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Background

2019-07-25
US President Donald Trump had a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is central to the recent Trump–Ukraine controversy.

2019-09-24
Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, initiated an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump. As I understand it, this was triggered by recent news about the Trump–Ukraine controversy.

2019-09-25
The Trump administration released a "memorandum of telephone conversation" (PDF), described by some as a "rough transcript" of the 2019-07-25 phone call.

Kerri Kupec, US Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesperson, stated:

Relying on established procedures set forth in the Justice Manual, the Department’s Criminal Division reviewed the official record of the call and determined, based on the facts and applicable law, that there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the Department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the Department has concluded the matter.


Questions

  1. Does the DOJ's declining to investigate the 2019-07-25 phone call between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky mean that Trump didn't break the law in the phone call?

  2. Does the DOJ's statement debase the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump?


Please understand that I'm not trying to make a political statement either way. Instead, I'm interested in the political dynamics involved, much like watching a game of chess. This seems like an interesting topic, especially as the story is quickly developing.

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    Ultimately I think this question boils down to "Will Impeachment proceedings move forward" and I think all the points that need to be addressed are covered in other questions. politics.stackexchange.com/questions/45918/… politics.stackexchange.com/questions/45866/… politics.stackexchange.com/questions/45813/… – Jontia Sep 26 at 9:05
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    "This means (as I presume), that there was no law breaking from Trump in this phone call. Am I right?" Given who's currently running the DOJ, this is very likely incorrect. I am far more inclined to believe that the DOJ is instead trying to shield Trump from the consequences of his decisions, the rule of law be damned. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Sep 26 at 22:31
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    Also keep in mind that since there's an OLC opinion (binding on the Justice Department) that the president cannot be indicted, the AG may have said, "No, don't open an investigation. we can't indict anyway." – George Stocker Sep 27 at 12:31
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    Rather than ruining the basis for impeachment, would it not also be grounds for investigating the Attorney General (a Trump supporter) in order to determe just why there was no investigation? – jamesqf Sep 27 at 15:56
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    @jamesqf: Realistically, nobody other than Congress (and the President) has both the Constitutional and practical ability to meaningfully investigate and hold to account the AG. Everyone else who might do so at the federal level (various US Attorneys etc.) directly or indirectly reports to the AG, and it would be a real stretch to claim he violated a state law of some kind. So if Congress wants to focus on Trump, the AG is probably out of scope, unless they can blame his inaction on Trump (which might well happen, of course). – Kevin Sep 27 at 22:14
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Please, understand me in a right way - I'm not position myself as pro-Trump/pro-democrat - it is inner deals of foreign country for me, like a chess party. But this is just interesting question, I think - as things start going fast.

Given this, I’m going to take a step back here and look at a fundamental underlying question here:

Does [anything at all] ruin the basis for impeachment?

DOJ rejected to start an investigation on it. This means (as I presume), that there was no law breaking [...]. Am I right?

Impeachment and the following Senate deliberation looks a lot like a court trial—there’s investigations, witnesses examined by prosecutors and cross-examined by defense attorneys, there’s a jury is deciding whether or not someone has done something wrong and if so what the punishment for that should be, and so on. Impeachment itself is very analogous to indictment, and then the Senate sits to determine something quite like conviction. It is very much like a trial.

And the Department of Justice is, in general, in charge of prosecuting federal crimes, that is, taking them to trial.

But impeachment is fundamentally not a trial. In a trial, there are extremely specific and exacting rules to follow, governing procedure, evidence, witnesses, the burden of proof, and sentencing. Learning all of that takes years of schooling. The rules for impeachment, on the other hand, are just these:

The House of Representatives ... shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

— Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

—Article I, Section 3, Clauses 6 and 7 of the United States Constitution

[The President] ... shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

—Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

—Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution

That’s it, the entire thing. Impeachment is reserved for cases of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the House does the impeaching, the Senate tries the president (or other officer) for the charges they were impeached on, and if two-thirds of them agree, the only things the Senate can sentence them to are losing their office and/or losing the privilege to seek another office in the future. There are no rules beyond these. Two points in particular make the proceedings very much not a trial:

  1. The House doesn’t impeach over the violation of a criminal statute. The word “misdemeanor” meant, in the founding fathers’ day, wrongdoing not explicitly made illegal, either because it was less bad or because it was so bad that it could not be handled by a simple law (hence the impeachment proceedings in the latter case, a “high misdemeanor”). That means that “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” can include behavior that isn’t actually illegal. Instead, “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” refers to abuse of power and position, whether it is explicitly illegal or not. The purpose of impeachment is to protect the country, not to achieve justice.

