Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presides over the US House of Representatives as it votes on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on US President Donald Trump. AFP

The US House on Thursday formally opened a new, public phase of its presidential investigation of President Donald Trump. This is the first time US lawmakers voted to advance the impeachment of the president.

“Today, the House takes the next step forward as we establish the procedures for open hearings conducted by the House Intelligence Committee so that the public can see the facts for themselves,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said shortly before the vote.

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The chamber voted largely along party lines, 232 to 196, to formalize the process, which also provides for opportunities for Trump’s counsel to cross-examine witnesses.

Trump Calls Impeachment ‘Greatest Witch Hunt’ In US History

President Donald Trump reacted almost instantly Thursday to a landmark House of Representatives vote green-lighting his impeachment investigation, calling the probe the “Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”

Trump’s tweet came seconds after the lower house of Congress voted overwhelmingly, but almost entirely along party lines, to set out the rules for the process expected to lead to passing articles of impeachment.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a longer statement, accusing opposition Democrats of having an “unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment.”

“Democrats are choosing every day to waste time on a sham impeachment — a blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the President,” she said.