Trump impeachment trial moves forward

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The 45th President of the United States Donald Trump was impeached on Dec. 18, 2019. The House approved two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

What happened?

The impeachment case stems from the allegation that the President withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for the Ukranian President announcing that Joe Biden, Trump’s political rival, would be investigated for corruption in Ukraine.

The votes were split on party lines. The vote was split 230-197 for the first article, abuse of power, and 229-198 for the second article, obstruction of congress. Representative Tulsi Gabbard voted present, and three others refused to vote on either article. Impeachment acts like an indictment, or a formal accusation, for a crime. The articles were then sent to the Senate for the President’s trial, where senators acted as jurors on the case of whether to convict President Trump and remove him from office. They voted, mostly along party lines with the Republicans owning the majority of seats in the Senate, for trial rules that gave the defense and prosecution twenty-four hours each over three days to present their case. Afterwards, senators had 16 hours to ask questions, submitted in writing, to the defense and prosecution. They also voted down attempts by democratic senators to subpoena key documents and witnesses for the trial, many of which were previously blocked by White House officials from appearing during the House impeachment hearings.

What’s the evidence?

While several witnesses were blocked by the White House from testifying, some broke rank and participated in the House impeachment inquiry.  One, U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, gave a deposition and resigned from his position in order to avoid professional consequences from defying his superiors. He handed over documents of text messages, including one that read, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Another senior official, ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland responded to the text, attempting to clarify that there was no “quid pro quo,” or a favor granted with the expectation of something in return. He later conceded there was a quid pro quo.

In a particularly decisive revision of testimony, Sondland implicated several members of Trump’s cabinet and implied that the motivation behind forcing Zelensky’s announcement was political. He testified that Zelensky “had to announce the investigations,” but that “He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it,” implying that the announcement’s sole purpose was to hurt Biden’s campaign. Additionally, Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Guiliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, turned over handwritten notes on Ritz-Carlton of Vienna stationary that read, “get Zalensky [sic] to Annonce [sic] that the Biden case will Be Investigated.” Furthermore, former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch described in a deposition that while Biden’s work with the Ukraine gas company was a potential conflict of interest, it didn’t warrant a corruption probe. She also testified that she was warned the President had pressured the State Department to remove her from her post.

During Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent’s public hearing, he was asked if he witnessed Trump engaging in policy focused on countering corruption in Ukraine. Kent responded in the negative.

Over a dozen witnesses testified to the House Judiciary Committee during the House inquiry, however, some depositions and testimony has not been made public.

What is the

President’s defense?

Throughout the process, Republicans decried the impeachment inquiry as partisan and rushed. They claim that Trump’s actions were motivated by rooting out corruption and had no political motivation. Representative Doug Collins, a top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, told NPR in early December that, “We don’t have uncontested facts here. I think that – I guess if you had an uncontested fact, it will be, there was a phone call. But past that, there seems to be a difference of opinion.” They also claim that the bar for impeachment “cannot be set this low,” and sets a dangerous precedent.