WASHINGTON -- House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, setting up a historic vote in the days before Christmas. The articles charge the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress and argue that he is a “threat to national security and the Constitution."
After internal debate in their caucus, Democrats opted to focus narrowly on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, leaving out any direct mention of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Takeaways from the articles of impeachment:
The two articles released by the House Judiciary Committee total nine pages. They are entirely focused on Trump's efforts to have Ukraine investigate Democrats as the U.S. also withheld military aid to the country and denied Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy a White House meeting.
The first article, abuse of power, says Trump “used the powers of the presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.” It says he “corruptly” solicited Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and a “discredited theory” about the interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The second article, obstruction of Congress, says that Trump "directed the unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas" issued by the House, and calls that behavior “offensive to, and subversive of” the Constitution. It lists subpoenas from Congress for documents and testimony that were ignored.
“In the history of the republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate "high crimes and misdemeanors,” the second article reads.
A CLEAN CASE
The articles make no explicit mention of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, even though Mueller said the president could not be exonerated on obstruction of justice and left the matter up to Congress. Some Democrats pushed for a third article drawing on Mueller's findings, but more moderate Democrats — including freshmen from competitive districts — argued that focusing on Ukraine would make for a cleaner case.
The moderates won the day, though the Mueller investigation is referenced in both articles.
The first article charges that Trump's abuse of power in the Ukraine matter is consistent with “previous invitations of foreign interference in United States elections.” The second article says his obstruction on Ukraine is consistent with his previous efforts to undermine “United States government investigations into foreign interference.”
Mueller's investigation found that Russians interfered in the 2016 election, but said there was not enough evidence to prove the country conspired with Trump's campaign. Mueller also examined several episodes in which Trump attempted to obstruct his investigation and said he could not exonerate the president on that point.
IMPEACHMENT BY CHRISTMAS
Democrats have moved swiftly from the start of the Ukraine investigation, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in late September. In the weeks since, committees have interviewed witnesses behind closed doors, held public hearings and laid out a legal case for impeachment.
The inquiry was timed to end with a final vote in the days before lawmakers left for the holidays. And with the introduction of the two articles on Tuesday, they remain on schedule. A final House vote is expected next week, and lawmakers are expected to go home Dec. 20 after sending the impeachment articles to the Senate for a trial in January.
It is unclear what a Senate trial will look like or how long it will last. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested Tuesday that it will begin in the opening weeks of January, but said "no decisions have been made” about the length or structure. He said he would be “totally surprised” if there were enough votes to convict Trump but said the chamber is obligated to consider the charges.
McConnell said the trial will begin with arguments from impeachment managers — a handful of House members selected to make that chamber's case — and a response from the president's lawyers. After those opening arguments, the Senate will have to decide whether they want to call witnesses and hold a longer trial, or “decide they have heard enough" and move to hold a vote, he said.
“We don't have an answer yet on which direction we'll take,” McConnell said.