  2. The Senate does not convict anyone of a crime, and does not impose any criminal sentence: no fine or imprisonment or execution. The Constitution explicitly notes that any criminal trial relating to the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” occurs after the officer is removed. In the United States, no one can be tried for the same thing twice—but an officer removed via impeachment can still be tried, because they have not been tried at all yet. The impeachment proceedings didn’t count because they were not a trial.

And it is precisely because impeachment is not a trial, and is instead a check on the power of the executive branch, that things are left wholly open-ended. The founding fathers wanted the ultimate authority to lie with the legislature—arguably the branch they trusted the most.

This open-endedness would be a hideous miscarriage of justice in the case of a civil or criminal trial. Much of the rules regarding procedure, witnesses and evidence, and particularly the burden of proof are there to protect the defendant and their rights. An impeached president does not get such protections—because they are not defending their freedom, that is, their right to not be in prison, but rather they are defending their fitness to continue holding the privilege of serving as the president of the United States. The United States holds that everyone in the entire world is “innocent until proven guilty.” It does not hold that everyone in the world is fit for the presidency until proven guilty.

Likewise, criminal trials demand that the defendant be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” before any sentence is applied. The Constitution doesn’t demand anything of Congress when impeaching an officer—one of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, famously stated that impeachment was there in case a president has “rendered himself obnoxious,” which is a rather low standard, all things considered (even if the word “obnoxious” was stronger in his day than it is now). To my mind, it’s not at all unreasonable to expect that the president be “innocent beyond a reasonable doubt” of something like, say, disloyalty. If there is any reasonable suspicion that a president might be acting in the interests of a hostile foreign power and in opposition to the USA’s own interests, well, that person shouldn’t be trusted with nuclear launch codes. Whether Congress agrees with me on that or not, the Constitution allows them to set any standard they feel is appropriate.

In summary, the Constitution gave the ultimate power to decide when and why to remove someone from the presidency to Congress, and left it entirely up to them to decide, because Congress is supposed to be the will of the people. If it is, then it should have that power: the people put the president there, so the people (or, in this case, the people’s representatives) should be able to rescind that if it becomes necessary. If Congress doesn’t actually represent the will of the people, then none of it matters because the government as a whole doesn’t work. In many ways, the Constitution was an experiment at the time, but at the end of the day they put their faith behind it.

The Department of Justice, in contrast, is just how the government of the United States has chosen to organize the executive branch’s lawyers and delegate the executive branch’s authority and responsibility to conduct civil and criminal trials. The concerns of laws, “regular” crimes and misdemeanors. “High crimes and misdemeanors” are way, way above their pay-grade, so to speak. Indeed, Department of Justice regulations bars their prosecutors from indicting a sitting president—in their view, that is Congress’s job, via impeachment, and it is beyond their authority to do so. After all, the Department of Justice derives all of its authority from the executive branch’s delegation, and the impeachment of presidents isn’t an authority the executive branch has to delegate—that authority is with Congress.

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    Also note the the meaing of "misdemeanor" in the Constitution is arguably not the current one of a minor legal offense, but the broader one of general bad or inappropriate behavor which isn't necessarily illegal. See e.g. merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/… – jamesqf Sep 26 at 18:49
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    @jamesqf also good to point out, from your same link, that "high" is also a legal term of art that refers to using one's office to commit "crimes and misdemeanors." – Justin Lardinois Sep 26 at 21:09
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    I feel like this answer could made significantly shorter. Strong first paragraphs, but the latter 3 or 4 could be more concise. I still upvoted and feel this answer could serve as the basis to close future impeachment questions as duplicates. – Nobody Sep 26 at 21:21
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    This is an extremely informative answer. I suspect many, many people use "impeachment" with no idea of what it actually means. – Nelson Sep 27 at 8:25
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    I am a U.S. citizen, and yet... perhaps I should not admit this... I did not understand impeachment so well before I read this excellent answer. Very well done. – Wayne Conrad Sep 27 at 20:23
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It's honestly still too early to tell, but all indications are that the publication of the call memorandum has not stopped calls for impeachment. Democrats have found the memo itself troubling enough. Elizabeth Warren tweeted this in response to the release:

