In December, the U.S. House of Representatives officially voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The trial began on Jan. 16.
These charges came after a whistleblower came forward with concerns over a phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine. During this phone call, Trump asked the president of Ukraine, President Zelensky, to “do us a favor” by opening an official Ukrainian investigation into the conduct of democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son’s affairs in Ukraine.
Along with the phone call, Trump withheld Ukrainin funding and White House meetings for Ukrainian officials.
On top of these actions, Marie Yovanovitch, former ambassador to Ukraine, was removed from her post. Yovanovitch had been specifically stationed in Ukraine as part of the anti-corruption campaign. Multiple news outlets have reported that Yovanovitch was removed after Rudy Giluani and others had complained that she was interfering with Trump’s efforts to convince Ukraine to begin an investigation into Vice President Biden.
On Saturday, Jan. 25, Lev Parnas, an associate of Giuliani released a recording of himself, the president, and others speaking about Ukraine. In the recording, the president tells the others to “take her out” in reference to Yovanovitch. What makes the recording more intriguing is that the president has asserted that he does not know Parnas. This seems contradictory to this tape and the multitude of pictures in which the two appear together. Democrats called this an abuse of power as they believe that Trump was using the power of his office in order to fulfill personal, political gain.
When news first broke of this so-called “quid pro quo,” (Latin meaning “Something for something”) Republicans were quick to point out other quid pro quos from the past, especially highlighting those of Biden.
Democrats argued this instance with Trump differs from other quid-pro-quos because the tactic was used in an attempt at personal gain and not in the best interest of American policy.
After impeaching Trump in December, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), withheld the articles of impeachment in an attempt to gain leverage over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
The U.S. Constitution does not give explicit rules for impeachment other than that the House will impeach and the Senate will conduct the trial along with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Due to this, the Senate is able to set its own rules for the trial.
The Senate is controlled by the Republican Party, but only by a narrow margin. Republicans do not want to call witnesses or allow new documents to be submitted into the impeachment trial. Pelosi hoped that by withholding the articles, she may have been able to leverage McConnell into allowing the calling of witnesses.
Some republicans believe that the impeachment trial should only be able to contain evidence from the House Impeachment Inquiry. A few republicans have seemed open to the idea of allowing new evidence and witnesses to be called. However, four republicans would need to join all Senate democrats in order to accomplish such a task.
Democrats have combatted this by stating that there is no precedent in either the Johnson or Clinton impeachments that would suggest that new witnesses cannot be called in the Senate trial. Quite the contrary was true in both cases and in the impeachment of different justices.
Earlier this week, a leak came from John Bolton’s upcoming book. The leak was originally reported on by The New York Times. This leak may provide fuel to the democrats fight to obtain witnesses. According to the leak, Bolton, who served as Trump’s National Security Advisor, states that Trump made it clear that he was withholding funds from Ukraine in order to force them to announce an investigation into his political opponent.
Trump’s legal defense team is an all-star cast of distinguished lawyers.
Trump’s legal team argues that the impeachment trial is nothing but a partisan driven tactic by democrats to overturn the results of the 2016 election. Trump claims he is innocent and points to the same July 25 phone call between himself and Zelensky, saying that the phone call does not threaten Ukraine in any way.
Furthermore, the funds to Ukraine were eventually released and Ukrainian officials were eventually allowed into the White House.
The defense has also made an effort to discredit the whistleblower. As far as the ambassador goes, it is no crime to remove someone who is undermining the president of the United States. At the end of the defense argument, the legal team had done a swell job of painting the president out to be the victim of a conspiracy theory that had been crafted by the democrats.
Of course, these opening arguments came prior to the recording by Parnas and the leak concerning Bolton. Whether or not these developments will bring about the testimonies of people like Bolton remains to be seen. But as of Monday morning, the news has yet to have much of an impact on Trump’s defense or republican’s stance on witnesses.
In the defense’s argument Monday, the defense argued that even if Trump abused his power or obstructed Congress, these are not actual crimes under the current federal laws. Nor are these actions “criminal-like” actions according to the defense.
Because of this, the defense argues that it doesn’t really matter if the president did abuse his power and obstruct congress, those are not impeachable offenses.
After both sides have presented their case and the Senators have had time to digest the case, the Senators will reconvene to decide whether or not they want to allow witnesses to be called. After this decision is made, the Senators will eventually vote on whether or not they believe Trump should be removed from office.
In order to do this, the Senate must have at least 67 votes in favor of removing him. If this is done, Vice President Mike Pence would immediately assume the role of president.