What happened today
In nine short pages, House Democrats spelled out two articles of impeachment they plan to vote on in the coming weeks, accusing President Trump of having abused his power and “betrayed the nation” by attempting to enlist Ukraine in “corrupting democratic elections.”
The first article accused Mr. Trump of having “corruptly solicited” election assistance from the government of Ukraine in the form of investigations that would smear his political rivals. The second one charged him with obstructing the impeachment inquiry by blocking witnesses and documents that House Democrats requested.
House Democrats opted not to charge Mr. Trump with “bribery” or “extortion,” as they had contemplated in recent weeks. Those terms, as my colleague Peter Baker wrote, are criminal charges, meaning they would have invited complicated debate about judicial precedents. Because an impeachable offense does not have to be a specific crime, Peter wrote, the Democrats decided to use the more comprehensive accusation of “abuse of power.”
What the articles say
The impeachment articles that House Democrats drafted mirror the ones the Judiciary Committee approved in 1974 when it charged President Richard Nixon with abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Here are some key excerpts, followed by a brief description of what they mean.
At the heart of the charge that Mr. Trump abused his power is the effort to coerce Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a possible opponent in the 2020 election. The article, though, does not say that Mr. Trump sought actual investigations — only that Ukraine “publicly announce” them.
Mr. Nixon and Bill Clinton were both charged with obstruction during their impeachment proceedings (Mr. Nixon resigned before the full House could vote on that charge), but Democrats make an effort here to put Mr. Trump in a league of his own, calling his defiance of the investigation “unprecedented.” They make a similar argument later in the document:
The article also says that Mr. Trump attempted to “cover up” his misconduct — a charge Speaker Nancy Pelosi made when she first announced the investigation in September, and a central element of the Nixon case.
No time to wait
House Democrats appeared to respond to the idea that Mr. Trump’s fate should be settled in the 2020 election. If he remains in office, they write, “he will remain a threat to national security,” implying that he is continuing to commit impeachable offenses.
Throughout the hearings, Republicans have argued that because Mr. Trump restored the military aid to Ukraine before an investigation could be announced, it does not qualify as a pressure tactic. Democrats pre-empt that in the charges, stating that Mr. Trump released the aid only after he knew the whistle-blower’s complaint was going to be made public.
Conspicuously absent from this list is John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser. Mr. Bolton was a firsthand witness to much of Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, and House Democrats have issued a subpoena for his testimony. Mr. Bolton signaled that he would be willing to talk if a judge ordered him to do so, but Democrats did not pursue the matter in court.
Read the articles here, with annotations from Peter Baker.
What could have been a third article
Democrats kept their impeachment articles limited to the Ukraine affair, but that decision was fraught.
For much of the summer and fall, Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, openly flirted with moving to impeach Mr. Trump on charges of obstruction of justice stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. Mr. Nadler’s panel drew up subpoenas for Mr. Trump’s closest advisers and held hearings on the topic, with witnesses including Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, and constitutional scholars.
In their report, Mr. Mueller and his prosecutors seemed to agree that Congress might have a role in addressing Mr. Trump’s obstruction, in the absence of formal charges. “A federal criminal accusation,” the report says, could “preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct.” In a May news conference, Mr. Mueller said that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
Mr. Nadler and other top House Democrats have continued pressing the Mueller-related obstruction case, arguing that Mr. Trump should be impeached for a broader pattern of presidential misbehavior. But Democrats decided that keeping the impeachment case specific to Mr. Trump’s Ukraine dealings focused the argument and made it more urgent and accessible to the public.
The decision was also meant to appease the moderate lawmakers who would otherwise be queasy about incorporating Mr. Mueller’s long-ago work in impeachment articles. In 1998, two impeachment counts of perjury and abuse of power against Mr. Clinton failed in votes on the House floor, the kind of divide that Democratic leaders wanted to avoid in 2019.
The House Judiciary Committee will meet publicly Wednesday evening to begin debating the charges. The panel could then vote by Thursday to recommend them to the full House of Representatives for final approval, setting up a final vote before Christmas.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, told reporters that an impeachment trial would most likely be taken up in early January, and that he would be “totally surprised” if there were enough votes to convict Mr. Trump and remove him from office.
What else we’re following
This morning we got an important glimpse into how House Democrats are trying to balance impeachment with a more normal legislative agenda. Within minutes of announcing the impeachment articles, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told House Democrats that she was ready to deliver the president his biggest economic priority: passage of a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
Politico reported that around 10 moderate House Democrats from districts that Mr. Trump won in 2016 met last night to discuss the possibility of a censure vote against the president, instead of an impeachment vote.
While touring a Clinton Foundation program in New York, Mr. Clinton weighed in on the impeachment articles. “They’re doing their job as they see it and we should wait to see it unfold,” he told Fox News. “And the rest of us should go about our jobs and do them as we see it.”
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