The True Meaning of the Articles of Impeachment (Not Christmas)
Updated: Jan 27, 2020
So Donald Trump has been impeached. The articles of impeachment have been written and approved by the House. They were delivered to the Senate. And it looks like the rest of the process is far from over.
For those of you who are just joining us, yes, Trump has been impeached. Some of you have noticed that Trump is still our president, and thought it meant he had not been impeached. This is not true. Trump was impeached. Impeachment and removal are not the same thing. Impeachment is a process that happens in the House, and removal from office is something that can happen after a trial in the Senate. So if anyone is going to kick Trump out of office, it will be the Senate. But more on that later. (For more on the impeachment process, please see my earlier post, Impeachment: What it is and What it Isn't.)
The House of Representatives wrote this document called the Articles of Impeachment. This document lists the two reasons they had for impeaching Trump.
Okay, but what do the Articles of Impeachment mean? Let's take them on one at a time.
Article I : Abuse of Power
Article I said that Trump abused his power as president. Trump did this when he pressured Zelensky, the president of the Ukraine, to make two public announcements:
1. that Zelensky was launching an investigation into whether the Ukraine, and not Russia, meddled in our 2016 presidential election, and
2. that Zelensky was going to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter for corruption. (The investigation I would like to launch is to find out why anyone names their son Hunter. Unless you also have a daughter named Gatherer, what's the point?)
In exchange for making these announcements, Trump was holding up $391 million in military aid, and dangled a head of state meeting with Zelensky at the White House.
The reason this is considered an abuse of power is because when our president is on the phone with another world leader, we expect him to be working for us. We expect him to do stuff that helps our country, like making deals on our behalf. We don't expect him to be asking for personal favors. And we certainly don't expect him to be asking for favors that would help him cheat to get re-elected.
Also, to understand why asking for these favors was putting a lot of pressure on the president of the Ukraine, I think it's helpful to have a little context. The Ukraine needed the $391 million in military aid because they are fighting a hot war with Russia. A hot war is when two sides are shooting at and killing each other. This is different than a cold war, where two sides are just making threats and building bigger and bigger bombs so they can look tough to the other side.
In 2014, Russian soldiers invaded a part of the Ukraine called the Crimea. They rolled in with tanks and guns and took it over. Ever since then, the Ukrainians have been trying to kick the Russians out. Thousands of Ukrainians have died in the process. And they are still dying every day in this hot war. That's why Zelensky needed the money and the meeting. He needed the money to pay his soldiers and buy more weapons and ammunition. And he needed the meeting to show Russia that the U.S. really has the Ukraine's back.
And I know that Zelensky eventually did have a meeting with Trump in the White House, and Trump asked him in front of reporters if he felt pressured during that phone conversation. Zelensky said no, but I don't buy it. I mean, put yourself in his shoes for a minute. Imagine that you are the president of the Ukraine. Your country is actively fighting off Russian soldiers. Your people are dying. You desperately need money from the U.S. to help save your people's lives. But you also don't want to look weak on television since you know that Vladimir Putin will be watching. And Trump didn't just ask once during a phone conversation for these favors. He and his cronies have been pressuring you for months. Oh, and you're sitting right next to the guy who is going to give you the money and make you look like you have the United States' support. And you don't want to contradict him to his face. So of course you say no. What else could you say?
When Trump pressured Zelensky to announce those two investigations, it was bad for two reasons. First, Trump was asking Zelensky to interfere with an upcoming election. Second, when Trump asked for that favor, he was posing a threat to our national security.
We don't want foreign governments to interfere with our elections. When we elect someone, we want it to be because we chose to vote for them for our own reasons. We don't want anyone to win because they had outside help from another country. Also, if Trump got the Ukraine to give them what he wanted, it would give him an unfair advantage in the next election. No other candidate was in a position to withhold millions of dollars in military aid, or promise a meeting at the White House in exchange for dirt on their opponents. So it would be unfair to everyone else in the election if Trump got what he wanted from the Ukraine.
Okay, so how is all of this a threat to our national security? To answer this question for you, I listened to all seven hours of the testimony Dr. Fiona Hill and David Holmes gave during the impeachment hearings. Yes all seven hours. That's how much I care about your edumacation.
Dr. Hill is a specialist in Russian and European affairs, and she used to work for the United States Security Council. Mr. Holmes is a diplomat who works as a counselor for political affairs in the U.S. embassy in the Ukraine. So they both know their stuff. During their testimony, they said that when Trump pressured Zelensky to make those announcements, Trump was showing the world that he was willing to jerk around one of our allies in order to get a personal favor. This is a threat to our national security because it would have a bad domino effect. When Trump did this, he showed Russia, and the world, that United States support for the Ukraine was less than solid. Russia could look at this and feel bolder. (And is that what we want, people? Vladimir Putin is already bold enough to take his shirt off way too often.) The Ukraine is weaker without our support, and if they don't have that support, then maybe Russia would feel like they have the upper hand with the Ukraine.