This "transcript" itself is a smoking gun. If this is the version of events the president's team thinks is most favorable, he is in very deep jeopardy.

Nancy Pelosi said this:

"The transcript and the Justice Department’s acting in a rogue fashion in being complicit in the President’s lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry. Clearly, the Congress must act."

Joe Biden tweeted this:

Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to manufacture a smear against a domestic political opponent — the “transcript” made that clear. It’s an abuse of power that violates the oath of office and undermines our democracy.

Even if Republicans can make the point that the words on the pieces of paper released by the administration shouldn't cause a move to impeach the President, anything coming out of the administration will be suspect since the administration isn't known for being either forthcoming or accurate in summarizing underlying documents.

The point about the DOJ rejecting an investigation I believe is currently hollow, since the DOJ is a part of the Trump administration and is currently run by William Barr who has proven that he will provide incomplete and sometimes inaccurate information for political purposes. If he were to recuse himself and the DOJ were to make available all of the underlying documents of the investigation that was performed, that may convince Democrats of the DOJ's independence in the matter, but they have no reason right now to assume that the investigation performed wasn't shut down by political actors in order to protect the President.

Impeachment itself is a political process, and while the standard set in the Constitution is "high crimes and misdemeanors," it is vague in it's definition and absolute proof of an underlying crime is not necessary in order for a President to be impeached. What actions that as a consequence deserve impeachment is whatever the House of Representatives says, and is balanced by the trial in the Senate who is run by people who aren't constantly seeking re-election.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about whether or not the three quotes provided in this answer are appropriate to answer this question has been moved to chat. – Philipp Sep 30 at 14:29
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Not Really

Remember, impeachment is a political process. The House could impeach for any reason it wants (it does NOT have to be for illegal activity). The catch for the House is that they have to stand for election every 2 years, so if you're going to impeach a sitting President, you'd better make sure you have the politics on your side or voters may take action against members frivolously voting for impeachment.. As Republicans in 1998 learned, a merely illegal act (in Clinton's case, perjury) may not be enough.

Recently, the White House released a transcript from the Trump-Zelenskiy phone talk - which was (as I understand) a trigger to start an impeachment.

Not quite. Jerry Nadler, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, has been beating the impeachment drum for months (these remarks were made before the Ukraine call story broke)

"We have to show that this kind of behavior -- trashing the Constitution, trashing all the norms which guarantee democratic government, aggrandizing power to the Presidency and destroying the separation of powers and thereby leading the President to become more and more of a tyrant cannot be tolerated. And it cannot be normalized," Nadler said. "We have to make sure the next President or the one after him or her knows there's a real penalty to be paid. That's why the impeachment is necessary, even if we cannot get a vote in the Senate."

As to legal charges

Also, and it is notable, I think, DOJ rejected starting an investigation on it. This means (as I presume), that there was no law breaking from Trump in this phone call. Am I right?

There's no apparent law being broken here. It might not be a good idea for Trump to say or imply the things he did, but it's not a crime for people to ask for political favors. If Congress really believes Trump crossed a line, that's what impeachment is for. Get a new President in and you can investigate the previous one.

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Recently, White House administration releases phone call record from the Trump-Zelenskiy phone talk - which was (as I understand) a trigger to start an impeachment.

This is actually incorrect, as I understand it. What has been triggered is an impeachment investigation - which, after it's finished, will either lead to nothing or articles of impeachment.

