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What was the reason why Trump was impeached the first time?

Impeachment is very rare in US history, but Donald Trump has now managed it twice in his single term in office.

What was the reason why Trump was impeached the first time?
MANDEL NGAN AFP

On Wednesday 13 January, the United States House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald J Trump. And with that, he became the first US president to be impeached for a second time.

In simple terms, to be impeached means that a President or other federal official must have committed one of the violations described by the Constitution as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” So, what has Trump done to achieve such an unwanted accolade, twice?

President Donald Trump: first impeachment (2020)

In February 2020, President Donald Trump was impeached on two charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. This stemmed from a phone call he had with the recently elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, in July of 2019, in which Trump made a request for the president to investigate the energy company, Burisma, which Joe Biden’s son worked for. In exchange for this, the US leader would agree to a highly prized face-to-face meeting between the two presidents.

There was a lot of debate over this and the House Intelligence Committee Democrats released a 300-page report outlining their impeachment inquiry that several weeks. There were numerous dramatic public hearings and additional documents requested from the White House, it was an indictment of Trump’s pressure on the Ukraine and, they say, his threat to the US system of government.

6 Feb 2020 | US President Donald Trump holds up a newspaper that displays a headline "Acquitted" as he arrives to speak at the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Trump was acquitted in the Senate along near party lines in a bitterly partisan process. The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit Trump on abuse of power and 53-47 to acquit him on obstruction of Congress, with Mitt Romney the sole Republican to vote to convict.

President Donald Trump: second impeachment (2021)

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday made Donald Trump the first US president ever to be impeached twice, formally charging him with inciting an insurrection in a vote held a week after a violent mob of his supporters besieged the Capitol.

The Democratic-led House's 232-197 passage of a single article of impeachment in a historic vote in the waning days of Trump's four-year term in office does not remove him from office. Rather it moves the drama over his political fate to the Senate, which remains in the hands of Trump's fellow Republicans for now but later this month will be under Democratic control.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs the article of the impeachment against President Donald Trump on 13 January 2021.

Ten Republicans joined with the Democrats in backing impeachment in a vote held with National Guard forces and police protecting the Capitol, which was surrounded by a security fence erected after the deadly 6 January rampage.

Furious after the siege, House Democrats, under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, argued that leaving the wealthy businessman-turned-politician in office until his four-year term ends would pose a threat to national security, democracy and the US Constitution. The pro-Trump mob interrupted the formal certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 3 November election. Biden will take office on 20 January.

Which other presidents have been impeached?

In 250 years of history only three US presidents have faced impeachment: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump but none of them were convicted via the Senate trial. Clearly we still await to know if President Trump will make more history by being the first on that front too

Let's consider the two impeachments that came long before we ever considered Trump could reach the highest office in the land.

President Andrew Johnson (1865 – 1869)

Andrew Johnson, a Union Democrat, was Vice President to President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, and assumed office after Lincoln was assassinated. He opposed the approach to Reconstruction, which he felt was too harsh, imposed upon the former Confederacy to bring them back in to the nation. He vetoed legislation that was part of that effort bringing him into conflict with the Congress.

Congress moved to impeach when he replaced Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who was a Lincoln appointee, who along with General Grant worked to undermine the president's Southern policy from within his own administration. Congress produced 11 articles of impeachment, which alleged that Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act, a law intended to limit presidential power to remove federal appointees from office. They claimed that he couldn’t replace Stanton without the Senate’s approval.

Johnson was impeached by a two-thirds super majority of the House of Representatives but stayed in office after seven Senate Republicans decided to vote with Senate Democrats to keep him in office.

President Bill Clinton (1993-2001)

President Bill Clinton’s impeachment started with a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones against Clinton that led to him lying under oath about a sexual affair he was having with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. An Independent Counsel Ken Starr was appointed to investigate and his 1998 report led to Clinton’s impeachment. The specific charges against Clinton were lying under oath and obstruction of justice.

Clinton was not removed from office by the Senate, even though many Senators felt he had behaved badly, they decided it was not at the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”