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The Impeachment Verdict: Simplified

On Jan. 5, 2020, President Trump was acquitted from both impeachment charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. This marked the end of the president’s impeachment trial, after one month, two weeks and four days of proceedings.

On Dec. 18, 2019, the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment, accusing the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 

The first article of impeachment, the abuse of power, is defined by The Law Dictionary as a “misuse of power by someone in a position of authority who can use the leverage they have to oppress persons in an inferior position or to induce them to commit a wrongful act.”

The accusation surfaced due to a phone call that President Trump held with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Within this conversation, Trump was seen as withholding military assistance from Ukraine in an effort to secure information on Joe Biden, a potential competitor in the upcoming election.

The second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress, is due to the president’s refusal of any and all investigations into his actions. An article by USA Today stated that the second article of impeachment “accus[ed] Trump of directing the unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas.” According to multiple accounts of inquiry made by house officials, President Trump has refused to comply with investigations into his actions, such as the investigation surrounding the whistleblower complaint and the Mueller investigation.

The approval of these two articles of impeachment moved the trial to the Senate, to decide whether or not President Trump would be removed from office if he was found guilty of these charges. 

“I think that we have pulled back a veil of behavior totally unacceptable to our founders, and that the public will see this with a clearer eye, an unblurred eye,” Nancy Pelosi said in an article from the New York Times. “Whatever happens, he has been impeached forever. And now these senators, though they don’t have the courage to assign the appropriate penalty, at least are recognizing that he did something wrong.”

The impeachment trials in the U.S. Senate began on January 22 of this year. Representatives from both parties shared their views as the trial was broadcast live on multiple media platforms. The members of the Senate were divided, with 45 members in the Democratic party, 53 members in the Republican party and 2 members identifying as Independent.

During the trial, both the Democratic House impeachment managers and President Trump’s defense team gave opening and closing statements. Each side was given up to 24 hours over three days to develop their case for the trial. An article by NPR mentions that there was also a 16-hour period which allowed for questioning by the senators. Along with the short time frame to produce a developed case, the Senate voted against either side producing witnesses. The establishment of these ground rules implemented by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was seen as a hindrance to the Democratic House.

The Democratic House impeachment managers focused their arguments on the articles of impeachment, while President Trump’s defense team claimed that the impeachment trial was an effort to influence the upcoming elections and sway the public’s opinion against Trump.

“This is an effort to overturn the results of one election and to try to interfere in the coming election that begins today in Iowa,” said Pat A. Cipollone during the Senate trial. “The only appropriate result here is to acquit the president and to leave it to the voters to choose their president.”

Once both parties had their allotted time to state their case and delivered their opening and closing statements, the Senate cast their votes on whether or not they found the president guilty of the two impeachment charges.

The trial concluded with President Trump acquitted from both the charge of abuse of power as well as obstruction of Congress. The first article of impeachment, abuse of power, was rejected with the votes divided 48 to 52. 67 guilty votes were needed to convict the president. The second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress, was rejected as well with the votes divided 47 to 53.

While most Republicans found President Trump not guilty, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah voted to convict the president. In his statement, Romney claimed that his oath to God compelled him to vote against the President.

“The President is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust. What he did was not perfect; no, it was a flagrant assault under electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values,” Romney said during the trial. “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.”

While he was not removed from office for these charges, President Trump has become one of three presidents in U.S history to ever be impeached by the House. There is speculation about how this trial will affect the president’s following, especially considering the fact that he will be the first president to run for a second term after being impeached.