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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 06: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a copy of The Washington Post as he speaks in the East Room of the White House one day after the U.S. Senate acquitted on two articles of impeachment, ion February 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 06: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a copy of The Washington Post as he speaks in the East Room of the White House one day after the U.S. Senate acquitted on two articles of impeachment, ion February 6, 2020 in Washington, DC…

Above the Law: The End of Donald Trump's Impeachment

With no witnesses or evidence, the Senate has acquitted the President

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Since the public learned of the accusation regarding Trump’s alleged abuse of power in withholding congressionally-approved funds from Ukraine in exchange for compromising information about former Vice President Joe Biden, the past several months have been key to the country’s future.  

A Controversial Call

Efforts made by Democrats to break the secrecy in Washington and get to the bottom of President Trump’s actions to obstruct an investigation regarding Moscow’s participation in his presidential election were overshadowed by a whistleblower report made public in September 2019. 

It involved a CIA officer who brought an accusation before the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, addressing concerns regarding Trump’s use of presidential powers in allegedly requesting foreign intervention in the 2020 presidential elections.  

On Sept. 20, The Washington Post reported that, during a phone call, Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. 

According to those familiar with the matter, Trump used the conversation on July 25 “to pressure the newly elected leader to carry out an investigation that Trump thought could produce potentially damaging information on one of his possible adversaries in 2020”. 

Trump “urged Zelenzky about eight times” to work with his personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, to investigate the Bidens. 

Three days later, The Washington Post again published even more concerning information. Trump ordered Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to withhold $400 million in military support destined for Ukraine “at least one week before the call with Zelensky”.  

The funds had been allocated by Congress in the 2019 fiscal year budget to assist Ukraine with weapons, programs and other equipment to support the efforts of the Ukrainian military to combat threats from Moscow in its territory.  

On Sept. 24, the leading democratic intelligence committees in the House and the Senate announced that the whistleblower’s lawyer had been in contact to provide testimony and the accusation was formally submitted a day later, revealing that President Trump had abused the powers of his office for his personal benefit, endangering national security and involving White House officials in a coverup.  

According to the whistleblower’s report, officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence’s national security advisor, Keith Kellogg, and top Europe and Russia advisor on Trump’s National Security Council, Tim Morrison, listened to the call.  

When there are no other options

In its defense, the Trump administration was forced to publish a rough transcript of the call between the U.S. President and his Ukrainian counterpart. 

The President referred to it as “a perfect call,” but the transcript in fact confirmed many of the claims of the whistleblower. 

As of that moment, the administration said that Trump’s actions stemmed only from the White House’s attempts to combat corruption in Ukraine.   

Following a meeting at the Capitol, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi addressed the nation stating: “The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution”.  

Pelosi had previously been cautious about agreeing to a political trial investigation even despite the urgent requests from some House Democrats, but finally the evidence outweighed the rest and the Speaker had to announce the opening of a formal investigation. 

Controversial testimony

Six House committees then took the reigns of the investigation into the matter, especially after Attorney General William Barr refused to do so. They called around 26 people involved in the scandal to testify, including active White House officials. 

The administration responded by prohibiting any member of the administration to comply with the order from the House and refused to deliver the documents requested by the committees. 

Nonetheless, a handful of witnesses decided to defy the orders from the White House and made themselves present in the private hearings. 

The continuous claims by the government and Congress’ Republican wing regarding the allegedly “illegal” and closed-door investigation led to the decision to open to the public the testimonies that began on Nov. 13. 

After revealing depositions from figures such as Marie Yovanovitch (former U.S .Ambassador to Ukraine), Kurt Volker (former U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine) and Fiona Hill (former White House advisor in Russia), the Intelligence Committee scheduled over six public depositions.  

Since Nov. 13, a handful of government officials decided to put the country first and went before the House of Representatives’ Committees, and the world, to testify on what they knew about the matter. 

George Kent, Bill Taylor, Marie Yovanovitch, Fiona Hill, and even the Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland loudly confirmed the informant’s accusation: the president had abused his power for personal political gain. 

The House says, “The President is guilty”

The House Judiciary Committee made public its consideration of two articles of impeachment against President Trump, one for abuse of power and another for obstruction of Congress. 

Though the party leadership expected opposition from only a few legislators, obtaining any Republican support was virtually impossible.

From the beginning, most Republicans attacked the process, describing it as a “political blow”, “illegal process” and “witch hunt”. They demanded public hearings and championed the president’s right to defend himself — all of which the Democratic majority accepted.  

The Republican Party went so far as to endorse broadly dismantled conspiracy theories on Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, desperately trying to find some lawfulness in Trump’s actions. 