Through this example, Trump also showed our other allies in the world that maybe the United States' support for them isn't so solid, either. If Trump was willing to do this to the Ukraine, then maybe he would be willing to do something similar to them. And if we are willing to do something like this to them, then maybe they're not so willing to help us out, either.
Article II - Obstruction of Congress
Okay, this article talks about how Trump is a threat to our democracy.
Remember the idea of our federal government having three co-equal branches? And that whole checks and balances thing? That means that Congress, the Executive Branch (which includes the president) and the Supreme Court are all supposed to be equal, according to our Constitution. That means that each one of the branches of government should have the same amount of power. And if one of the branches does something bad, another branch should be able to say, "Hey! Quit it!", and then do something to stop them.
The Constitution gives the power of impeachment to the House of Representatives. That means they have the right to investigate the president if they think he did something bad. As part of their power to investigate, they can call witnesses and ask for documents. The House of Representatives asked several people who work for Trump to come and testify. Trump said no. Trump told the people who worked for him to defy the House's subpoenas. (A subpoena is a legal command for someone to show up in a court or in front of Congress.) The House also asked several federal agencies to turn over some documents. Trump told the agencies to not turn over anything that the House wanted, so they did not turn over the documents.
Trump is the first president we've ever had that has acted in this way. Other presidents have been impeached, but no other president has completely refused to cooperate with the House while they were investigating a president's potential wrongdoing. The fact that he has completely refused to cooperate is deeply troubling, because it shows that he does not respect Congress as a co-equal branch of government. Congress has the right to impeach and remove a president if they want to. They are totally within their constitutional rights to do so. They have done nothing wrong.
Also, when Trump was sworn in to office, he took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. That includes defending the co-equal branches of government, and their right to do the stuff the Constitution allows them to do. When you swear an oath, you are promising to do stuff even if doing that stuff is hard or unpleasant. Take marriage vows, for example. When people promise to forsake all others, that doesn't mean they promise to not cheat on their spouse unless they have a chance to cheat with someone who is really hot. It means they promise that they will not cheat. Ever. Period. Trump's oath of office is similar. He promised to uphold and defend the Constitution. Always. Not just when he felt like it. (Of course, we all know that Trump has not been very good at keeping promises to his wives, so we can't say we're all that surprised that he can't keep a promise to his country. But it's still hard to watch.)
When Trump refused to cooperate with the House during their impeachment investigation, he was trying to keep them from doing their job. That is called obstruction. And one branch of government is not allowed to stop another one from doing their job. So that is why Trump is being charged with obstruction of Congress.
Here's another way of explaining obstruction. Imagine that Trump went to the McDonald's where you work and knocked the fries out of your hand. If he did this, he would be obstructing your work - parts of your job that you had the legal right to do. And this is America. People have the right to sell French fries, dammit. If Trump were to do this, people would be outraged. They would say, "Hey, man. That dude was just doing his job. You shouldn't be smackin' the fries out his his hand." And they would be right. So in refusing to let people testify and hand over documents, Trump was smacking the fries out of Congress' hands. And he shouldn't be doing that. They were just doing their job, man.
So that's what the Articles of Impeachment mean.
So what will happen next? I'm not sure. The trial in the Senate is set to start this week, and shenanigans are already afoot.
Last week, all members of the Senate raised their right hands and promised to be fair and impartial jurors in the Senate's impeachment trial against Trump. But Mitch McConnell has told the press that he would not be a fair and impartial juror. He also said that he plans to coordinate with the White House, and do whatever they tell him to do. So it looks like McConnell's mind is made up, and he is just going to help Trump even if it means violating the oath he took to be a fair and impartial juror, and his other oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. ('Cause who wants to do that?)
Lindsey Graham said he does not want to call any witnesses for Trump's impeachment trial. He said that if the House had wanted to call any witnesses, they already had their chance, but because they went so fast, they did not have a chance to speak to some of the people they wanted to talk to. I think what Lindsey Graham really means is that he wanted the House of Representatives to appeal Trump's refusal to let people come testify. Graham wanted the House to appeal it to a federal court, and wait until the court decided if Trump should let those people testify or not. And God only knows how long that would have taken. This was a stalling tactic the Republicans wanted to use to drag out the impeachment proceedings as long as they could. They were probably hoping to drag them out until the next election. Of course, none of that would have been necessary if Trump had just cooperated in the first place. But Graham doesn't seem to care about that.
But there are some Republicans in the Senate who might be open to punishing Trump for his bad deeds. Here's a list in case you want to call them:
Mitt Romney - Utah - (202) 224-5251
Ben Sasse - Nebraska - (202) 224-4224
Lisa Murkowski - Alaska - (202) 224-6665
Susan Collins - Maine - (202) 224-2523
Lamar Alexander - Tennessee - (202) 224-4944
Pat Roberts - Kansas - (202) 224-4774
Mike Erzi - Wyoming - (202) 224-3424
Jim Risch - Idaho - (202) 224-2752
Richard Burr - North Carolina - (202) 224-3154
There is much more to come, so I am sure this won't be my last blog post about Trump's impeachment. Because just like the Chinese curse wished for us, we are living in interesting times.