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It was an explosive week for the Trump impeachment - here's what happens next

From “no quid pro quo” to “two plus two equals four” – here are the crucial quotes from five days of Trump’s impeachment.

nyc-impeachment-clause-banner-at-trump-tower Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

“WHAT WE’VE SEEN here is far more serious than a third-rate burglary of the Democratic headquarters,” House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said this week, in a reference to the Watergate scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation.

“What we’re talking about here is the withholding of recognition [for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy] in that White House meeting, the withholding of military aid to an ally at war,” Schiff said.

This is beyond anything Nixon did.

Wednesday of this week was another key moment in the timeline of the impeachment  process against US President Donald Trump.

During a hearing, his EU ambassador gave very strong evidence that led many – including the former investigator in the Bill Clinton impeachment, Ken Starr – to conclude that articles of impeachment would be brought against the US President. 

Donald Trump is accused of:

  • Using US foreign policy to force a Ukraine investigation into Joe Biden, who would likely be Trump’s Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential election.
  • Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky had requested to meet Trump, so it’s been alleged that this request and $391 million in US aid that had already been promised was used as leverage.
  • More specifically, the evidence focuses on Biden’s son Hunter, and his ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

The key evidence focuses on a 25 July phone call, where a White House transcript shows Trump pressuring Zelensky to open investigations into Biden, and a claim that the Kiev government had helped the Democrats in the 2016 US elections.

No evidence has been found to support this claim, and many White House officials and experts have widely discounted the claim as a pro-Russia conspiracy theory.

As one witness, former national security official Fiona Hill, told the committee this week:

“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia… did not conduct a campaign against our country – and that… for some reason, Ukraine did.

This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.
I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimise an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine – not Russia – attacked us in 2016.

The Evidence 

williams-and-vindman-testify-on-trump-impeachment Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

A dozen witnesses have appeared before the committee so far – mostly career government officials who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations. They relied on emails, text messages and contemporaneous notes to back up their recollections from the past year.

During nine hours of testimony on Tuesday, four witnesses described how Trump, US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought for months to persuade Ukraine to open an investigation into Biden and the 2016 election.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, an Army officer at the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, his counterpart at Vice President Mike Pence’s office, said they had concerns as Trump spoke to the newly elected Ukrainian president about political investigations into Biden.

“What I heard was inappropriate,” Vindman said. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen.”

xinhua-photos-of-the-day US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testifies before the US House Intelligence Committee. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

By the time Sondland was before the committee on Wednesday, officials were unsure about how he would testify: it was unclear if he would say he didn’t know anything, talk candidly about what he did know, or plead the fifth.

What Sondland did say was the strongest evidence the committee has heard so far: 

  • That Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure President Zelensky for the investigation and that top White House and State Department officials were “in the loop”, including Vice President Mike Pence.
  • That Giuliani’s requests for Ukraine to publicly announce a Biden investigation were a “quid pro quo” for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.
  • That Trump wanted an investigation into the Bidens to be announced, but “he didn’t have to do them”, as far as Sondland understood.

“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.

upi-20191121 Fiona Hill and David Holmes testify on Thursday. Source: UPI/PA Images

On Thursday David Holmes, a political counsellor at the US Embassy in Kiev, said that Sondland spoke on the phone to Trump on 26 July. He said he overheard the president ask about “doing the investigation”, and Sondland told him Zelenskiy would do it and would do “anything you ask him to”.

Holmes said he asked Sondland if it was true that Trump did not care about Ukraine. He said Sondland replied the president only cared about the “big stuff”, and the “big stuff” included the Biden investigation.

Former National Security Council expert, Fiona Hill then gave evidence to say that she realised that Sondland was being involved “in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy and those two things had just diverged”.

Hill and Holmes both testified to say that it was clear Giuliani was pursuing political investigations of Democrats and political rival Joe Biden in Ukraine.

Hill said: “He was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would, you know, probably come back to haunt us and in fact, I think that’s where we are today.”

But, crucially, none of the witnesses could personally attest that Trump himself directly conditioned the release of almost $400 million on a Ukrainian investigation into former vice-president Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

As Sondland told the committee this week:

President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from Giuliani was that the Burisma and 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting. The aid was my own personal, you know, guess based again, on your analogy ‘two plus two equals four’.

The next steps

president-donald-j-trump-presents-the-national-medal-of-arts-and-the-national-humanities-medal Donald Trump speaks before awarding people with the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal. Source: DPA/PA Images

With the public hearings complete, Democrats are now plotting the way forward with a limited blueprint in just the nation’s fourth ever impeachment proceedings.

They must first decide whether to begin drafting articles of impeachment based on what has been revealed to this point or to launch a long-shot bid for testimony from additional witnesses who could provide more direct evidence of Trump’s actions.

Democrats have requested testimony from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, men who spent hours alongside Trump, and whose names popped up repeatedly in the testimony of other officials.

Before the House of Representatives can vote on whether to impeach Trump, the House Intelligence Committee must complete its investigation and send a report to the House Judiciary Committee, which will then come up with the articles of impeachment.

The ‘articles of impeachment’ is the list of charges that the President will be facing. These could vary from obstruction of justice, to withholding military aid from Ukraine in exchange for a politically-motivated favour. 

In order for a President, or other public figure to be found ‘guilty’ of the charges brought against them, the House of Representatives must vote in favour of it, and then a trial needs to happen in the Senate. 

A 60-40 majority is needed to secure an impeachment (there are 100 members in the Senate). In February 1999, the Senate voted against the charge of perjury against Bill Clinton, with 45 votes for conviction and 55 against.

The obstruction of justice charge ended in a tie: 50 votes for and 50 against, meaning Clinton was acquitted.

In relation to the other two instances of impeachment in US history, impeachment proceedings against Nixon began, but he resigned before those charges could be brought against him.

Andrew Johnson became the first US president to be impeached in 1868. The Senate failed to convict him on one of the articles of impeachment after falling short by one vote.

- with reporting from the Press Association 

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