6 Feb 2020

The long road to Trump's impeachment and trial

10:05 am on 6 February 2020

The US Senate is poised to acquit President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

US President Donald Trump speaks after announcing an initial deal with China while meeting the special Envoy and Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China Liu He at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on October 11, 2019. -

Six months after a whistleblower came forward leading to an investigation and trial of US President Donald Trump, he is on the brink of being acquitted. Photo: AFP

Here is a look back at the road to Trump's impeachment and trial.

Mueller report

In July 2017, two little-known Democrats in the House of Representatives make the first attempt to impeach Trump, basing it on investigations into Moscow's interference in the 2016 United States elections.

They file formal charges known as articles of impeachment, alleging that Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI head James Comey to hinder the Russia investigation by then Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

After a two-year probe, Mueller finds insufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy involving Trump and draws no conclusions on whether Trump obstructed justice.

Little comes of this impeachment effort. In 2019 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leading Democrat in Congress, says Trump is "just not worth it".

Whistleblower emerges

On 12 August 2019, an anonymous intelligence official files a whistleblower complaint about a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

According to a summary of the call later released by the White House, Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate both former US vice president Joe Biden, a Democrat running for president in 2020, and a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind 2016 election meddling.

Impeachment investigation

Amid further reports of Trump's dealings with Ukraine, Pelosi on 24 September accuses Trump of urging a foreign power to intervene in the 2020 election and announces an impeachment investigation in the Democratic-controlled House.

In testimony at televised hearings, US diplomats and officials describe a pressure campaign organised by Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to get Ukraine to announce the Biden investigation. Trump's freezing of $US391 million ($NZ604m) in aid to Ukraine was part of the campaign, according to some testimony.

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Donald Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has been closely linked to the accusations that have swirled around Trump leading to his impeachment. Photo: AFP

Trump's defence

Trump says he was just trying to get Kiev to quash corruption and points to the fact that the Ukrainian investigations never happened as evidence that the July call was innocent. Republican lawmakers say that even if Trump's conduct was not perfect, it does not belong in the category of "high crimes and misdemeanours" stipulated in the US Constitution as a reason to impeach a president.


On 18 December Trump becomes only the third US president to be impeached when the Democratic-led House approves two articles of impeachment charging him with abuse of power and obstructing Congress.

The trial

The Senate puts Trump on trial in late January. The outcome seems in little doubt, as Republicans dominate the chamber where a two-thirds majority is needed to convict and remove the president. This morning Mitt Romney became the only Republican so far to announce he would find Trump guilty.

Dispute over witnesses

The two parties tussle over Democrats' attempts to introduce new witnesses and documents to the trial. They are especially keen to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton who had disparaged efforts by Trump allies to influence Ukraine as "a drug deal".

The Bolton factor

The New York Times reports that Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who has served previous Republican administrations, has written a book in which he says Trump told him he had wanted to continue freezing the aid to Ukraine to pressure Zelenskiy to help with investigations into Democrats, including Biden.

The revelation contradicts Trump's defence. It puts pressure on a handful of moderate Republican senators to join Democrats and vote to call Bolton and White House officials as witnesses. But a majority of senators vote to reject new witnesses.

US President Donald Trump with National Security Advisor John Bolton during a meeting with senior military leaders at the White House in Washington, DC.in April 2018.

Democrats were unsuccessful in a bid to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton, on the right, and to question him about conversations he had with Donald Trump on Ukraine and investigations into Democrats. Photo: AFP

Trump's defence

Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz says at the trial that senators cannot impeach a president for doing anything to try to win re-election if the president believes that to be in the public interest.

Democrats and constitutional experts severely criticise this defence, saying it gives US presidents huge new powers not foreseen in the Constitution. Dershowitz says later his remarks were deliberately misinterpreted.

- Reuters

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