Impeachment of Donald Trump
The impeachment of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, was initiated on December 18, 2019, when the House of Representatives approved articles of impeachment on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Senate acquitted Trump of these charges on February 5, 2020.
Trump’s impeachment came after a formal House inquiry alleged that he had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election to help his re-election bid, and then obstructed the inquiry itself by telling his administration officials to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony. The inquiry reported that Trump withheld military aid and an invitation to the White House to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in order to influence Ukraine to announce an investigation into one of Trump’s political opponents, Joe Biden, and to promote a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The inquiry stage of Trump’s impeachment lasted from September to November 2019, in the wake of an August 2019 whistleblower complaint alleging Trump’s abuse of power. In October, three congressional committees (Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs) deposed witnesses. In November, the House Intelligence Committee held a number of public hearings in which witnesses testified publicly; on December 3, the committee voted 13–9 along party lines to adopt a final report. A set of impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee began on December 4; on December 13, it voted 23–17 along party lines to recommend two articles of impeachment, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The committee released a lengthy report on the impeachment articles on December 16. Two days later, the full House approved both articles in a mostly party-line vote, with all Republicans opposing along with three Democrats. This made Trump the third U.S. president in history to be impeached and marked the first fully partisan impeachment where a U.S. president was impeached without support from the President’s own party (though independent representative Justin Amash, who voted in favor of impeachment on both articles, had previously been a Republican until July 2019).
The articles were submitted to the Senate on January 16, 2020, initiating the trial. The trial saw no witnesses or documents being subpoenaed, as Republican senators rejected attempts to introduce subpoenas on January 21 while arranging for trial procedures, and then on January 31 after a debate. On February 5, Trump was acquitted on both counts by the Senate as neither count received 67 votes to convict. On Article I, abuse of power, 48 senators voted for conviction, while 52 senators voted for acquittal. On Article II, obstruction of Congress, 47 senators voted for conviction, while 53 senators voted to acquit. Republican Mitt Romney, the only senator to break party lines, became the first U.S. senator to vote to convict a president of his own party in an impeachment trial, as he voted for conviction on abuse of power.
Two days after the acquittal, Trump fired two witnesses, Gordon Sondland and Alexander Vindman, who had in the impeachment inquiry testified about his conduct. Vindman’s brother was also fired.
|Impeachment of Donald Trump|
Members of House of Representatives vote on two articles of impeachment (H.Res. 755)
|Accused||Donald Trump, President of the United States|
|Date||December 18, 2019 – February 5, 2020|
(1 month, 2 weeks and 4 days)
|Outcome||Acquitted by the U.S. Senate, remained in office|
|Charges||Abuse of power, obstruction of Congress|
|Cause||Allegations that Trump unlawfully solicited Ukrainian authorities to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election|
|Voting in the U.S. House of Representatives|
|Accusation||Abuse of power|
|Votes in favor||230|
|Accusation||Obstruction of Congress|
|Votes in favor||229|
|Voting in the U.S. Senate|
|Accusation||Article I – abuse of power|
|Votes in favor||48 “guilty”|
|Votes against||52 “not guilty”|
|Result||Acquitted (67 “guilty” votes necessary for a conviction)|
|Accusation||Article II – obstruction of Congress|
|Votes in favor||47 “guilty”|
|Votes against||53 “not guilty”|
|Result||Acquitted (67 “guilty” votes necessary for a conviction)|
Will the senate impeach trump?
Donald Trump is the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House of Representatives, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Before Trump, Johnson was the only president to be impeached in his first term. The House Judiciary Committee also voted to adopt three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, but he resigned prior to the full House vote. The Senate voted to acquit both Johnson and Clinton in their trials.
Congress’s first efforts to impeach Trump were initiated by Democratic representatives Al Green and Brad Sherman in 2017. In December 2017, an impeachment resolution failed in the House with a 58–364 vote margin. Following the 2018 elections, the Democrats gained a majority in the House and launched multiple investigations into Trump’s actions and finances.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi initially resisted calls for impeachment. In May 2019, however, she indicated that Trump’s continued actions, which she characterized as obstruction of justice and refusal to honor congressional subpoenas, might make an impeachment inquiry necessary.
Investigations into various scandals in the Trump administration, which might lead to articles of impeachment, were initiated by various house congressional committees, led by Nancy Pelosi, and began in February 2019.
A formal impeachment investigation began in July 2019, and several subpoenas were issued; while most were honored, several were not.
The Trump administration asserted executive privilege, and this led to several lawsuits, including In re: Don McGahn.
The Trump–Ukraine scandal revolves around alleged efforts by U.S. president Donald Trump to illegally coerce Ukraine and other foreign countries into providing damaging narratives about 2020 Democratic Party presidential primary candidate Joe Biden as well as information relating to Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.
