WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called on the Trump administration to promptly turn over a secret whistle-blower complaint said to relate to President Trump’s attempts to press Ukraine to investigate his leading Democratic presidential rival, warning that a refusal to do so could force the House to open a new phase in its investigation of him.
In a letter to fellow House Democrats, Ms. Pelosi never mentioned the word “impeachment,” but her remarks appeared to hint at the possibility that the newest revelations about Mr. Trump’s conduct — and the administration’s refusal to share the complaint with Congress — might be enough to prompt her and other leading Democrats to drop their resistance to moving forward with official charges against the president.
“If the administration persists in blocking this whistle-blower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, wrote in the letter.
The letter reflected a new level of urgency gripping Democrats amid news reports that Mr. Trump used a July phone call with the Ukrainian president to pressure the government there to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son. The request is part of a secret whistle-blower complaint that the administration has ordered be withheld from Congress.
Still, the wording of the missive points to the deep dilemma Democrats face on impeachment: As they encounter mounting evidence that many of them consider grounds for Mr. Trump’s removal, a political landscape has so far led many of them to conclude the endeavor would fail and potentially be disastrous. The reference to Mr. Trump’s duties under the Constitution and to “lawlessness” were nods to the severity of the situation, but Ms. Pelosi’s avoidance of the word “impeachment” strongly suggested that she was still resisting that course of action.
Ms. Pelosi urged Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence who has stood in the way of the complaint getting to Congress, to relent by Thursday, when he is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee in an open hearing. Mr. Maguire, in consultation with White House lawyers, has argued that he is not legally required to hand over the complaint.
The escalation was a significant one, and it came as progressives cranked up pressure on party leaders to take a more aggressive stance on impeachment and as even more moderate Democrats close to the speaker appeared to be warming to the possibility of that outcome. The House Judiciary Committee is already investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump over other matters, but Ms. Pelosi has consistently questioned the strength of their case.
On Sunday, she asked Republicans to join Democrats in demanding that the whistle-blower complaint be sent to Congress and that the as-yet-to-be-identified individual be allowed to speak with lawmakers. The inspector general, Michael Atkinson, has deemed the complaint a matter of “urgent concern and credible,” a designation that Democrats argue mandates that the administration share its contents with lawmakers.
“The administration is endangering our national security and having a chilling effect on any future whistle-blower who sees wrongdoing,” Ms. Pelosi wrote.
Mr. Trump, for his part, has insisted there was nothing inappropriate about his conversation with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Instead, he has accused Democrats and the news media of cooking up what he calls another witch hunt intended to hurt his presidency.