WASHINGTON – The Democratic-controlled United States House of Representatives voted along party lines Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump.
The first of two articles of impeachment – accusing the Republican president of abuse of power – was approved by a vote of 230-197.
Two Democrats voted against adopting the article, while one of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in 2020, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, voted “present.”
All 195 of the Republicans who were in the House for the vote opposed the article.
The House proceeded immediately to vote on the second article, obstruction of Congress.
The voting followed more than eight hours of heated debate.
The abuse of power charge stems from an allegation that Trump sought personal political gain this year by improperly pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce a corruption investigation into US former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and his son Hunter.
The committee also voted to approve a charge that Trump obstructed the House impeachment inquiry by blocking officials from testifying and preventing the sharing of federal government documents with Congress.
The two Democrats who voted “no” were New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who is set to switch parties over the issue, and Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson.
Both Van Drew and Peterson were elected in districts also won by Trump in 2016.
A trial, probably starting in January, will be held in the Republican-controlled Senate, where a highly unlikely two-thirds super-majority (67 out of 100) would be needed to convict Trump and remove him from office.
Before the process moved to the Judiciary Committee, the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee had conducted closed-door interviews and public hearings starting in late September aimed at determining whether Trump abused his office through his Ukraine dealings.
On Dec. 3, that committee – led by California Democrat Adam Schiff – approved a report stating that Trump had sought an investigation by Kiev into the Bidens and into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election with a view to improving his re-election prospects in 2020.
It also said the president had “engaged in categorical and unprecedented obstruction in order to cover up his misconduct.”
The issue of quid pro quo – particularly as relates to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky – is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, which was launched in response to a whistle-blower complaint.
Trump had temporarily frozen nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine just ahead of the phone call, prompting suspicion that the request to investigate the Bidens was linked to the release of the funds.
Trump, who vehemently denies that any quid pro quo was at work and says he withheld the aid over frustration with what he considered to be an insufficient amount of monetary assistance provided to Ukraine by other countries, says the transcript of the phone call shows he did nothing wrong.
The aid was eventually released on Sept. 11.
The White House in September released the transcript, a document that shows that Trump asked Zelensky to look into Joe Biden’s alleged interference with a purported probe of Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine.
“(Joe) Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me,” Trump is cited as saying on the transcript, referring to the former vice president’s boast in 2018 that he threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine two years earlier unless its then-top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was fired.
Hunter began serving as a paid board member of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings in 2014 while his father was Barack Obama’s vice president and point man on rooting out corruption in Ukraine.
Mykola Zlochevsky, Burisma’s founder and a former Ukrainian government official who fled the country in 2014, has been the target of several corruption investigations, but Ukraine’s current top prosecutor, Ruslan Riaboshapka, was quoted by Reuters as saying in October that he is not aware of any evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden related to his role as a Burisma board member between 2014 and April of this year.
Many Republicans say Biden was trying to shield his son from an investigation, but the former vice president and other Democrats say there was a push for Shokin’s removal because he was viewed by the US and many other Western nations as soft on corruption.
As he did in response to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged links between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia (a probe that earlier this year found no evidence that anyone from the campaign sought to conspire with the Kremlin to manipulate the election), Trump has repeatedly slammed the impeachment process as a witch hunt.
In a very strongly worded letter on Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump blasted both articles of impeachment.
“Your first claim, ‘Abuse of Power,’ is a completely disingenuous, merit-less and baseless invention of your imagination. You know that I had a totally innocent conversation with the President of Ukraine,” the president wrote.
Referring to the second charge, the head of state said Democrats were trying to impeach the “duly elected President of the United States for asserting Constitutionally based privileges that have been asserted on a bipartisan basis by administrations of both political parties throughout our Nation’s history.”
Trump is only the third US president to be impeached.
Andrew Johnson (in the 19th century) and Bill Clinton – 21 years ago – both were impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate, while Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the lower house could vote on his impeachment.