Trump impeachment explained: What is the president being charged with and what happens next?

House Democrats have unveiled articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, accusing him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in a historic rebuke of the president’s demands for political probes from a foreign government.

The two articles of impeachment followed a historic investigation into Mr Trump stemming from a whistleblower complaint about his 25 July phone call with Ukraine, in which the president was accused of demanding political investigations into one of his 2020 political rivals, Joe Biden. 

Key impeachment witnesses described a quid pro quo to House investigators involving US-Ukraine relations under Mr Trump. They said he was seeking announcements from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of investigations into the former vice president and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm as his father was in the White House. In return Mr Trump would release $391 million in aid to Ukraine and give Mr Zelensky a symbolically important White House meeting.

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However, there is no evidence of wrongdoing on either part of the BIdens, and those witnesses also said the president was not actually concerned about corruption in Ukraine. Rather, Mr Trump wanted Mr Zelensky “in a public box”, House Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman said during public testimony on Tuesday afternoon. 

What’s more, the White House refused to comply with congressional subpoenas and blocked witnesses with first-hand information from testifying as Democrats attempted to probe concerns from a senior intelligence official who filed an anonymous complaint about the president’s dealings with Ukraine. 

Here’s a breakdown of the charges and evidence against the president:

Abuse of Power

The House Intelligence Committee released a nearly 300-page report of its findings from the impeachment inquiry before the Judiciary Committee began considering articles of impeachment against the president. The report directly implicated Mr Trump in his administration’s apparent demands for political investigations from Ukraine to aid in his re-election. 

The report found Mr Trump’s “persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election” to be “a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security”, according to a statement from the director of investigations at the House Intelligence Committee. 

Mr “Trump’s scheme subverted US foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favour of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign”, the report reads. “The Founding Fathers prescribed a remedy for a chief executive who places his personal interests above those of the country: impeachment.”

Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat and the vice chair of the Democratic caucus, told The Independent the president posed a “clear and present danger the president poses to the 2020 elections” in a statement shortly before the impeachment articles were announced. 

“We are confident that we are holding the president accountable,” she added, “which is the right thing to do, not only to address his behaviour of the past but to make sure future presidents know that no one is above the law.”

Ms Pelosi meanwhile described the president’s actions as an attempt to “corrupt our upcoming elections” ahead of the announcement. He remains a “threat to our democracy and national security”, she added. 

Obstruction of Congress

The White House effectively served as a roadblock throughout the House-led impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, as he became the “first and only” president in American history to “openly and indiscriminately” defy congressional oversight powers in an impeachment inquiry, the House Intelligence report continued. 

His administration instructed both current and former officials who worked in the White House – and had first-hand knowledge of both the president’s phone call and his dealings with Ukraine – to ignore subpoenas and decline invitations to testify before House investigators. 

His administration ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to ignore subpoenas for documents from the House Judiciary Committee in May, setting the stage for a tense battle between the administration and Congress as it launched a sweeping probe into the president’s alleged wrongdoings.

Numerous officials from within the administration failed to show up for scheduled meetings with impeachment investigators throughout the inquiry, including White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and John Eisenberg, the deputy counsel to the president for national security affairs, as well as Michael Ellis, a deputy to Mr Eisenberg, and more.  Former White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline was also scheduled to testify before House committees but was instructed not to attend the hearing by Mr Mulvaney. 

The issue of the White House ordering officials not to comply with congressional subpoenas resulted in a lawsuit and even some defections, including from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who was on the president’s 25 July phone call with Ukraine and reported his concerns to Mr Eisenberg shortly after.

In a statement emailed to The Independent, Democrat Steny Hoyer said Mr Trump’s “subsequent decision to obstruct Congress through the withholding of subpoenaed documents and the instruction of his subordinates not to cooperate with Congressional investigators further asserts the false and un-Republican premise that the president is above the law and not subject to the scrutiny of the American people’s representatives”.

The White House argued the process was “unfair” and the inquiry “completely baseless” in refusing to cooperate with investigators. 

However, the House Judiciary Committee had provided a window for the Trump administration to decide whether it would provide legal counsel to participate in its hearings while considering which articles of impeachment to possibly draft against the president. The White House repeatedly declined to participate despite such invitations. 

“Having declined this opportunity, he cannot claim that the process is unfair” Mr Nadler said during the hearings. “The President’s failure will not prevent us from carrying out our solemn constitutional duty.”

What happens next?

The House speaker suggested a vote on the impeachment articles against Mr Trump could arrive before the Christmas holiday.

The Democratic-controlled House appears set to pass both articles of impeachment, in which case the charges would head to the US Senate for a full trial. The trial could result in the president’s possible removal from office, though many experts have said the Republican-led Senate appears likely to continue backing Mr Trump. 

The president has called for the Senate to begin a trial quickly after the House-led inquiry, urging Democrats to impeach him “fast” in a tweet earlier this month. 

“The Do Nothing Democrats had a historically bad day yesterday in the House,” he tweeted last week. “They have no Impeachment case and are demeaning our Country. But nothing matters to them, they have gone crazy.”

Mr Trump added: “Therefore I say, if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business.”

Though it appears the president will likely get his wish just in time for the holidays, it remains unclear how long an investigation in the Senate could take or what that process might look like. Republican leadership would take over the process once it moves into the GOP-controlled Senate, in which case the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, would have the power to call witnesses and oversee the trial. 

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