Generally, the opening of the official inquiry marks one of the first steps in the impeachment process and consists of House lawmakers gathering evidence, subpoenaing witnesses, and reviewing information about the president. It usually begins in the House Judiciary Committee. Interestingly, the chair of that committee, Jerry Nadler, has insisted the House is already undergoing an official impeachment inquiry (mainly for legal reasons we’ll get to in a bit). But the big difference is that this process is now officially sanctioned by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which we’ll get into later as well.

Once House lawmakers’ investigation is complete — we don’t yet know when that will be — they can decide whether or not to recommend articles of impeachment, or charges to be specifically brought against the president. The House Judiciary Committee would vote on these charges and then advance them to a vote by the full House. The House then decides if it officially wants to charge the president on these counts, a move that requires a simple majority to pass.

If those articles pass or those charges are brought forth, the Senate can hold a trial to decide if they want to convict or acquit the president. It is also possible, however, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will decline to do anything about those charges.

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    Understand, thank you. That matters. I'm not really familiar with those terms. – user2501323 Sep 26 at 12:03
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Edit: Because I got into the weeds a bit, to answer the question, in the United States, Impeachment is not a legal matter but a political matter (which is what the DOJ handles). In fact, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that Impeachment is not subject to judicial review because it's not a right of the judiciary, but the legislature. The DOJ declining to investigate anyone with respect to the phone call only means that no one will go to jail. Trump may be Impeached over the matter, which if upheld in the Senate, will result in only two punishments: 1.) Immediate removal from Office. 2.) Possible loss of the right to hold Federal Office (Impeached people who are removed are still able to serve in state elected offices provided those states haven't also impeached him... though they can't impeach for anything done in Federal Office). The second punsihment is not a garentee and at least one person Impeached by Congress (US Represetative (Then Federal Judge) Alcee Hastings was impeached and removed from office in 1989, but never barred from serving in Federal Office.). It should also be mentioned that while only members of the Judicial and Executive Branch can be impeached, the second punishment issued bars service in any office, in any branch, either elected or appointed so those so barred cannot serve in Congress. Impeachment does not immunize the impeached person from legal action related to the offenses, as it is not a legal criminal matter, and thus double jeopardy does not apply.

So one of the big things to yesterdays news cycle to be understood is that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (the highest democrat in elected office at time of writing), has flipped on her position of impeachment investigation. This does not mean an impeachment is going to happen... just that they are now looking into the possibility of an impeachable offense.

Prior to Tuesday Afternoon, Nancy Pelosi was stratigically opposed to impeachment of Trump, and was the strongest oppostion from within her own party. This is because Impeachment has been somewhat unpopular with Moderate democratic voters and more importantly, very unpopular with unaffiliated/independent voters. To keep a majority in the House and possibly take the senate, Pelosi needs to keep both of these factions happy (she is very unpopular with the hard line left and hard line right. Moderate right Americans generally tolerate her right now under the view that if it's between her and a far left speaker, they'd prefer her. Moderate Left support her (though I know some who are saying better the devil you know)). The unaffiliated/independents are actually very important in the United States as they are rather sizable block of the general election voter. While the U.S. has only two viable parties, these parties are "big tent" compared to multi-party systems which can have a narrow focus and form a coalition with other parties. For example, the Democrats generally have the same opinions on Green Politics as the U.S. Green Party, so people who vote on Climate issues first tend to vote Democrat because they can win. The trade off is that the parties in the United States don't have much control over their elected membership, and they can vote against the party interest (often because the constituent's interests are not aligned with the party interest. If your in a swing seat, you better hope the constituents think you're voting with them.).

There are three types of these voters, two of which are basically of the same mold of thinking, just painted a different color: A moderate who has a preferred party but is not committed either because they know their party isn't without sin or because they don't support the hardliners of that party. They'll probably vote against your big rival... but that doesn't mean they'll support you if your terrible. The other flavor is more of a true neutral. They aren't going to vote for either party, but they will vote for the best man for the job (AKA "the lesser of two evils." Americans generally trust politicians to be untrustworthy. Cockroaches enjoy a better approval rating than Congress among Americans. Both steal from you and are sick filthy creatures, but Cockroaches don't lie to you. The mentality is well known as there are always bumper stickers for voting for popular fictional villains because why be content with a Lesser Evil.).

