The 45th president is only the third commander-in-chief to face the legal undertaking in the 243-year history of the U.S.
Defiant in the face of a historic rebuke, Trump labelled his impeachment by the “a suicide march” for the Democratic Party in a rambling two-hour rally speech that overlapped the vote.
Let’s take stock and ask how we got here and what happens next.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives — the lower of the two houses, which has a Democratic majority — discussed two charges against Trump, which claimed he abused his power as president and obstructed the U.S. Congress.
Two votes were held and both passed. Although all Republicans voted against impeachment, there weren’t enough of them in the House to stop it. The vote on the first of the two articles — abuse of power — came in as 230 in favour and 197 against. The second vote was carried by 229 to 198.
What are the charges?
The House impeachment resolution says Trump abused the power of his office and then tried to obstruct the investigation in congress like “no other” president in history.
Trump “betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” the resolution says.
“President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the constitution if allowed to remain in office.”
Democrats are investigating allegations that Trump used the power of his office to pressure a foreign government — Ukraine — into discrediting his leading rival in next year’s presidential election, Joe Biden.
To do this, he is accused of withholding millions of dollars of military aid to the country, which is currently fighting a low-level war against Russian-backed separatists.
The impeachment inquiry was sparked by a still-anonymous intelligence official who was so worried about what Trump said in a call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he took his concerns to the top levels of the U.S. intelligence services.
Is Trump guilty?
The evidence is pretty damning — Trump has said publicly that he wanted Ukraine to announce an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter, a move that could have harmed the former U.S. vice-president’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Evidence clearly indicates Trump wished to leverage nearly US$400 million in military aid and a coveted White House meeting in exchange for the announcement of an investigation.
And to top it off, multiple high-level U.S. government officials have testified under oath that Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, explicitly sought a “quid pro quo” (a favour in exchange for a favour) with Ukraine.
Trump tried to prevent a number of these officials from testifying, which is what the “obstruction” charge is about.
The president directed administration officials and agencies not to comply with lawful House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to impeachment – though some did anyway, most notably U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.
Sondland said he spoke directly with Trump about the effort to pressure Ukraine and said other top administration officials were involved. He testified that Ukrainian officials understood they would have to announce the investigations in order to get the withheld security aid.
What does Trump say?
In an extraordinary and rambling six-page letter, the president on Tuesday smeared the impeachment process as “unconstitutional,” accusing Democrats of “perversion of justice and abuse of power” in their effort to remove him from office.
- Claimed the process is the biggest “abuse of power” in American history, even though other presidents have faced impeachment.
- Claimed it’s not about his alleged abuse of power but stopping him winning elections.
- Continued to insist his conversation with Zelensky was “perfect” even though a transcript of it that he released himself has been the basis for the charges against him
And of course, he fired out a few tweets overnight to just ram the message home, including this jaw-dropping interpretation of reality.
What happens next?
Let us draw your attention to this handy little chart. We are currently in between Stages 3 and 4.
The charges will now move to the Republican-controlled Senate where an indictment will be written up and Trump will face trial.
It is very dramatic but the result is almost certainly a foregone conclusion.
Republican senators have been accused of having a “see no evil, hear no evil attitude” and are highly unlikely to convict Trump.
The chamber’s top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has rejected Democratic proposals to call further administration officials to testify and has predicted there is “no chance” Trump will be removed from office, Reuters reports.
Removing Trump from office would require a two-thirds majority of those present and voting in the 100-member chamber, meaning Democrats would have to persuade at least 20 Republicans to join them and end Trump’s presidency.
It’s worth noting that a president has never been convicted in the Senate. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were acquitted in the Senate and Richard Nixon stepped down before he could be tried.
What’s the point?
The Democrats genuinely believe Trump has done wrong, and have portrayed impeachment as an undesirable but utterly necessary process ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Fearful of the political blowback, Democrats were long resistant to an impeachment inquiry even after special counsel Robert Mueller outlined potential episodes of Trump obstructing justice in his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
There is concern among Democrats that it could backfire and affect the election chances of those standing in swing states.
What do Americans say?
With Trump seeking a second term next year, impeachment has split voters, with most Democratic voters supporting it and most Republicans opposed.
But public opinion has shifted dramatically over the last few weeks, and not in favour of the president.
The latest polling suggests a majority of people not only think he abused the office of president, but also that he should be impeached.
What remains unclear is whether the months-long partisan drama will have any effect on the 2020 election beyond giving Trump reasons to boast of having beaten back Democratic efforts to remove him.
With files from HuffPost Canada