Democrats managed to secure the vote that defines the rules for the impeachment probe of President Trump with a 232-196 vote, which had two Democrats and all Republicans voting against the package.

The U.S. House of Representatives vote on a resolution that sets up the next steps in the impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
The U.S. House of Representatives vote on a resolution that sets up the next steps in the impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner (Reuters)

Democrats have swept a rules package for their impeachment probe of President Donald Trump through a divided House, as the chamber's first vote on the investigation highlighted the partisan breach the issue has only deepened.

By 232-196, lawmakers have approved the procedures they'll follow as weeks of closed-door interviews with witnesses evolve into public committee hearings and — almost certainly — votes on whether the House should recommend Trump's removal.

All voting Republicans opposed the package. Every voting Democrat but two supported it.

Trump tweeted, "Now is the time for Republicans to stand together and defend the leader of their party against these smears."

The vote is the first formal test of support for the inquiry launched on September 24. 

The measure calls for public hearings and the release of transcripts from closed-door proceedings. It also outlines what rights Republican lawmakers and Trump himself would have to participate as the process moves ahead.

Republicans have accused Democrats of trampling on Trump's rights and keeping the process too secret.

The US Constitution gives the House broad authority to set ground rules for an impeachment inquiry and Democrats say they are following House rules on investigations. They have promised to hold public hearings on the case against Trump.

Ex-Trump aide confirms Biden probe linked to Ukraine aid

A former top White House official confirmed Thursday that military aid to Ukraine was held up by Trump's demand for the ally to investigate Democrats and Joe Biden, but testified there's nothing illegal, in his view, about the quid pro quo at the center of the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry.

Tim Morrison, who stepped down from the National Security Council the day before testifying, was the first White House political appointee to appear and spent more than eight hours behind closed doors with House investigators.

"I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed," Morrison said about a pivotal phone call between Trump and the Ukraine president, according to prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.

But he confirmed what diplomat William Taylor told investigators in earlier testimony — that Morrison had a "sinking feeling" when he learned that Trump was asking the Ukrainians to publicly announce an investigation of Biden and the Democrats, even as the president denied it was a quid pro quo.

"I can confirm," Morrison wrote, that the substance of the diplomat's testimony "is accurate."

Bolton asked to testify

The three committee members have asked a far more prominent player, former national security adviser John Bolton, to appear next week. Others have testified that Bolton was alarmed by a White House effort to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Trump's political rivals.

It was unclear whether Bolton would testify. His lawyer said he was not willing to appear voluntarily, according to media reports.

The investigation is probing whether Trump misused the power of his office for personal political gain and, if so, whether that rises to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that merit impeachment and removal from office under the Constitution.

Trump made his request to Zelenskiy for an investigation into the Bidens after withholding $391 million in security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine fight Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Zelenskiy agreed to Trump's requests. The aid was later provided. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies