Impeachment Update

Abby Shepherd, Lead Editor

On December 18th 2019, President Donald Trump joined an exclusive group, becoming the 3rd president in history to be impeached. The House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against him; Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. The Senate trial began January 21st, and is scheduled to conclude on February 5th. It is expected that Trump will be acquitted of both articles.

Both articles concern Trump’s July 25th phone conversation with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and his subsequent attempts to halt the House Intelligence Committee Democrats’ investigation into the call.

The impeachment stems from an initial whistleblower in the White House administration who claimed that Trump was attempting to coordinate with Zelensky in order to help further his own political interests. As recorded in the phone call, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joseph Biden, a rival in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, and his son Hunter. It was revealed that before this call took place, the State Department and Pentagon were informed Trump was withholding $392 million in military aid to Ukraine but were not told why. This information furthers the case that Trump was in the process of putting pressure on Ukraine in exchange for information, which falls under the Abuse of Power article.

Once Congress decided to investigate the whistleblower’s complaint, Trump ordered his administration to defy the House’s request. This act led the House to add the article of Obstruction of Congress to the list of Trump’s offenses.

The House impeachment inquiry stretched from late September to mid December. In that time, current and former Trump administration officials were interviewed behind closed doors by the House Intelligence, the Foreign Affairs, and the Oversight Committees. The process became public weeks later, with administration officials and legal experts testifying in front of the House Intelligence and House Judiciary Committees. The articles were approved December 18th, and the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, waited a month to send the articles on to the Senate to be debated.

Senior Sophia Hillman, a student in DS Political Science, believes that the House of Representatives made the right call in impeaching Trump. “I just believe that with all the information that has come out about the genuine crimes he’s committed, I believe that shouldn’t be something that we should overlook just because he’s in a position of power,” she said. “I believe that if it’s an impeachable offense, he should be held accountable and held to that standard just like the rest of society.”

On January 15th, the House voted affirmatively to send both of the articles to the Senate. Chief Justice John Roberts presided over the Senate trial, although he did not have control over most of the proceedings. During an impeachment trial, the Senate must act as the judge and the jury. This role includes calling the witnesses, which was a point of disagreement between Republican and Democratic senators. Senator Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wanted to call four witnesses that did not agree to talk to House investigators during the House inquiry, like former national security advisor John Bolton. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wished to avoid this scenario, and instead wanted a speedy trial with no surprises. He ultimately got his wish, as Senate Republicans defeated the effort by Democrats to call witnesses with a vote on January 31st. 

Hillman also believes that calling witnesses is a necessary part of the trial. “Ultimately if there’s a witness, I think you should call them,” she said. “That’s how we’re going to get the truth to come out.”

The Republican-Democrat split is nothing new. DS Political Science teacher, Paul Williams, believes that the impeachment trial was comparable to Bill Clinton’s in 1998. “You really started to see that polarization of parties in the ‘90s, and it hasn’t lessened, in fact I think it’s gotten worse.”

With impeachment occurring just months before the 2020 presidential election, it’s unclear how this will affect voters and their decision. A Pew Research Center poll reports that 46% of U.S. adults believe the outcome of the Senate trial should lead to Trump remaining in office. A senior aide to Trump informed Time that the ordeal “absolutely makes [Trump] stronger.” This seems to be the thought process of many Americans who already support Trump, and from various polls it doesn’t appear that they will be backing away from their candidate. 

Williams also reflected on the effect the trial will have on the 2020 election. “For people who absolutely dislike Trump, this isn’t changing their minds. For his base, this isn’t shaking their belief in him either,” he said. “I think it will impact senators on their reelection depending on the state. The ones that will be interesting to watch will be the Republicans in the blue states and the Democrats in the red states, because they’re the ones [impeachment] may politically hurt the most.”