Congress is tasked with answering two questions: Did President Trump abuse his power, and did he obstruct Congress? If the full House decides that either answer is yes, he will be the third U.S. president to be impeached.
The first charge relates to his dealings in Ukraine. He is accused of withholding U.S. military aid and a White House visit from Ukraine unless its president announced two investigations that would benefit his reelection campaign: one into Burisma, a Ukrainian company that employed the son of Mr. Trump’s 2020 rival, Joe Biden, and another into unfounded claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to help Mr. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The second charge relates to his response to the impeachment inquiry. Mr. Trump blocked evidence from being released and witnesses from testifying to Congress. He argues that his senior advisers have “absolute immunity” from congressional subpoenas — a claim a federal judge recently refuted.
Here are the highlights from the impeachment inquiry this week — followed by analysis from chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett and an explanation of what happens next:
Articles of impeachment
The House Judiciary Committee voted 23-17 on Friday the 13th to impeach Mr. Trump on two counts: for abusing his power and for obstructing Congress. All Democrats and no Republicans voted in favor of impeachment.
That was fewer than the White House was expecting. Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News the White House thought four or five articles of impeachment would be introduced, with charges that might relate to bribery, the Mueller investigation — which detailed how Mr. Trump may have obstructed justice — and the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits him from profiting off the presidency and is the subject of many lawsuits against Mr. Trump.
During the debate, Democrats offered just one amendment — to spell Mr. Trump’s middle name in the articles of impeachment. Republicans offered five, but all failed along party lines. They proposed nixing both articles, adding a reference to “a well-known corrupt company, Burisma, and its corrupt hiring of Hunter Biden,” the son of Mr. Trump’s political rival; adding language to note that Ukraine eventually received aid; and cutting off the last eight lines of each article.
The day before the impeachment vote, the White House presented a new defense of the president. It said the aid to Ukraine was delayed to ensure that the way the money was spent wasn’t at odds with the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
But most of the current and former diplomats who testified said they were concerned about the delay, which they believed was not in the interest of U.S. national security and had reason to believe its purpose was to help Mr. Trump damage the reputation of his political rivals.
What happens next?
The full House is expected to vote next week on whether to make Mr. Trump the third U.S. president to be impeached. (President Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against him but before the full House could vote on them.)
In the meantime, the minority whip is in full force, monitoring Republicans’ voting plans and urging them to support Mr. Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, said the Democratic party is “not whipping this legislation nor do we ever whip something like this. People have to come to their own conclusions.”
Neither party expects a large number of defections, but a few moderate Democrats are either undecided or say they oppose impeachment. Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey indicated that he would vote against impeachment, and Josh Gottheimer, who floated the idea of censuring Mr. Trump as an alternative, has not yet made a decision.
If the Democratic-controlled House impeaches Mr. Trump as expected, the process would then move to the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority. The Senate Judiciary Committee would hold a trial led by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to decide whether Mr. Trump should be the first U.S. president to be removed from office.
The Senate has not yet set the rules for the trial. But on Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News that he will work “in total coordination” with the White House legal team.
“Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this,” he said.
The White House has expressed interest in calling witnesses during the trial. McConnell, however, hopes the trial lasts “a fairly short period of time.”
Earlier this week, he said “the Senate has two choices: It could go down the path of calling witnesses and basically having another trial, or it could decide … that they’ve heard enough and … move to vote on the two articles of impeachment.”
Either way, he isn’t expecting any surprises.
“We know how it’s going to end,” he said. “There is no chance the president is going to be removed from office.”
The show must go on
The impeachment is soaking up the spotlight, but it’s not the only thing that happened on Capitol Hill this week.
On the same day that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the articles of impeachment, she struck a deal with the White House on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement that will help Mr. Trump fulfill one of his biggest campaign promises: to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Meanwhile, the watchdog for the Justice Department released his long-awaited report on the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation and testified about it before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The report found no evidence of Mr. Trump and Republicans’ claims that the FBI was politically motivated when it launched an investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian interference in the 2016 election. The report concluded that the investigation — which resulted in what’s known as the Mueller report — was justified. It did, however, find more than a dozen problems with the FBI’s surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide.