Trump allegedly enlisted surrogates within and outside his official administration, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr, to pressure Ukraine and other foreign governments to cooperate in investigating conspiracy theories concerning American politics. Trump blocked but later released payment of a congressionally mandated $400 million military aid package to allegedly obtain quid pro quo cooperation from Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine.
A number of contacts were established between the White House and the government of Ukraine, culminating in a phone call between Trump and Zelensky on July 25, 2019. Less than two hours later, on behalf of the president, senior executive budget official Michael Duffey discreetly instructed the Pentagon to continue withholding military aid to Ukraine.
The scandal reached public attention in mid-September 2019 due to a whistleblower complaint made in August 2019. The complaint raised concerns about Trump using presidential powers to solicit foreign electoral intervention in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The Trump White House has corroborated several allegations raised by the whistleblower.
A non-verbatim transcript of the Trump–Zelensky call confirmed that Trump requested investigations into Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as a discredited conspiracy theory involving a Democratic National Committee server, while repeatedly urging Zelensky to work with Giuliani and Barr on these matters. The White House also confirmed that a record of the call had been stored in a highly restricted system.
White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said one reason why Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine was Ukrainian “corruption related to the DNC server”, referring to a debunked theory that Ukrainians framed Russia for hacking into the DNC computer system.
After the impeachment inquiry began, Trump publicly urged Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens.
The Trump administration’s top diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, testified that he was told U.S. military aid to Ukraine and a Trump–Zelensky White House meeting were conditioned on Zelensky publicly announcing investigations into the Bidens and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. United States Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that he worked with Giuliani at Trump’s “express direction” to arrange a quid pro quo with the Ukraine government.
Impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump
On the evening of September 24, 2019, Pelosi announced that six committees of the House of Representatives would begin a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Pelosi accused Trump of betraying his oath of office, U.S. national security, and the integrity of the country’s elections. The six committees charged with the task were those on Financial Services, the Judiciary, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Oversight and Reform, and Ways and Means.
In October 2019, three congressional committees (Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs) deposed witnesses including Ambassador Taylor, Laura Cooper (the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs), and former White House official Fiona Hill. Witnesses testified that they believed that President Trump wanted Zelensky to publicly announce investigations into the Bidens and Burisma (a Ukrainian natural gas company on whose board Hunter Biden had served) and 2016 election interference.
On October 8, in a letter from White House counsel Pat Cipollone to House speaker Pelosi, the White House officially responded that it would not cooperate with the investigation due to concerns including that there had not yet been a vote of the full House and that interviews of witnesses were being conducted behind closed doors. On October 17, Mulvaney said, in response to a reporter’s allegation of quid pro quo: “We do that all the time with foreign policy. Get over it.” He walked back his comments later in the day, asserting that there had been “absolutely no quid pro quo” and that Trump had withheld military aid to Ukraine over concerns of the country’s corruption.
On October 29, 2019, Massachusetts representative Jim McGovern introduced a resolution, referred to House Rules Committee, which set forth the “format of open hearings in the House Intelligence Committee, including staff-led questioning of witnesses, and [authorization for] the public release of deposition transcripts”. This resolution, formally authorizing the impeachment inquiry, was approved by the House on October 31, 2019, by a vote of 232 to 196.
In November 2019, the House Intelligence Committee held a number of public hearings in which witnesses testified publicly. On November 13, Taylor and Kent testified publicly. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified before the committee on November 15, 2019. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s head of European affairs, and Jennifer Williams, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief European security adviser, testified together on the morning of November 19, 2019. Later the same day, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, the former national security presidential adviser on Europe and Russia, gave public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
On November 20, 2019, Ambassador Sondland testified that he conducted his work with Giuliani at the “express direction of the president”, and that he understood a potential White House invitation for Zelensky to be contingent on Ukraine announcing investigations into the 2016 elections and Burisma. Later the same day, Cooper and David Hale, who serves as the under secretary of state for political affairs, testified jointly before the committee.
On November 21, 2019, Fiona Hill – who until August 2019 was the top Russia expert on the National Security Council – criticized Republicans for promulgating the “fictional narrative” that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 election, asserting that the theory was planted by Russia and played into its hands. Testifying alongside Hill was the current head of political affairs in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, David Holmes.
On December 3, the House Intelligence Committee voted 13–9 along party lines to adopt a final report and also send it to the House Judiciary Committee. The report’s preface states:
The impeachment inquiry has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection. In furtherance of this scheme, President Trump conditioned official acts on a public announcement by the new Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, of politically-motivated investigations, including one into President Trump’s domestic political opponent. In pressuring President Zelensky to carry out his demand, President Trump withheld a White House meeting desperately sought by the Ukrainian President, and critical U.S. military assistance to fight Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.