Finally, the House approved both articles of impeachment to be sent to the Senate.  

A decisive stage

Despite the Republican Party’s political maneuvers to downplay and characterize the process, history will always remember Trump as the third president to be impeached in US history.  

What many questioned was the procedure to follow after a significant Democrat majority in the House approved the articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Pelosi waited to approve the articles to be sent to the majority-Republican Senate, led by Senator Mitch McConnell. 

McConnell assured the media that he would be “working hand in hand with the White House” to prepare for the trial that was to be held once the articles were delivered. 

This statement implied that the Republican majority leader admitted his partiality on the matter, making the impeachment process a partisan struggle.  

Pelosi, for her part, after signing the decision, appointed the legislators who, once in the Senate, would have to “persuade 67 senators to condemn Trump and remove him from office under the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress”, as The Washington Post explained. The so-called “managers” elected by the Democrat leadership were: Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and lead manager; Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Chair of the Committee on House Administration; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, House Democrat Caucus Chair; Rep. Val Demings, member of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees; Rep. Jason Crow, member of the Armed Forces Committee; and Rep. Sylvia García, member of the Judiciary Committee.

As expected, the process was deeply divided between the two sides: the Republican Party and President Trump’s lawyers, who again focused on criticizing the process launched by the House of Representatives; and the Democratic Party and its managers, who explained to the senators, and the whole country, what had happened. 

However, it was the dramatic speech by Rep. Adam Schiff, lead manager of the House of Representatives, that set the bar of that day. 

In a bit over two hours, Schiff weaved “historical references, political philosophy and strong statements” into a speech that depicted “President Trump’s attempts to undermine the rule of law and the US elections”, as characterized by The New York Times.  

“President Trump’s abuse of his powers undermine our free and fair elections and place our national security at risk”, Schiff stated in the last 45 minutes of his opening statement. 

“If President Trump is not held to account, we send the message to future presidents, future Congresses and generations of Americans, that the personal interests of the president can fairly take precedence over that of the nation,” he stated. 

An anticipated verdict

Once the articles were sent to the Republican-majority Senate, many anticipated that the Republican Party would vote against the articles.

That was, in fact, almost exactly what occurred. 

According to NBC News, all Democrats and Independents approved the first article of impeachment, including Utah Senator Mitt Romney, “the only Republican who voted to condemn Trump”.

The second article of impeachment was unanimously rejected by the GOP. 

Although the 48 Senate Democrats — representing 18 million Americans more than the remaining 53 Senate Republicans — voted in favor of condemning the President, Republican tribalism proved mightier. 

With sufficient evidence, and considering the obstruction of the White House and the GOP when considering testimonies and classified documents, the undeniable conclusion of Donald Trump’s impeachment is, in fact, that he abused the powers of his office and placed his personal interests above those of the Constitution. 

In the words of Senator Romney, “The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust”.  

In his speech prior to voting, the Republican senator placed his oath before his decision and underlined the commitment to “exercise impartial justice”. 

“What he (Trump) did was not ‘perfect,’” Romney said. “No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

The senator also explained the pressure that the members of his party are subjected to when it comes time to support the president, no matter the price. 

For Ohio Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown, his Republican colleagues’ decision to absolve the president was simply a reaction to fear.  

In an opinion column published in The New York Times, Brown mentioned the report by CBS News in which the administration warned senators that, if they voted against the president, their “heads will be on a pike”. 

“For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator. They are afraid that Mr. Trump might give them a nickname like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Lyin’ Ted,” or that he might tweet about their disloyalty. Or – worst of all – that he might come to their state to campaign against them in the Republican primary.”

For their part, the Democrat managers in charge of presenting the House’s case before the Senate also resorted to the written word to ensure that “the president will not be vindicated, and neither will the Senate”.  

In a column for The Washington Post, Reps. Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Hakeem Jeffries, Val Demings, Sylvia Garcia and Jason Crow wrote their response to the decision of the Republicans, as well as their deep criticism and condemnation of the “unprecedented” decisions made by the GOP leadership. 

“The president’s defenders resorted to a radical theory that would validate his worst, most authoritarian instincts”, wrote the Democrats. “They argued that a president cannot abuse his power no matter how corrupt his conduct, if he believes it will benefit his reelection. The Founders would have been aghast at such a sweeping assertion of absolute power, completely at odds with our system of checks and balances.”

“By denying the American people a fair trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also deprived the president of something that he desperately sought—exoneration”, they concluded. “There can be no exoneration without a legitimate trial. Out of fear of what they would learn, the Senate refused to hold one. The president will not be vindicated, and neither will the Senate, certainly not by history.”
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