On December 18th, 2019, Trump became the third US president to be impeached by the House. Many watched news coverage or streaming of the debate, which took about eight hours. Both articles passed, with many of the votes following partisan trends. Now, the Senate will likely hold a trial to determine if President Trump will be removed from office.
Why Trump was Impeached
With all the drama and news coverage surrounding President Trump’s actions, it’s easy to be confused as to what led to his impeachment.
In the constitution, it states that “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” are offenses a president can be impeached for. But the definition of these is sometimes up for interpretation.
In Trump’s case, there were two articles of created impeachment after a lengthy investigation. They fall under the “high crimes and misdemeanors” category, albeit the one most open to political interpretation. Throughout the articles, the reasoning for this category: betraying the trust of Americans, undermining governmental processes, and unlawfully withholding documents are cited.
Article 1: Abuse of Power
The first Article, titled “Abuse of Power”, makes multiple claims on the ways President Trump “solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election”, for his political benefit. The article correlates these actions to a compromise of national security and an undermining of the integrity of the US’ democratic process.
Article 2: Obstruction of Congress
The second article references multiple accounts of President Trump directing the White House and other agencies in the Executive Branch to defy lawful subpoenas by withholding documents and records. These relate to the previous claims with foreign interference, the subpoenas were for materials relating to the government’s investigations on interference in US elections.
It is even stated in the second article that this was an effort to control any impeachment inquiries upon himself, to cover up misconduct and stall impeachment processes. The article ends with the compelling statement that these actions are the opposite of what a president vows in the oath of office – at the expense of the American people.
What This Means
While two presidents have been impeached in the past (Andrew Johnson, & Bill Clinton), no president has ever been forced from the White House that way. (Richard Nixon was also subjected to the formal impeachment inquiries, but resigned during this process to avoid the possibility of actually being impeached.) While it is a common misconception that removal from office is the purpose of impeachment, it more commonly refers to the formal filing of charges.
However, once the House impeaches, the Senate holds a trial on the charges of the impeachment. This can then remove someone from federal office, and even bar them from holding federal office in the future. The word “trial” usually has implications of criminal charges, but that is not the case with the charges for impeachment. It’s a political action, and political punishment, but without criminal repercussions for the charges.
What Happens Now?
While President Trump was impeached by the House, he can still serve as president. A trial will be held by the Senate to determine if he will be removed from office or not. This has not yet happened in US history, both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House, but then acquitted by the Senate.
Currently, some of the key elements of the trial aren’t decided, like who will be witness and what evidence can be included. As of January 7th, the chambers of Congress are no longer on holiday, so we will likely see more news on the process relatively soon. If President Trump is convicted on one or both articles, he will be removed from office. There is then an optional vote on barring him from running for federal office again in the future. With the 2020 election in sight, both major political parties are trying to push the process towards their preferred outcome.
The US has become increasingly polarized, with strong opinions outweighing the middle ground. Regardless of personal political views on President Trump’s impeachment, this event will likely only continue to create dividing lines in American people’s opinions.