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Trump impeachment: Analysis and news on the House charges and Senate acquittal of the president

The Senate trial on the two articles of impeachment against Trump, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, ended with acquittal on both charges.
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The fast-moving impeachment of President Donald Trump, stemming from his dealings with Ukraine, moved to the Senate for trial in January after the House voted a month earlier to adopt two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The Senate voted in early February to acquit the president on both charges.

Trump's impeachment followed weeks of testimony related to his efforts to press Ukraine for investigations into Democratic rivals and hours of fiery debate over the process.

Trump is only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. Read all of the breaking news and analysis on impeachment from NBC News' political reporters, as well as our teams on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

Trump impeachment highlights

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Live Blog

Taylor's opening statement details shadow Ukraine policy

Taylor shared several new pieces of information in his opening statement Wednesday, including his belief that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was an integral part of an “irregular” communication channel between Washington and Kyiv and that the Ukrainians were “ready to move forward” with the probes desired by the White House.

Taylor, however, also reiterated his belief that he felt it was “clear” that a proposed White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was tied to launching investigations into the Bidens and a conspiracy theory about alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election — information he shared in his closed-door testimony in October.

“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskiy wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani,” Taylor testified Wednesday.

That “irregular” channel also included Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine; Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland; Energy Secretary Rick Perry — and Mulvaney.

Revealing new information, Taylor also testified that one of his staffers heard Sondland on the phone on July 26 with Trump and could hear Trump ask about “the investigations.” Sondland told Trump in the overheard conversation that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward with the desired investigations.

The staffer then asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine and Sondland said that “Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”

Earlier in his opening statement, Taylor reiterated that “withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the U.S. would be crazy.”

"I believed that then, and I believe it now."

Fighting Putin: Taylor explains why U.S. aide to Ukraine really matters

Bill Taylor provided something few others have for the American public: an easy-to-understand explanation of the importance of U.S. aid to Ukraine.

It wasn't quite as simple as "Vlad is bad," but it was close. "It is clearly in our national interest to deter further Russian aggression," Taylor said in his opening statement.

He explained how a corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian president allowed the military to atrophy and then fled to Russia in 2014 just before Vladimir Putin annexed parts of Ukraine and pushed his forces into others. But the Ukrainian people, with the support of the West, have fought back.

"In response to the Russian invasion, the new Ukrainian authorities — with an amazing outpouring of support from regular Ukrainian people — rebuilt the army, nearly from scratch, spending more than 5 percent of Ukrainian GDP on defense since the war started," Taylor said.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin listens while U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Finland's Presidential Palace on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file

"The whole Ukrainian nation fiercely responded to the Russian attack. The nation united like never before. A rag-tag army developed into a strong fighting force. And the United States played a vital role."

Taylor testified that it would be "crazy" to withhold security assistance to Ukraine to serve a domestic political end.

The attacks are ongoing, he said, noting that he had been on the front line last week, and he pointed out that the aid is a signal that "we are Ukraine’s reliable strategic partner." By withholding aid, he said, the U.S. would undermine and humiliate the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which would benefit and please Russia.

Taylor reveals call between Sondland and Trump discussing Biden probe

Taylor made new revelations about Trump’s Ukraine conduct in his opening statement Wednesday, detailing a phone call between the president and Sondland where they discussed the Biden "investigations."

Taylor said he only recently learned of these comments, which occurred on July 26. Taylor said a member of his staff who accompanied Sondland to a meeting with a top Ukrainian diplomat told him of the remarks last Friday.

“Following that meeting, in the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv,” Taylor said. “The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations.’ Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.”

“Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine,” Taylor continued. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for. At the time I gave my deposition on Oct. 22, I was not aware of this information. I am including it here for completeness.”

Trump had asked Zelenskiy in their July 25 call to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory about Democrats and the 2016 election as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Read the full story.

Trump's not watching

Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said President Donald Trump is currently not watching the impeachment proceedings.

"He is in the Oval Office in meetings," she said. "He is working."

