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U.S. House panel votes in favour of 2 impeachment articles against Trump

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Friday recommended that President Donald Trump be impeached for obstructing a congressional probe into his alleged attempts to force Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden.

The full House of Representatives will vote on the articles as early as next week

Democrats say Trump, right, abused his power in a July 25 phone call when he asked Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, centre, for a favour in investigating Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Bastiann Slabbers, Ludovic Marin, Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The U.S. House judiciary committee on Friday recommended that President Donald Trump be impeached for obstructing a congressional probe into his alleged attempts to force Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden.

The panel's approval of the article of impeachment sets the stage for a vote by the full House of Representatives next week.

Earlier, the committee approved a separate article of impeachment accusing Trump of abusing his power by trying to get Ukraine to investigate Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to run against Trump next year.

Each vote went 23-17, entirely along partisan lines. A 24th Democratic congress member, Ted Lieu, is absent after undergoing heart-related surgery earlier this week.

The committee had been expected to approve two articles of impeachment late on Thursday, but after a marathon session, committee chair Jerrold Nadler sent lawmakers home for the night and said members would return to vote Friday.

Watch: The judiciary panel votes on two articles of impeachment

After marathon debate, Democrats and Republicans zip through two votes with predictable results. 1:17

Members will now have two days to submit their views on the articles.

"Today is a solemn and sad day," said Nadler. "For the third time in a little over a century and a half, the House judiciary committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president."

Rules committee meets Tuesday

In raucous hearings that began Wednesday night, Republicans have defended Trump and accused Democrats of a politically motivated farce, while Democrats have accused the president of endangering the U.S. Constitution, jeopardizing national security and undermining the integrity of the 2020 election by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July phone call to investigate Biden.

The abuse of power charge also accuses Trump of freezing nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid to Ukraine and offering a possible White House meeting to Zelensky to get him to publicly announce the investigations of Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company for over two years while his father was U.S. vice-president and deeply involved in Ukraine policy.

Trump also asked Zelensky to investigate a debunked theory that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election through a cyber campaign. Multiple probes, including those undertaken by special counsel Robert Mueller as well as the Republican-led Senate, have concluded that Russia launched a sophisticated cyber campaign to disrupt and help leak Democratic communications.

Rudy Giuliani, pictured in September, was seen visiting the White House on Friday even as his role in facilitating Trump's interests with Ukraine policy have come under great scrutiny. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The obstruction charge accuses the president of impeding the House's efforts to investigate the scandal by instructing current and former members of his administration not to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry. 

Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday the process was a "sham," accusing Democrats of trivializing impeachment. 

Reaction to the vote among members of Congress was predictable and impassioned.

"I really think what this boils down to is, we are here because the president of the United States has treated the Constitution like toilet paper," Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told MSNBC.

Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy from California assailed the judiciary committee process.

"Chairman Nadler just jammed through impeachment in the judiciary committee without a single Republican vote. This sham is nothing more than a political hit-job against the president," McCarthy tweeted.

If the full House impeaches Trump, as early as next week, he would then go on trial in the Senate in 2020. The Republican-led chamber is unlikely to vote to find the president guilty and remove him from office. 

The House's rules committee said it would meet on Tuesday morning to establish procedures for the full House to follow.

The committee generally sets the terms for House debates the day before action on the House floor.

The pressure campaign heavily involved Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, witnesses have testified, despite the fact Giuliani has no formal role with the U.S. government. 

Giuliani was seen on television cameras entering the White House on Friday, though the reason for his visit was not stated.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that when Giuliani returned to New York from Ukraine just last week, the president called him as his plane was still taxiing down the runway.

"'What did you get?'" Giuliani said Trump asked, according to the Journal. "More than you can imagine," the former New York mayor replied. He told the newspaper he is putting his findings into a 20-page report.

The articles of impeachment

Article 1

In the impeachment context, abuse of power is generally defined as using the vast powers of the presidency for personal benefit.

Abuse of power is not specifically listed as an impeachable offence in the U.S. Constitution, which states that a president can be removed from office for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours."

But the founders of the United States intended the phrase "other high crimes and misdemeanours" to broadly encompass abuses of power, legal scholars said.

Article 2

Democrats levelled the obstruction charge based on Trump's stonewalling of the House's impeachment inquiry.

The White House has refused to provide documents to congressional investigators and has instructed top advisers and government officials to defy subpoenas and refuse to testify.

Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanour crime under U.S. law, which defines the offence as wilfully failing to provide testimony or documents to Congress.

The White House has argued that the Constitution does not require senior presidential advisers to appear for compelled testimony before Congress. A judge rejected that argument on Nov. 25 in a dispute over a subpoena issued to former White House counsel Don McGahn but the matter continues to wind its way through the courts.

What to expect

Next week

All 431 members of the House will have the opportunity to vote on the articles. If the full House voted to approve the articles, Trump would become only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

If the impeachment is approved, the House would select lawmakers known as managers to present the case against Trump at a Senate trial. House Democrats say most of the managers are likely to come from the judiciary committee, and possibly from the intelligence committee that led the investigation.

Early January

Trump would remain in office, however, pending a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority of those present in the 100-member Senate would be needed to convict Trump.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts would preside over the trial. House managers would present their case against Trump, and the president's legal team would respond. A trial could involve testimony from witnesses and a gruelling schedule in which proceedings occur six days a week for as many as six weeks.

Senators hear the evidence, but are not to interrupt the proceedings. In the last impeachment trial involving a president, they deliberated in private before voting.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday a majority of the Senate could approve a shorter process by voting on the articles of impeachment after opening arguments, without witnesses. On Thursday, McConnell told Fox News there was "zero chance" Trump would be removed from office through a Senate trial, expressing hopes that no Republicans would vote in favour of conviction.

The history

This is the fourth time in history Congress has moved to impeach a president.

Bill Clinton was the last president impeached by the House, in 1998. As with President Andrew Johnson in the 19th century, Clinton was acquitted in the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 after the House judiciary committee approved three articles of impeachment against him, but before the full House voted on them. 

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News

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