release of the "unredacted" transcript. "You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call," he tweeted between meetings at the United Nations. "No pressure."
Most aides believe that Trump's vague, wink-wink style of speaking would not lend itself to the discovery of a smoking gun in the transcript. But it's possible the White House will authorize the release of the entire whistleblower complaint to Congress by the end of the week.
As Democrats pursue impeachment, Trump and his allies believe it could make him a martyr in the eyes of his faithful, providing the necessary motivation to bring his supporters to the polls in droves. Trump's reelection strategy hinges on turning out die-hard supporters who are unreliable voters rather than winning over skeptics at the center of the electorate. Trump is betting that anger at what he claims is Democratic mistreatment will prove to be a political motivator, and that impeachment proceedings will only add to the nation's pox-on-both-houses view of Washington.
After Pelosi's Tuesday afternoon announcement, the president and his reelection team swung into high gear, releasing a series of tweets attacking Democrats, including a video of presidential critics like the speaker and Rep. Ilhan Omar discussing impeachment. It concluded with a message for the Trump base: "While Democrats 'Sole Focus' is fighting Trump, President Trump is fighting for you."
But while the campaign set a confident tone, the angry tweets from the Trump Tower penthouse kept coming as the last light faded from the Manhattan sky.