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Donald Trump impeached for abuse of power, obstruction

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to impeach President Donald Trump, marking just the third time in history it has voted to recommend removing a sitting president.

Lawmakers pass 2 articles of impeachment against U.S. president

The Democrat-led House of Representatives has passed two articles of impeachment that charged Trump with abuse of power for his dealings with Ukraine and with obstruction of Congress. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The U.S. House of Representatives has impeached President Donald Trump, marking just the third time in history it has voted to recommend removing a sitting president.

The first vote on the charge of abuse of power passed 230 to 197 Wednesday evening, with one member voting present — registering neither for nor against.

The historic vote split along party lines, much the way it has divided the nation, over the charges that the 45th president abused the power of his office by enlisting a foreign government to investigate a political rival ahead of the 2020 election.

Watch that moment:

The U.S. House of Representatives has impeached President Donald Trump, marking just the third time the legislative body has voted to recommend removing a sitting president from office. 0:15

The House then voted on a charge that he obstructed Congress in its investigation. It passed 229 to 198, again with one member voting present.  

The member who voted present on both counts was Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who is currently running for president. 

The articles of impeachment, the political equivalent of an indictment, now go to the Senate for trial. If Trump is acquitted by the Republican-led chamber, as expected, he would have to run for re-election carrying the enduring mark of impeachment on his purposely disruptive presidency.

In a statement, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham called the impeachment "one of the most shameful political episodes in the history of our Nation" and said the American people would not be fooled. 

"The President is confident the Senate will restore regular order, fairness, and due process, all of which were ignored in the House proceedings," she wrote. "He is prepared for the next steps and confident that he will be fully exonerated."

Democrats led Wednesday night's voting, framed in what many said was their duty to protect the Constitution and uphold the nation's system of checks and balances. Republicans stood by their party's leader, who has frequently tested the bounds of civic norms. Trump has called the whole affair a "witch hunt," a "hoax" and a "sham," and sometimes all three.

The U.S. House Speaker addresses the media following votes to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump 1:04

The trial is expected to begin in January in the Senate, where a vote of two-thirds majority is necessary for conviction. While Democrats had the majority in the House to impeach Trump, Republicans control the Senate and few if any are expected to diverge from plans to acquit the president ahead of early state election-year primary voting.

Pelosi, once reluctant to lead Democrats into an impeachment, now risks her majority and speakership to hold the president accountable.

"Today we are here to defend democracy for the people," Pelosi said as she opened debate.

Trump, who began Wednesday tweeting his anger at the proceedings, was by evening at a rally in Battle Creek, Mich.

He pumped his fist before an enthusiastic crowd, boasted of "tremendous support" in the Republican party and said: "It doesn't feel like I'm being impeached."

Watch that part of his speech: 

'By the way, it doesn't really feel like we're being impeached,' Trump said after the House voted to impeach him. 0:32

What Pelosi called a sad and solemn moment for the country unfolded in a caustic daylong session that showcased the nation's divisions — not only along party lines, but also by region, race and culture.

The House impeachment resolution laid out in stark terms the two articles of impeachment against Trump stemming from the July phone call when he asked the Ukraine president for a "favour" — to announce it was investigating Democrats ahead of the 2020 general election. He also pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to probe unsubstantiated corruption allegations against Joe Biden, the former vice president and 2020 White House contender.

At the time, Zelensky, a young comedian newly elected to politics, was seeking a coveted White House visit to show backing from the U.S. as Ukraine confronts a hostile Russia at its border. He was also counting on $391 million US in military aid already approved by Congress. The White House delayed the funds, but Trump eventually released them once Congress intervened.

Narrow in scope but broad in its charge, the resolution said the president "betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections," and then obstructed Congress' oversight like "no president" in U.S. history.

"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," it said.

Republicans argued that Democrats are impeaching Trump because they can't beat him in 2020.

Rep. James McGovern implores colleagues to consider their historic responsibility 0:39

"This vote is about one thing, and one thing only: They hate this president," said Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart. "They want to take away my vote and throw it in the trash."

