Trump Impeached for Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress
Nicholas Fandos & Michael Shear • Dec 18, 2019
The House of Representatives on Wednesday impeached President Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making him the third president in history to be charged with committing high crimes and misdemeanors and face removal by the Senate.
On a day of constitutional consequence and raging partisan tension, the votes on the two articles of impeachment fell largely along party lines, after a bitter debate that stretched into the evening and reflected the deep polarization gripping American politics in the Trump era.
Only two Democrats opposed the article on abuse of power, which accused Mr. Trump of corruptly using the levers of government to solicit election assistance from Ukraine in the form of investigations to discredit his Democratic political rivals. Republicans were united in opposition. It passed 230 to 197, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveling the vote to a close from the House rostrum.
On the second charge, obstruction of Congress, a third Democrat joined Republicans in opposition. The vote was 229 to 198.
The impeachment votes set the stage for a historic trial beginning early next year in the Senate, which will have final say — 10 months before Mr. Trump faces re-election — on whether to acquit the 45th president or convict and remove him from office. The timing was uncertain, after Ms. Pelosi suggested late Wednesday that she might wait to send the articles to the Senate, holding them out as leverage in a negotiation on the terms of a trial.
Acquittal in the Republican-controlled chamber may be likely, but the proceeding is certain to further aggravate the political and cultural fault lines in the country that Mr. Trump’s presidency has brought into dramatic relief. Regardless of the outcome, the impeachment votes in the House put an indelible stain on Mr. Trump’s presidency that cannot be wiped from the public consciousness with a barrage of tweets or an angry tirade in front of thousands of his cheering supporters at a campaign rally.
On Wednesday, Democrats characterized his impeachment as an urgent action to stop a corrupt president whose misdeeds had unfolded in plain view from damaging the United States any further.
“Over the course of the last three months, we have found incontrovertible evidence that President Trump abused his power by pressuring the newly elected president of Ukraine to announce an investigation into President Trump’s political rival,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the Intelligence Committee chairman, who led the impeachment inquiry.
“The president and his men plot on,” Mr. Schiff said. “The danger persists. The risk is real. Our democracy is at peril.”
Far from showing contrition or contemplating resignation, as his predecessors have done in the face of impeachment, Mr. Trump instead offered an indignant defense as the House weighed his fate, raging on Twitter from the White House.
“SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS,” the president wrote as the debate took place on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. “THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!”
Later, as members cast their votes to impeach him in Washington, Mr. Trump took the stage to roars of adulation from his supporters at an arena-style campaign rally in Battle Creek, Mich. He brushed aside the constitutional confrontation as a “hoax” based on unfounded charges, even as he conceded that it would be a permanent blot on his presidency.
“I’m not worried,” Mr. Trump said. “You don’t do anything wrong and you get impeached. That may be a record that will last forever.”
“But you know what they have done?” he said of Democrats. “They have cheapened the impeachment process.”
Despite years of speculation, Mr. Trump’s impeachment did not, in the end, grow out of the two-year investigation into Russian election meddling by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, or the seemingly endless series of other accusations of corruption and misconduct that have plagued this White House: tax evasion, profiting from the presidency, payoffs to a pornographic film actress and fraudulent activities by his charitable foundation.
Instead, the existential threat to Mr. Trump’s presidency centered around a half-hour phone call in July. On it, he pressured Ukraine’s president to announce investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats at the same time he was withholding nearly $400 million in vital military assistance for the country and a White House meeting.
Congress learned about the call after an anonymous C.I.A. official lodged a whistle-blower complaint in August — pulling a string that helped unravel an effort by the president and his allies to pressure a foreign government for help in smearing a political rival. Over a period of weeks this fall, a parade of diplomats and other administration officials confirmed and expanded on those revelations.
When Congress sought to investigate, the president ordered his administration to defy its every request, leading to what the House said Wednesday was a violation of the separation of powers and a de facto assertion by Mr. Trump that he was above the law.
United in their opposition, Republicans accused the Democrats, who fought their way back from political oblivion in 2016 to win the House in 2018, of misusing the power voters had invested in them to harangue a president they never viewed as legitimate by manufacturing a case against him. Though they conceded few of them, they insisted the facts against Mr. Trump nonetheless fell woefully short of impeachment.
“When all is said and done, when the history of this impeachment is written, it will be said that my Washington Democrat friends couldn’t bring themselves to work with Donald Trump, so they consoled themselves instead by silencing the will of those who did, the American people,” said Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina.
Throughout the inquiry, even as Republicans raged against the process and sought to offer benign explanations for Mr. Trump’s conduct, none disputed the central facts that served as its basis: that he asked Ukraine’s president to “do us a favor” and investigate Mr. Biden, a prospective rival in the 2020 campaign, and other Democrats.
Mr. Trump’s impeachment had the potential to change the trajectory of his presidency and redefine an already volatile political landscape. Democrats, including the most vulnerable moderates, embraced the articles of impeachment with the full knowledge that doing so could damage them politically, potentially even costing them control of the House.
The only Democratic dissenters from the abuse of power charge on Wednesday were Representatives Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, a freshman who has announced that he will switch parties and become a Republican. Representative Jared Golden of Maine, another centrist freshman, joined them in opposition to the obstruction of Congress charge.
And Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democratic presidential contender who has built her reputation as a maverick in her party, voted “present” on both articles.
Republicans tethered themselves to Mr. Trump, as they have since he took office, yoking their political brands and fortunes to his.