What makes the unaffiliated/independent voter so important is that they are actually a large segment of the voting population and registering as such has been on a 50+ year increasing trend and are close to being the majority of political party affiliation of registered voters if they haven't eclipsed both parties already. They are dismissed at a candidate's peril. Democrats and Republicans may start the fight, but the unaffiliated/independent block decides who wins. It isn't helped that there are many reasons to register as one, but the general unifying idea is that both parties aren't deserving of the vote just because their terrible candidate is not as bad as the best candidate. (by the way, "registered independents" should not be confused with "Independent Party" which is a third party that tends to be far right aligned. The term for voters who don't side with any party is different in each state, but usually the terms "unaffiliated" or "independent" (no capital I) are used.). So usually when polls show that this unofficial party is opposed to something, politicians concerned with keeping their seats (or in Pelosi's case, keeping the seats of people in swing districts), will tend to consider this vote over the party line. Since the unaffiliated/independents and Moderate Democrats are more opposed to impeachment and are more critical to keeping the House in opposition control.

It's important to note that although Impeachment is an infrequent event in the United States, Impeaching the President is extremely rare, only two presidents have gone through the full process (Nixon famously resigned when it became clear that articles of Impeachment were being drawn up).

There are a lot of rules and procedures to the impeachment process, but there are three phases. Any office in government that is not a legislature position can be Impeached, not just the President and Vice President. In fact those are the only two officers who are elected officers that can be impeached. The other offices are typically Cabinet positions or any presidential appointments executive officers of the current president that are subject to advise and consent of the senate and any federal judge regardless of which judge appointed him (Federal Judges have lifetime appointments, and usually will either die in office or retire (especially if they side with the current party in power).). One is Impeached for "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" while in office. It's important to point out that Impeachment is not a criminal matter so if the crime has jail time, that's decided by the regular courts. Impeachment just removes the officer from his or her post. It's also important to note that while the offense ought to be a crime, the unwritten rule as to what is an impeachable offense is "Whatever Congress says is impeachable". If the President has unpaid speeding tickets or Congress thinks he's ugly, it's impeachable (they usually aren't this petty though).

We are currently a very likely phase one (more on this in a minute), which is an impeachment inquiry. This means that the House (and only the House as they alone can initiate impeachments) is currently looking for evidence that indicates the suspect did the crime they are accused of and if that crime is sufficient to rise to impeachment. What this means for the nation is very little. There is presently numerous comittees in the house looking at the President's actions for any oversight issues. Now they're looking at it with a recommendation to impeach. While I said Impeachment is not a criminal matter, if we want to line it up with a criminal case, this would be the police investigating someone for a crime. The inquiry will end with the drafting of Articles of Impeachment and the committee charged with the drafting voting to send the Articles to the Floor for a full vote. If they vote against, the whole matter shuts down and we go no further. If they vote in favor, then we go to phase two. At time of writing, Trump hasn't formerly entered this phase, as proceedings officially start with a referral to comitee. This hasn't yet happened, but Nacy Pelosi says she will be doing it, so this will change, but for now Trump is loosley in phase one. A total of 21 people in U.S. History have entered this phase formally.

Phase two is a pretty brief phase as rules of the House hold that any Articles of Impeachment on the floor will trump buisness of the day and must be scheduled in a very quick manner (I believe from introduction to the floor, the vote must happen, even if the Speaker wants to block it, and it must happen within three days of being recommended to the floor.). Each Article of Impeachment is voted on and those that pass the house are formal charges, while those that fail to pass are dropped. If any single Article passes (by simple majority 51% in favor or more), the officer is said to have been impeached. The House will then name it's Managers (Essentially, they are a team of Representatives who will represent the House's argument in Phase 3. If the committee is the police, these are the prosecutors doing doing) either by resolution naming the managers or resolution letting the speaker name them. 19 people have been Impeached in U.S. History (by the Federal Government).

