Written by Medhya.
In the West Wing of the White House, the week before Christmas is generally a joyful respite from year-round stress. But in December of 2019, the mood was anything but merry as the nation watched President Trump become the third president in United States history to be impeached. As indicated by their rarity, impeachments are extremely serious and require a significant amount of preparation and contemplation before they even begin. An astounding volume of context and information is often needed to make sense of the proceedings, leaving millions of Americans uninformed about the impeachment. This article will walk you through the main events and aspects of the impeachment trial and why they matter.
Important names and terms:
Impeachment: A political process that may result in congressional condemnation of a president and their removal from office. According to the US Constitution, a president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.” Generally, even if not removed from office, impeachment significantly damages the president’s reputation and chances of re-election. In this case, politicians from both sides of the aisle agree that the impeachment has deeply divided the already polarized nation.
Structure of an impeachment: Generally, the House of Representatives (which holds the sole power of impeachment) begins the process of impeachment by passing a resolution directing a committee to investigate an official. The committee can conduct hearings and subpoena people or written records. After the investigation, the committee presents charges/articles of impeachment to the House. Upon a simple majority vote, the President is impeached and the articles of impeachment are carried to the Senate, which holds a trial to determine whether to acquit the President or remove him from office. The trial is presided by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and features “managers” or prosecutors from the House, presidential defense attorneys, and the Senate as the jury. The Senate votes on the rules of the trial, including whether to include witnesses and additional evidence.
Taken from the New York Times, 2020
Whistleblower: A person, often involved in the concerned agency, who exposes corruption and abuse. As in this case, whistleblowers are often offered legal protections and anonymity.
Quid pro quo: Literally “a favor for a favor,” in this context referring to the favor of foreign aid to Ukraine in return for the favor of investigating the Bidens.
Rudy Guiliani: Former Mayor of New York, the President’s current personal lawyer. He was deeply involved with the Ukraine affair and discussions to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.
Taken from Variety, 2020
President Trump has been embroiled in scandals concerning his businesses and foreign affairs from even before his election, with some Democrats calling for the President’s impeachment as early as 2017. Stabs at impeachment in 2017 and 2018 were largely sparked by the allegation that the Trump campaign obstructed the Mueller investigation, a probe into the possibility of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The scandal that sparked the President’s impeachment, however, concerned the solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election.
On July 25, 2019, Trump called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, supposedly to congratulate Zelensky on being elected. In August 2019, an anonymous whistleblower alleged that Trump pressured “Zelensky to investigate discredited [abuse of power] allegations against former Vice-President Joe Biden” and his son, Hunter Biden (BBC). The impeachment inquiry began in September and in December 2019, the House voted to impeach Trump for Article 1, Abuse of Power, for “using the power of [the presidential] office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election” and Article 2, Obstruction of Congress, for obstructing Congress’ efforts to investigate the President’s conduct (Whistleblower Report).
Taken from Wikipedia
The Senate trial commenced on January 16, 2020. The trial was divided starkly along party lines, with Republicans supporting acquittal and Democrats for conviction. On the sixth day of the trial, a leak from former national security advisor John Bolton’s then-upcoming memoir revealed that President Trump threatened to withhold $391 million in foreign aid and a visit to the White House in order to pressure Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. This confirmed statements previously made by Gordon Sondland (an ambassador to the European Union) during the impeachment inquiry. On the tenth day of the trial, in a devastating blow to the case for impeachment, Republican senators succeeded in blocking additional witnesses and evidence. This came after Democrats rejected a witness swap in which both Bidens and Bolton would testify for the Senate.
The major arguments in defense of the president were that Zelensky denied feeling pressured by President Trump, that Ukraine was unaware that foreign aid had been withheld, and that, in any case, foreign aid was eventually released. On the other hand, Democrats painted a picture of a corrupt president who used foreign aid as leverage for political dirt on his opponents and a complicit administration attempting to obscure investigations by defying subpoenas and refusing to supply witnesses and evidence.
A two-third majority of the Republican-controlled Senate was required for conviction and only one Republican, Senator Mitt Romney, broke from party lines. On February 5th, 2020, President Trump was acquitted with votes of 52 for and 48 against on one count, and 53 for and 47 against on the second.
Although we may not be able to influence the already determined outcome of the Impeachment trial, information about these political scandals and possible corruption is still important to be aware of to make sure that we are informed constituents and voters (even more so because this is an election year). Take a look at these resources and cited sources to learn more about the impeachment trial and keep an eye out for more articles on political corruption and the second installment of this series.
Compilation of most, if not all, primary source documents associated with the impeachment, including video/transcripts of trial proceedings (raw facts): https://www.justsecurity.org/67076/public-document-clearinghouse-ukraine-impeachment-inquiry/#WhistleblowerComplaint
Analysis of possible effects of the trial on election: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51331363
Federal whistleblower protections: https://www.opm.gov/our-inspector-general/whistleblower-protection-information/
Impartial lead up to impeachment by the house: https://www.npr.org/2019/12/17/788397365/impeachment-timeline-from-early-calls-to-a-full-house-vote
Good explanation of the impeachment process: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/24/us/politics/impeachment-trump-explained.html
Day by day recap of Senate trial: https://www.axios.com/trump-impeachment-trial-recaps-daily-highlights-7febac6c-fca2-42fa-9609-ccb31281f77c.html
Information about Impeachment structure/procedures: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45769.pdf