The debate proceeded in historic terms in the well of the House, even as an odd sense of inevitability hung over Washington about Mr. Trump’s fate.
“Today, as speaker of the House, I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States,” Ms. Pelosi, dressed in all black, said as debate opened on the articles around noon. “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice.”
After the votes, Ms. Pelosi would not say when she would transmit the articles to the Senate, indicating she might wait to do so until she got certain assurances about the fairness of a trial. With Mr. Trump and his allies interested in a speedy acquittal, Ms. Pelosi believes slowing the process could force Senate Republicans to set procedures the Democrats like, people close to her said.
Her comments at least raised the prospect that the House could leave for the holidays with the matter unresolved and the timing of the trial in limbo.
In the Senate, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has already made clear he views the House’s case as “weak” and would prefer a swift trial in January that does not call any additional fact witnesses. That would increase the likelihood that Congress will simply never hear from several senior government officials with knowledge of the Ukraine matter who avoided House testimony.
Impeachment traces its origins to monarchical England, but the framers of the Constitution confined its use on presidents to rare occasions, when their actions corrupted the public interest for personal ones. Only twice previously has the House impeached a president, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. President Richard M. Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face such a consequence.
Johnson remained in office by a single vote in 1868. Mr. Clinton more soundly beat the charges, with no more than half of the Senate voting for conviction after more than a month of deliberations. The trial of Mr. Trump is likely to reach a similar outcome, but it could do so much more quickly, with some Senate Republicans discussing the possibility that the case could be resolved in little more than a week.
As he did in the face of past accusations, Mr. Trump, 73, railed against impeachment as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” attacking his adversaries with a viciousness rarely heard from previous presidents.
“More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials,” the president seethed in an angry impeachment eve letter to Ms. Pelosi.
In Mr. Trump’s reality, reinforced by the conservative cable news programs that swirl around him throughout the day, his three years in the White House have been more successful than any other. Wednesday’s impeachment intrudes on that, forcing the president and those around him to confront a different narrative, one in which he has — in the words of the articles of impeachment — “betrayed the nation” and acted “in a manner grossly incompatible with self governance and the rule of law.”
“Whether Donald Trump leaves in one month, one year or five years, this impeachment is permanent,” said Representative Ted Lieu, Democrat of California. “It will follow him around for the rest of his life, and history books will record it.”
The absolutist defense by many members of the Republican Party and the partisan nature of Wednesday’s votes underscored the remarkable hold that Mr. Trump, who has never commanded the support of a majority of the nation, has come to have over the party, remaking it in his image.
One Republican, Representative Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, compared Mr. Trump on Wednesday with Jesus Christ, saying that the son of God had been “afforded more rights” by Pontius Pilate than Democrats had given the president.
Democrats’ most fervent supporters have fantasized since Inauguration Day 2017 about impeaching Mr. Trump, an extreme remedy for the ultimate insurgent they believed was shredding American institutions in his self-interest. The debate reached a new pitch this year when they reclaimed control of the House after nearly a decade and awaited the results of a two-year Justice Department investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s campaign had conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
But as the left pushed harder for Mr. Trump’s ouster, Democratic leaders resisted. “He’s just not worth it,” Ms. Pelosi said in March. The Russia investigation fizzled when the special counsel declined to recommend charges, even though his report detailed at least 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump when he tried to thwart the inquiry. By the time lawmakers returned to Washington this fall after a summer break, impeachment appeared all but dead.
Ms. Pelosi’s calculations — and public opinion — shifted abruptly in September, when the C.IA. whistle-blower arrived on the House’s doorstep.
The inquiry it prompted moved with alacrity, even as Democrats did not have an independent counsel or special prosecutor on whose work they could build. Instead, the House Intelligence Committee called senior American diplomats and White House officials for questioning and requested reams of documents.
In private and then in publicly televised hearings — and all in defiance of White House orders — they outlined a wide-ranging attempt by Mr. Trump and his allies to bend American policy on Ukraine toward carrying out what one former White House official called “a domestic political errand” on the president’s behalf.
Fueling the obstruction of Congress charge, a dozen more witnesses, some with direct knowledge of Mr. Trump’s actions, were blocked from speaking to investigators, and the Trump administration refused to produce a single document under subpoena.
As the facts tumbled into the open, there were moments when Republicans in the House and in the Senate flirted with casting their lot against the president. After the acting White House chief of staff said in October that Mr. Trump had withheld military aid in part to extract at least one politically beneficial investigation from Ukraine, Representative Francis Rooney of Florida said he was open to impeachment. But on Wednesday, he joined every Republican in voting no.
Testimony in November by Gordon D. Sondland, Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, that there had been a quid pro quo around a White House meeting and maybe around the foreign aid money prompted momentary fears of a mass defection. It did not materialize.
If anything, the process underscored the extent to which the nation was splitting in two, with each side claiming its own news sources and fact sets that make meaningful debate between Democrats and Republicans over the significance of president’s conduct almost impossible. Public opinion polls show the nation is as closely divided over Mr. Trump’s impeachment and removal as it was on Election Day 2016.
On Wednesday, neither lawmakers nor aides to Mr. Trump foresaw a resolution to the broader fight.
“We know how this partisan process will end this evening,” said Representative Will Hurd of Texas, one of a handful of Republicans willing to criticize the president’s conduct and who is retiring from Congress. “But what happens tomorrow?”
You can read the full article by Nicholas Fandos and Michael D. Shear here.
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