2021 Impeachment

To help with coverage of the impeachment inquiry, The Associated Press has prepared a guide with key background, explanation and style points.

WHAT'S HAPPENING

Former President Donald Trump faces an impeachment trial in the Senate beginning Feb. 9. The U.S. House impeached Trump on Jan. 13, one week before his term ended, on a charge of "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the deadly riot Jan. 6 at the Capitol. It was only the fifth time in U.S. history that a president has been impeached, and the only time a president has been impeached twice.

WHAT IS IMPEACHMENT AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

Impeachment by the House is the first part of a two-step process set out by the Constitution for the removal of a federal official, up to and including the president. Though it is a political process, not a legal process, impeachment is the equivalent of an indictment — a determination that there is enough evidence to proceed to a trial, conducted by the Senate.

An official may be impeached for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." The Constitution does not define "high crimes and misdemeanors," but there is general agreement that they need not be criminal activities in a legal sense, and that "high crimes" are abuses of power.

Article 1, Section 3 says the Senate "shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments." The senators must take an "Oath or Affirmation," promising to consider the charges honestly and dutifully. Members of the Senate took that oath on Jan. 26.

The House has selected from among its members nine managers to present the case against Trump, while attorneys for the former president will present his defense. The Senate decides whether to call witnesses for the trial, in which both sides can examine and cross-examine.

The Constitution sets a high bar for conviction, requiring a supermajority of two-thirds of senators voting. By majority vote, the Senate can then vote to prohibit a convicted official from holding any federal office. If impeached and convicted, an official may face criminal prosecution as well.

DETAILS

The Democrats contend that Trump was "singularly responsible" for the Jan. 6 attack by inciting the crowd that attacked the Capitol. They say it's "impossible" to imagine the riot unfolding as it did without Trump's encouragement.

Trump's lawyers say he can't be responsible because he never incited anyone to "engage in destructive behavior." They concede there was an illegal breach of the Capitol that resulted in deaths and injuries. But they say the people who are "responsible" — the ones who entered the building and vandalized it — are being investigated and prosecuted.

Trump's lawyers don't dispute that he told supporters to "fight like hell" before the Capitol siege. But the defense says Trump, like any citizen, is protected by the First Amendment to "express his belief that the election results were suspect."

There was no widespread fraud in the election, as has been confirmed by a range of election officials across the country and by former Attorney General William Barr. Nearly all the legal challenges to the election put forth by Trump and his allies were dismissed — a fact Democrats mention in their brief for the trial.

House Democrats say the First Amendment is meant to protect private citizens from the government, not to allow government officials to abuse their power. And while a private citizen may have a right to advocate for totalitarianism or the overthrow of the government, "no one would seriously suggest" that a president who adopted those same positions should be immune from impeachment, the Democrats say.

Trump's conduct not only "endangered the life of every single Member of Congress," the Democrats wrote, but also "jeopardized the peaceful transition of power and line of succession." Those in the line of succession for the presidency — then-Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley — were all forced to flee for safety.

WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT HE HAS LEFT OFFICE?

The sides are at odds over whether a trial is permissible now that Trump has left office — and that issue could be key.

Trump's lawyers say the case is moot since he is no longer in the White House and the Senate therefore doesn't have jurisdiction to try him in an impeachment case. Many Senate Republicans agree, and 45 of them voted on that basis to end the trial before it began.

It is true that no president has faced impeachment proceedings after leaving office, but House managers say there's ample precedent. They cite the case of former Secretary of War William Belknap, who resigned in 1876 just hours before he was impeached over a kickback scheme. The House impeached him anyway, and the Senate then tried him, though he was ultimately acquitted. Democrats also note that Trump was impeached by the House while he was still president.

The framers of the Constitution intended for the impeachment power to sanction current or former officials for acts committed while in office — with no "January exception," Democrats wrote. Not only that, they point out that the Constitution explicitly allows the Senate to disqualify an official from holding public office again. Conviction could bar Trump from running for the White House again in 2024.

THE IMPEACHMENT RESOLUTION

The impeachment resolution from Democratic Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York draws from Trump's own false statements claiming fraud in his loss to Joe Biden.

It also details Trump's pressure on state officials in Georgia to "find" him more votes, as well as his White House rally ahead of the Capitol siege, in which he encouraged thousands of supporters to "fight like hell" and march to the building.

The mob overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing Biden's victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

The resolution passed the House by a vote of 232 to 197 on Jan. 13, with 10 Republicans voting with all Democrats in favor.

TRUMP'S FIRST IMPEACHMENT

In February 2020, Trump won impeachment acquittal in the U.S. Senate almost exclusively along party lines.

What started as Trump's request for Ukraine to "do us a favor" spun into a far-reaching, 28,000-page report compiled by House investigators accusing Trump of engaging in shadow diplomacy that threatened U.S. foreign relations for personal, political gain as he pressured the ally to investigate Biden ahead of the next election.

On the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, the vote was 52-48 favoring acquittal. The second, obstruction of Congress, also produced a not guilty verdict, 53-47.

Only one Republican broke with the GOP — Mitt Romney of Utah, the party's defeated 2012 presidential nominee.

HISTORY

Prior to Trump's troubles, three presidents have been subject to impeachment proceedings:

— In 1868, 11 articles of impeachment were passed against President Andrew Johnson — chief among them that he violated a statute by ousting Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, though also for attempting to "bring into disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt and reproach, the Congress of the United States." He was acquitted by a single vote.

— In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned after the Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment, but before they could be voted on by the full House. He was charged with abetting the cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices; of violating Americans' constitutional rights; and of obstructing Congress.

— In 1998, the House passed two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton. One charged him with lying to a grand jury about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and the other with obstructing justice. Neither charge won a super-majority or even a majority in favor of conviction, through 50 voted in favor of the second count, and 50 were opposed.

KEY FIGURES

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer New York Democrat first elected to the Senate in 1998. Also known as Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Kentucky Republican first elected to the Senate in 1984. Also known as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi California Democrat, in her 17th term in the House.

Bruce Castor One of Trump's lawyers for the impeachment trial. Served as district attorney for Montgomery County, outside of Philadelphia, from 2000 to 2008. He faced criticism for his decision to not charge actor Bill Cosby in a sex crimes case. Castor has said that he personally thought Cosby should have been arrested, but that the evidence wasn't strong enough to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

David Schoen One of Trump's lawyers for the impeachment trial. An Atlanta-based lawyer and frequent television legal commentator, Schoen has said he agreed to defend disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein against sex crime charges days before Epstein's death in jail. In an interview with the Atlanta Jewish Times last year, Schoen said he had also been approached by Trump associate Roger Stone before Stone's trial about being part of the team and that he was later retained to handle his appeal. Trump commuted Stone's sentence and then pardoned him. Schoen maintained in the interview that the case against Stone was "very unfair and politicized."

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. A former constitutional law professor and prominent member of the House Judiciary Committee, Raskin is the leader of the House team prosecuting the case. The day before the attack on the Capitol, Raskin buried his 25-year-old son, Tommy, who killed himself on New Year's Eve.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. As the senior Democratic senator, he serves in the largely ceremonial role of Senate president pro tempore and is set to preside over the impeachment trial. Chief Justice John Roberts presided at Trump's first trial. The shift is said to be in keeping with protocol because Trump is no longer in office.

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