— Stefan Becket, Kristen Brown, Nancy Cordes, Melissa Quinn, Grace Segers and Kathryn Watson contributed reporting.
Polarization is a big topic in national politics, growing in significance as evidence mounts that “facts” now must flow through a partisan filter before they are accepted as such. If facts have distinctly partisan dimensions, polarization makes a debate over facts more difficult. Or impossible.
The House Judiciary Committee wrangled for hours this week over the “facts” of the Ukraine saga and what they meant to the Constitution, the rule of law, congressional oversight and national security. The interpretations, which culminated in party-line 23-17 votes on both articles of impeachment, clashed loudly and angrily.
Perhaps it is no wonder. The Judiciary Committee is one of the most partisan committees in the House. Of its 41 members, 21 represent districts where the margin in the 2016 presidential election was 30 points or more. Only two members, Democrat Lucy McBath of Georgia and Republican Steve Chabot of Ohio, represent districts where the 2016 margin was less than seven points.
The 2008 book “The Big Sort” studied the phenomenon of polarization and its subtitle summed things up: “Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.” The author, Bill Bishop, worked with sociology professor Robert Cushing to study patterns of movement in America for three decades and found a voluntary self-sorting into neighborhoods of “sameness.”
“What happened over three decades,” Bishop and Cushing wrote, “wasn’t a simple increase in political partisanship, but a more fundamental kind of self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing social division. Americans were busy creating social resonators and the hum that filled the air was the reverberated and amplified sound of their own voices and beliefs.”
Anyone watching the House Judiciary Committee this week would struggle to not conclude that its members live in a world where the air is filled with the exact reverberations and amplifications that Bishop and Cushing discovered more than a decade ago.
Impeachment was not all that happened this week.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a massive report on the origins of the FBI counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign and possible unsavory or criminal ties to Russian operatives. Horowitz concluded that the investigation had a legal predicate, was not launched for partisan reasons and yet was marred by gross and possibly criminal errors in the ongoing surveillance of low-level Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Which brings us to the Big Inference.
For House Democrats who voted to impeach Trump, the facts, narrative, alignment of events and testimony from witnesses condemn Trump because they prove means, motive and opportunity to trade an official act for personal gain. Democrats are aghast that Republicans can look at the totality of testimony, the White House’s refusal to produce witnesses and documents, and not conclude that Trump did something bad and is probably covering up something worse.
For Republicans who resolutely opposed impeachment, the facts, narrative, alignment of events and testimony vindicate Trump because they do not prove malignant intent, and impeachment by inference is an affront to the Constitution.
It is the inference that disturbs Trump’s defenders most. They accuse Democrats of assuming the worst about Trump in every instance, applying vicious motives even when certain evidence or testimony might suggest otherwise. Those interpretations will stalk impeachment next week and into the history books.
The Big Inference is half complete. The other half is the Horowitz report.
Democrats seized upon the legal basis/no bias conclusion as vindication of the Russia probe and the explosion of Trump conspiracy theories about a “deep state” effort to “spy” on his campaign.
Republicans saw Horowitz’s sharp and unstinting criticism of the Page surveillance process as proof of a politicized FBI — a bureau on a brutal mission to undercut Trump’s campaign and early presidency with methods that would have made former FBI Director and inveterate political-slime gatherer J. Edgar Hoover blush.
In both cases, the inference is central to the conclusion and the wellspring of righteous indignation.
In impeachment, Republicans accuse Democrats of using assumptions to accuse Trump of the worst when other explanations might be plausible. Democrats accuse Republicans of assuming the worst motives on the FBI — even when Horowitz did not reach that conclusion.
Both sides rely on inferences drawn from fact patterns that align only one way. What they see is all that can be seen — and inferences can be and should be fairly drawn. Impeachment. Horowitz. Let me give Bishop and Cushing the last word:
“We live with the results: Balkanized communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible; a growing intolerance for political differences that has made national consensus impossible; and politics so polarized that Congress is stymied and elections are no longer just contests over policies, but bitter choices between ways of life.”
The Big Sort meets The Big Inference.
— Major Garrett
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