But Democrats warned the country cannot wait for the next election to decide whether Trump should remain in office because he has shown a pattern of behaviour, particularly toward Russia, and will try to corrupt U.S. elections in 2020.

"The president and his men plot on," said Adam Schiff, Democratic chair of the intelligence committee, which led the inquiry. "The danger persists. The risk is real."

The outcome brings the Trump presidency to a milestone moment that has been building almost from the time the New York businessman-turned-reality-TV host unexpectedly won the White House in 2016 amid questions about Russian interference in the U.S. election —- and the rise of the "resistance."

'Rigged' process

Democrats drew from history, the country's founders and their own experiences — as minorities, women and, some, as immigrants — in their speeches.

"In America," said Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, "no one is above the law."

Democratic Rep. Lou Correa spoke in Spanish, asking God to unite the nation.

Republicans aired Trump-style grievances about what Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko called a "rigged" process.

"We face this horror because of this map," said Republican Rep. Clay Higgins, before a poster of red and blue states. "They call this Republican map flyover country, they call us deplorables, they fear our faith, they fear our strength, they fear our unity, they fear our vote, and they fear our president."

Thousands rallied across the U.S. for and against impeachment on Wednesday. Here, protesters gather outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Susan Ormiston/CBC News)

The political fallout from the vote will reverberate across an already polarized country with divergent views of Trump's phone call with Zelensky — in which he asked for investigations into the Democrats' behaviour during the 2016 election; and into Biden and his son, Hunter, who worked on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was the vice president.

Trump has repeatedly implored Americans to read the transcript of the call he said was "perfect." But the facts it revealed, and those in an anonymous whistleblower's complaint that sparked the probe, are largely undisputed.

More than a dozen current and former White House officials and diplomats testified for hours during congressional hearings in the runup to Wednesday's votes. The open and closed sessions under oath revealed what one called the "irregular channel" of foreign policy run by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, which focused on investigating the Bidens and alternative theories of 2016 election interference.

The question for lawmakers was whether the revelations amounted to impeachable offences.

'Not about making history'

Few lawmakers crossed party lines without consequence. Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who is considering changing parties over his opposition to impeachment, sat with Republicans. Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan conservative who left the Republican party and became an independent over impeachment, said: "I come to this floor, not as a Republican, not as a Democrat, but as an American."

Beyond the impeachments of Andrew Johnson or Bill Clinton, this first impeachment of the 21st century is as much about what the president might do in the future as what he did in the past. And unlike the investigation of Richard Nixon, who resigned rather than face the House vote over the Watergate scandal, the proceedings against Trump are playing out in a country already of mixed views over its president.

Rank and file Democrats said they were willing to lose their jobs to protect the democracy from Trump. Some newly elected freshman remained in the chamber for hours during the debate.

"This is not about making history, this is about holding a lawless president accountable," said Democratic Rep. David Cicilline.

Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia said of the Democrats: "You've been wanting to do this ever since the gentleman was elected."

Top Republicans on the intelligence committee, including Rep. Devin Nunes, called the Ukraine probe little more than the low-budget sequel to former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller spent two years investigating the potential links between Moscow and the Trump campaign, but testified in July that his team could not establish that Trump conspired or co-ordinated with Russia to affect the election. Mueller did say he could not exonerate Trump of trying to obstruct the investigation, but he left that for Congress to decide.

The next day, Trump called Ukraine. Not quite four months later, a week before Christmas, Trump was impeached.

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."

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, left, rejected a push to call top White House officials for a potential Senate trial from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

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.

What to expect

Now that impeachment is approved, the House will 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.

Trump will remain in office pending a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority of those present in the 100-member Senate is needed to convict Trump, which is unlikely.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the trial. House managers will be chosen to present their case against Trump, and the president's legal team will respond.  

Senators hear the evidence, but are not to interrupt the proceedings. In the last presidential impeachment trial, which lasted 37 days, they deliberated in private before voting.

Hoping to dispense with lengthy Senate proceedings, Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell has so far rejected a request by top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer for fresh impeachment testimony from, among others, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. Neither gave a deposition to the House committees investigating Ukraine dealings.

Impeachment 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 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. 

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