Phase 3 begins with the Managers reading the successful articles of Impeachment before the Senate. The Senate will at this point debate to choose to accept some Articles but not others or none at all. To date, only one person impeached (Senator William Blout, the first person and only legislative officer to be impeached) has had all articles rejected (Since the Senate had expelled him the same day the Managers presented the Articles to him. Since Blout was not a civil officer, the debate was largely over the question of should he be impeached, with the conclusion being no removing all Congressmen/women from being impeachable officers). Once the articles are accepted, the senate holds a trial. If the Impeached officer is the President, then Constitutionally the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will preside as the judge. Otherwise it will be the Vice President (in his role as President of the Senate, it's one of the few office powers he has, the other being "wait until the President dies") or the President pro Tempore of the Senate (aka the guy who keeps the Vice President's chair warm cause he doesn't have to be in the Senate Chamber unless he is casting a tie breaking vote). No one's really sure who presides if the Vice President is Impeached, with the nerds debating this between Chief Justice or President pro Tempore. The Constitution makes no recommendation and since no Vice President has even had a formal impeachment Inquiry because they don't do a whole lot of anything. The trial plays out like a standard U.S. Trial you see on TV with the noticable distinction of a much larger jury (all the Senators for a Presidential Impeachment will attempt to be present, if they have to wheel their death beds into the chamber.). Once the trial has reach closing remarks, there is a closed door debate and then the Senators Vote. It takes a 2/3rds Super-majority (67% vote in favor) of those present to convict on each Article of Impeachment. If the whole Senate is there, that's 67 votes for, but if Senator Death Bed croaks, the number adjusts to reflect. Of the 19 Impeached, 7 were aquitted of all charges, 8 were convicted and 3 resigned office or were otherwise removed before reaching the final vote, prompting a dismissal of the charges. A conviction on any charge removes the officer from office but does not necessarily bar them from holding office, though the Senate may vote on this additional punishment at a later moment (the primary purpose is the immediate removal so they're not going to have this debate on trial).

Of all individuals beginning the formal process (21) 15 were federal judges, 4 were presidents, one was a Cabinet Secretary, and one was a Senator. No executive officer has ever been removed via impeachment. One senator and two judges were had their charges dismissed. Of the four Presidents with formal inquiries, two were impeached (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton). Richard Nixon resigned upon learning Articles had been drafted by comittee but before they were voted on on the Floor of the House. Since removal from office stops the process, he was never impeached. James Buchanan had no Articles recommended to the floor, but the committee did say he was a very naughty boy (my words, not theirs. They said he was the most corrupt President in the country's history up to that point (1860) and the November election of President Lincoln was in part with the Country being disgusted with Buchanan and his party.). Johnson would be the closest the nation ever got to impeaching the President, surviving by just one vote.

Politically, Impeachment of the President is very risky politically as the action doesn't hurt the party in the long run and both Presidents who went through all three phases, both were vindicated (Modern Republicans are more likely to say Clinton's impeachment... if you get them behind closed doors and loosen their lips with a few drinks you'd probably hear this from some hardliners too. The law Johnson violated was eventually found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court upon proper challenge and Johnson had deliberately broke it because he wanted to get a court ruling.). In the case of Buchanon, it might have played a part in the fall of the "Jacksonian Democrats" (The first Democrats, and at the time a very powerful party. From 1828 to 1860, only four Presidents were Whigs, Two of whom died in office (William Henry Harrison, the most notable Whig President from this period is only notable because he was the first president to die and was in office for all of 30 days before he died!)). Buchanan isn't discussed much as much because the nation's lowest point in it's history was the five years following his Presidency and successor Lincoln is generally seen as one of the Greatest Presidents in U.S. History (with only George Washington being the legit challenger to that title... and most Americans will be content to say they tied rather than debate against one of them.). If Buchanon's legacy is brought up, it's often in a way that will frame Buchanan as the Neville Chamberlain to Lincoln's Winston Churchill (a weak willed leader who tried to avoid the inevitable war followed by the reluctant war leader who held his nation together in it's Darkest Hour. Nevil Chamberlin did at least get a memorable quote to his weak attempt at a peace at all costs, so he has that over Buchanan.).

