The Impeachment of President Trump

Elijah Nichols, Reporter

For only the third time in history, an American president was on trial in the Congress.

Impeachment is a process that allows legislative figures in the House of Representatives to hold other officials like the president, cabinet members and in rare cases judges to account if they are suspected of committing offenses in the categories of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors” according to the United States Constitution. 

Next is what happens after the House draws up articles of impeachment. After someone is impeached, they go on trial in the Senate, the upper house of the Legislative Branch and the senators decide whether the individual is guilty or not. It’s a political trial, not a criminal one, meaning even if the president or high government official did something terrible they would only walk away with being barred from being in the government. No impeachment trial can put the official in jail and since no person can be tried twice for the same crime, they will often never face any sort of jail time. 

 President Trump was facing two articles of impeachment, or charges. Firstly, he was accused of seeking help from Ukraine’s government to help himself get re-elected this upcoming November. He was also alleged to have held back millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine and dangling a proposed White House meeting with Ukraine’s president, both as bargaining chips. In exchange, witnesses say he wanted Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation into Joe Biden, the man who’s leading the Democratic race to challenge him in the election. Polls suggest Joe Biden would beat him if chosen as the Democratic candidate. President Trump has denied any wrongdoing and his legal team says the flimsy charges are a dangerous perversion of the Constitution as well as claiming executive privilege.

Secondly, after the White House refused to allow staff to testify at the first impeachment hearings last year, Democrats accused President Trump of obstructing Congress.

The Senate impeachment trial is complex due to the US Constitution being vague when it comes to the specifics of managing impeachment, but there are general rules, based largely on the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868. 

On the first day of the trial, senators had to vote on the rules drawn up by majority leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate. This led to 12 hours of debate and compromise that lasted late into the night.

Republicans make up the majority in the Senate by 53 members to 47. They rejected attempts by Democrats to introduce new witnesses and documents at the start of the trial. Democrats were left furious by the decision.

Mitch McConnell also decided not to proceed with an original plan to cram both sides’ opening arguments into four 12-hour days as that was heavily scrutinized by both sides of the line.

Some of the other rules include no live-tweeting from the chamber and no outside reading materials to be brought in. Senators are also not allowed to speak to those sitting near them while the case is being heard leading to several Senators falling asleep or space out during the trial.

Senators heard from both sides – prosecutors from the House of Representatives and lawyers from the White House – as well as from any witnesses. After that, senators were given a full day of deliberation prior to their vote on whether to convict or acquit President Trump on each article. 

Republicans were keen for a speedy trial with no witnesses or new documents. Democrats wanted to bring in both – they said there was fresh evidence that wasn’t heard in the House.

Democrats hoped four moderate swing Republicans would vote with them to call for witnesses, allowing them to hear from the former National Security Adviser John Bolton – who reports suggested had damaging first-hand testimony about the president’s involvement in the Ukraine scandal. In the end, only two of the four swing Republicans voted for witnesses, damning the Democrats’ hope to hear from John Bolton and others.

Trump was acquitted by the Senate on the two counts of impeachment on February 5, 2020. The historic result was the first impeachment trial that may political scientists see as a partisan result rather than an unbiased one. Both parties showed an almost strict party-line voting except for three democrats: Minnesota Representative Collin C. Peterson, New Jersey Representative Jeff Van Drew and Maine Representative Jared Golden who voted present or against the charges against President Trump. In the Senate, a similar result happened where all republicans voted to acquit President Trump except for Senator Mitt Romney who voted for the first article. Outside of the few who broke partly lines, every democrat voted against President Trump and every Republican voted in support of President Trump.