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New calls for impeachment could give Pelosi 'cover' to take next step, sources say

In an op-ed, seven House freshmen have called for impeachment hearings to look into Ukraine allegations.
Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called an all-caucus meeting for 4 p.m. Tuesday that is expected to cover impeachment.Susan Walsh / AP

An op-ed written by seven freshman House Democrats calling for impeachment hearings to address allegations about President Donald Trump and Ukraine is expected to give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the "cover" she needs to back a more formal impeachment proceeding against the president, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News on Monday night.

"This is major. It seems to me like it’s an inflection point,” one source said. Another described it as "a big shift."

Elaine Luria of Virginia, who signed the op-ed published Monday night in The Washington Post, called it a "gamechanger."

"The tide is changing," Luria told Rachel Maddow on Monday night.

In the op-ed, Luria and Reps. Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia said their experiences in the military, defense and U.S. intelligence agencies helped shape their decision.

"We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country, and throughout our careers, we have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States many times over. Now, we join as a unified group to uphold that oath as we enter uncharted waters and face unprecedented allegations against President Trump," they wrote.

They urged Pelosi to start proceedings to examine whether the president used his "position to pressure a foreign county into investigating a political opponent," and if "he sought to use U.S. taxpayer dollars as leverage to do it."

Trump has been accused of threatening to cut off funding for Ukraine in order to get prosecutors there to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

On Monday, the president said he had tied funding for Ukraine to the way that nation handles corruption — which he has alleged Biden's family was engaged in there — before denying just hours later he'd made any such demand.

Senior administration officials told The Washington Post on Monday that in the days before a phone call in which he urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into Biden’s son, Trump instructed his chief of staff to place a hold on close to $400 million in military aid for the country. The phone call is said to have happened July 25, and the funds were released earlier this month, the Post reported.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley on Monday night denied those allegations. "The media pushed the Russia lie for almost three years with no evidence, and now they are doing it all over again," he told NBC News. "These allegations are completely false, but because the media wants this story to be true so badly, they’ll once again manufacture a frenzy and drive ignorant, fake stories to attack this president."

For months, Pelosi has tried to keep talk of impeaching Trump at bay — dismissing it as too divisive. But Pelosi is now asking colleagues whether they believe Trump’s own admission that he pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Biden is a tipping point, according to multiple Democratic aides, as first reported by The Washington Post.

Pelosi’s office is refusing to comment on the record.

Pelosi and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler on Monday spoke by phone today about the Trump whistleblower complaint and impeachment.

On Sunday, in a letter to colleagues, Pelosi threatened a "new stage of investigation" if the Trump administration and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire fail to provide a whistleblower complaint centered on Ukraine when Maguire testifies in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Maguire and Inspector General Atkinson are also set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors Thursday afternoon, after appearing before the House Intelligence Committee.

Pelosi has called an all-caucus meeting for 4 p.m. Tuesday that is expected to cover impeachment. But no decisions on how to proceed have been made, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The idea of creating a select panel, which would be made of relevant committee chairs, to investigate Trump and his attempts to strongarm Ukraine into investigating Biden and his son is among the options, the aide said.

And though the speaker has not officially blessed anything, in the event a select panel is needed, the chairs would issue a report to the Judiciary Committee, which would handle any impeachment referral.

Some members are expected to publicly endorse this idea on Tuesday, according to the senior Democratic leadership aide.

The Democrats who wrote the opinion editorial in the Washington Post had discussed the potential collaboration for months as frustration mounted with the Judiciary Committee proceedings and how Nadler has handled them.

Their calls for impeachment proceedings were echoed by two other Democrats who had not previously made their positions known.

On Monday night, Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas called for Trump’s impeachment, as did Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan.

As of Monday night, 148 House Democrats had expressed support for some type of action regarding impeachment. Some have called for an inquiry or hearings, while others have gone further and support drafting articles of impeachment.