The Republicans of the House committees had released a countering report the previous day, saying in part that the evidence does not support accusations. “The evidence presented does not prove any of these Democrat allegations, and none of the Democrats’ witnesses testified to having evidence of bribery, extortion, or any high crime or misdemeanor,” said the draft report.
This report also painted the push to impeachment as solely politically motivated. “The Democrats are trying to impeach a duly elected President based on the accusations and assumptions of unelected bureaucrats who disagreed with President Trump’s policy initiatives and processes,” the report’s executive summary states. During the inquiry, the Trump administration’s public arguments were limited to assertions the president had done nothing wrong and the process was unfair.
Trum Impeachment Judiciary Committee hearings
On December 5, Speaker Pelosi authorized the Judiciary Committee to begin drafting articles of impeachment.
A set of impeachment hearings was brought before the Judiciary Committee, with Trump and his lawyers being invited to attend. The administration declined, as the president was scheduled to attend a NATO summit in London. In a second letter on December 6, Cipollone again said the White House will not offer a defense or otherwise participate in the impeachment inquiry, writing to chairman Jerry Nadler, “As you know, your impeachment inquiry is completely baseless and has violated basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness.” Nadler responded in a statement, “We gave President Trump a fair opportunity to question witnesses and present his own to address the overwhelming evidence before us. After listening to him complain about the impeachment process, we had hoped that he might accept our invitation.”
The first hearing, held on December 4, 2019, was an academic discussion on the definition of an impeachable offense. The witnesses invited by Democrats were law professors Noah Feldman from Harvard, Pamela S. Karlan from Stanford, and Michael Gerhardt from the University of North Carolina. Republicans invited Jonathan Turley, a constitutional scholar at George Washington University; Turley, who had testified in favor of the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1999, testified against impeaching Trump, citing a lack of evidence. It was observed that he contradicted his own opinion on impeachment from when Clinton was on trial.
Potential articles of impeachment outlined during the hearing include: abuse of power for arranging a quid pro quo with the president of Ukraine, obstruction of Congress for hindering the House’s investigation, and obstruction of justice for attempting to dismiss Robert Mueller during his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. On December 5, Pelosi requested the House Judiciary Committee draft articles of impeachment. After the vote, Pelosi said that while this was “a great day for the Constitution” it was “a sad day for America”. She also said, “I could not be prouder or more inspired by the moral courage of the House Democrats. We never asked one of them how they were going to vote. We never whipped this vote.”
On December 10, 2019, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee announced that they would levy two articles of impeachment, designated H. Res. 755: (1) abuse of power, and (2) obstruction of Congress, in its investigation of the President’s conduct regarding Ukraine. Draft text of the articles was released later that day, as well as a report by the judiciary committee outlining the constitutional case for impeachment and asserting that “impeachment is part of democratic governance.”:51 The committee planned to vote on the articles on December 12, but postponed it to the next day after the 14-hour partisan debate on the final versions of the articles lasted until after 11:00 p.m. EST. On December 13, the Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to pass both articles of impeachment; both articles passed 23–17, with all Democrats present voting in support and all Republicans voting in opposition. Democrat Ted Lieu was ill and not present to vote.
The House Judiciary Committee released a 658-page report on the articles of impeachment on December 16. It specifies criminal bribery and wire fraud charges as part of the abuse of power article.
The articles were forwarded to the full House for debate and a vote on whether to impeach the president on December 18.
Aftermath of Trump impeachment trial
Two days after Trump was acquitted by the Senate in the impeachment trial, he fired two witnesses who testified in the impeachment inquiry about his conduct.
On February 7, Gordon Sondland’s ambassadorship was terminated, while Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was escorted from the White House after a dismissal from his job on the National Security Council. At the same time, Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, likewise an Army Lieutenant Colonel on the National Security Council, was also dismissed. Shortly before the firings, Trump stated that he was “not happy” with Alexander Vindman; after the firings, Trump stated that he “didn’t know” Alexander Vindman but “he was very insubordinate”. Alexander Vindman’s lawyer responded that his client “was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.” Sondland reacted by stating that he was “grateful to President Trump” for the “opportunity to serve”.
In April 2020, Trump fired Michael K. Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community. When Trump was asked about the firing the next day, he criticized Atkinson as having done a “terrible job”: “took a fake report and he brought it to Congress”, in reference to the whistleblower complaint of the Trump–Ukraine scandal, which was actually largely verified by other testimony and evidence.
Trump further complained that Atkinson “never even came in to see me. How can you [forward the complaint] without seeing the person?” Trump concluded that Atkinson was “not a big Trump fan”. Atkinson responded that he believed Trump had fired him for “having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General, and from my commitment to continue to do so”.