Nixon is a rather odd place in American History, being a good candidate for the worst President of all time (yes, he ranks lower then the guy who died with a month in office) and at the same time, one of the best Presidents of the Cold War era. Even as the Watergate Scandal was just starting to crack, Nixon won every state bar Massachusetts and D.C. in his re-election bid (and even then, those two electorates were very narrow votes). And he's also famous for adding the suffix "-gate" to every scandal's topic since. The general thing that Americans seem to reflect upon is that Nixon was wrong for ordering the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, but he was impeachable for covering it up when accused. "The Cover Up is worse than the Crime" is a oft repeated addage in the United States.

This is probably the reason why Trump is releasing the materials request of him unusually fast in how these scandals play out. It presents to those who are defending him that, since he's not hiding anything (I know there are some who don't see the transcript as sufficiently opened, but there's a equally vocal amount of people who see it as valid. For purposes of informing, I will only say that the document can be used to support either arguement, and that in absences of more evidence, I am trying to remain neutral to the whether Trump is impeachable or not). In fact it is the fact that Trump is being open about a document that his critics are using him against him that actually lends to his favor.

In law, when evaluating evidence, if a testifying witness says something that reflects poorly on him as a person, it's actually considered more likely to be an honest statement then a simple denial (in fact, certain testimonies can only be admitted if it's not in the witnesses best interests to introduce it, namely, a statement which is not your own (hearsay) and you are quoting). If I am on trial for shooting two law officers, the statement of "I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy." Is considered more honest then saying "I didn't shoot anyone" because you're admitting to a crime you did commit while denying a crime you didn't.

In the case of Trump, the accusation is basically "Trump threatened to withhold money unless the Ukrainian President re-opened the Biden Investigation." In the transcript, Trump does indeed ask the Ukrainian President to look into the matter (I shot the sheriff) but never mentions the money in the call, let alone in connection to the request (I didn't shoot the deputy!). Yes, it's not something that looks good, but it's not as bad as the crime he's accused of.

At this stage, the chess board is that both players are making their gambits. The Democrats (led by Pelosi) are sending a message that they are willing to risk losing the center, and possibly the 2020 election, in order to remove Trump because they truly believe Trump has committed a criminal act, while Trump is trying to capitalize on this shift by playing on the unpopularity of Impeachment and the Weakness of the case against him. If we want make a chess analogy, Pelosi has sacrificed a queen (the unaffiliated/independent) for what she hopes will be a quick checkmate, while Trump has made a seemingly bad counter-move (releasing documents with damaging information), but if he can survive, he could exploit Pelosi's opening move. Pelosi does have to "Mate in 14 months (the next presidetial election)" in order to win. Ultimately, with no available polling on the Unaffiliated/independent's general attitude towards these moves, it's too early to tell who will be more likely to take the king. But it's clear someone will be in check and possibly mate very soon.

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    Interesting article you wrote, but you almost immediately launch into a narrative of political strategy and the process without actually addressing the question. Maybe consider updating the first paragraph to be a complete answer. – dataless Sep 26 at 21:59
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Does this ruin the basis for impeachment or not?"

No. With respect to trial by the Senate following impeachment Hamilton said:

"The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust." Federalist 65

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Many other answers point out that impeachment is a political process and does not need to establish a crime in the way that a regular trial with possible imprisonment would. I write to point something else out. Quoting the OP,

Also, and it is notable, I think, DOJ rejected starting an investigation on it. This means (as I presume), that there was no law breaking from Trump in this phone call. Am I right?

The DoJ answers to the Trump-appointed Attorney General, Bill Barr, and he is certainly a dedicated Trump supporter, and plausibly a co-conspirator in the attempt to get Ukraine to frame the Bidens in some sort of fake corruption scandal. We will probably never know what the apolitical career staff—whom the Trump regime revile as "the deep state"—at the DoJ believe. We can guess something from the reaction of the acting Director of National Intelligence Maguire, who seems concerned by the contents of the Trump phone call, and by the suspicious forced resignations of the previous DNI (Coates) and his chief deputy just as the whistleblower complaint was reaching their office.

More likely, if Congress had some courage, instead of weakening the case for the impeachment of Trump, this episode suggests that Barr should also be impeached and convicted, for already-evident misprision, and probably for involvement in the attempt to smear the Bidens.

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