A Look At The Moments And Events That Led Congress To Trump's Impeachment

Dec 19, 2019
Originally published on December 19, 2019 7:48 pm
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The House vote to impeach President Trump yesterday came largely along party lines. All Republicans opposed both articles. A handful of congressional Democrats had been calling for Trump to be impeached even before they won control of the House in the 2018 election. But the majority of the caucus didn't back Trump's removal until this fall. NPR's Brian Naylor takes a look back at how we got here.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Al Green of Texas was one of two Democratic congressmen who filed the first article of impeachment against Trump back in July 2017. It charged Trump obstructed justice after the president fired then-FBI Director James Comey. Here's Green speaking in 2017.

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AL GREEN: I am a voice in the wilderness, but I assure you that history will vindicate me.

NAYLOR: But with the House then controlled by Republicans, the effort was largely ignored. When Democrats won a majority after the 2018 elections, impeachment talk grew louder. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to tamp down pro-impeachment sentiment, suggesting lawmakers should wait and see how the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, played out. She said of Trump, quote, "he's just not worth it."

In April, Mueller's report was released, finding no evidence that the Trump campaign actively conspired with Russia. It did not, however, exonerate him from allegations that he obstructed the probe. In a June interview with CNN, Pelosi seemed to cautiously open the door to impeachment.

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NANCY PELOSI: I don't think there's anything more divisive we can do than to impeach a president of the United States. And so you have to handle it with great care.

NAYLOR: Meanwhile, the groundwork of the impeachment inquiry was being laid. On June 19, President Trump started asking about a $391 million aid package approved by Congress for Ukraine. That assistance is put on hold by the administration. July 25, Trump makes his now-infamous call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump says, quote, "I would like you to do us a favor, though," and asks Zelenskiy to look into activities by potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The conversation, by the way, was absolutely perfect. It was a beautiful, warm, nice conversation.

NAYLOR: None of this was known publicly until the still-anonymous whistleblower filed a complaint in August to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. It accused the president of soliciting interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election. In September, The Wall Street Journal reports the contents of Trump's call with Zelenskiy. And on September 24, Pelosi orders an impeachment inquiry.

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PELOSI: The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.

NAYLOR: In early October, three House committees heard testimony behind closed doors from key people involved in the Ukraine affair. The depositions were open to committee members from both parties, although Republicans slammed the process. Later that month, the House voted to formally authorize impeachment proceedings, including public hearings. Among those testifying - a Trump donor and U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.

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GORDON SONDLAND: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.

NAYLOR: On December 5, Pelosi announces that the House Judiciary Committee will draw up articles of impeachment against Trump. The president, she says, leaves us no choice. On December 12, committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, announces the two articles.

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JERROLD NADLER: The House committee on the judiciary is introducing two articles of impeachment charging the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, with committing high crimes and misdemeanors.

NAYLOR: The articles were approved along party lines by the committee and sent to the House, which last night, December 18, made Donald Trump just the third president in American history to be impeached.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.