 

Fact checking Nunes' claim that Democrats 'made up' a version of Trump's Ukraine call

In his opening remarks, the ranking Republican on the panel brought up something that's been the subject of many presidential tweets: Chairman Schiff's parody of Trump's July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart.

"Democrats on this committee read out a purely fictitious rendition of the president’s phone call with President Zelenskiy," Nunes said. "They clearly found the real conversation to be insufficient for their impeachment narrative, so they just made up a new one."

This is misleading. During a hearing in September, Schiff parodied Trump’s rhetoric and exaggerated some of the president's language while making it clear at the time he was illustrating a point and not reading the White House's record of the July 25 conversation. Some of his phrasing matches the White House's own summary of what Trump said. Read more about the backstory behind Nunes' claim here

After Trump's attacks, Schiff acknowledged that the president was "right about one thing — your words needs no mockery."  Read the White House's record of the call here.

George Kent opening statement: Trump actions 'undermine the rule of law'

George Kent, a deputy assistant Secretary of State who worked on Ukraine and five other countries, testified Wednesday that he found it "unexpected and most unfortunate to watch some Americans — including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas — launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine."

Kent, in his opening statement Wednesday, named some of those individuals.

"Over the course of 2018-2019, I became increasingly aware of an effort by Rudy Giuliani and others, including his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to run a campaign to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch and other officials at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv," he said. "In mid-August, it became clear to me that Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations were now infecting U.S. engagement with Ukraine, leveraging President Zelenskiy’s desire for a White House meeting."

Kent reiterated several other elements from what he’d said during his behind-closed-doors testimony last month, saying Wednesday that "as a general principle, I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power."

"Such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country," he said.

Kent also said that he had raised concerns in a phone call in February 2015 with then-Vice President Joe Biden’s office that "Hunter Biden’s status as a board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest."

"Let me be clear, however. I did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny. In fact, I and other U.S. officials consistently advocated reinstituting a scuttled investigation of Zlochevsky, Burisma’s founder, as well as holding the corrupt prosecutors who closed the case to account," he added.

Schiff says he doesn’t know whistleblower amid Republican questioning

Republicans began Wednesday’s initial impeachment hearings by pressing House Intelligence Chairman Schiff about having the first whistleblower testify.

As Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, claimed Schiff was the only member of Congress who knew the whistleblower’s identity, Schiff said he actually was unaware of who the whistleblower is. Schiff claimed Jordan was making false statements. The whistleblower reportedly met with a member of Schiff’s staff before his official complaint — which multiple top Trump intelligence officials deemed credible and made in good faith — was released.

The exchange happened as Jordan and Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., pressed Schiff about having the whistleblower testify before the committee.

The whistleblower is a CIA employee who, according to their complaint, was provided information on Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine, which the whistleblower said amounted to the president soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election. Much of the whistleblower’s complaint has since been corroborated by Trump administration officials testimony before the impeachment committees, as well as the summary of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that the White House released.

But that hasn’t stopped Trump and his allies from seeking to out the whistleblower. Some conservative media outlets have named an official purported to be the whistleblower.

The exchanges between Schiff and the Republicans came as GOP members slowed down the start of Wednesday’s hearing with parliamentary inquiries and points of order.

Witnesses sworn in

Bill Taylor and George Kent are sworn in before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 13, 2019.Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool via Reuters

‘Cult-like?’ Nunes uses odd description of hearings that may anger colleagues

Nunes described witnesses as having auditioned for their roles in the “cult-like atmosphere” of closed-door hearings in prior weeks in the Capitol.

That may not sit well with Intelligence Committee colleague Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who was nearly killed while investigating the cult of Jim Jones as a staffer to then-Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif., in 1978. Speier survived several gunshot wounds while Ryan was murdered along with four others.

Moreover, the initial set of hearings, held by the Intel panel in conjunction with two other committees, included members of both parties, making the room an ideologically diverse one for a cult.

Nunes says this is a 'scorched earth war against President Trump'

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, teed up the Republican case against the Democrats during this hearing. 

In his opening statement, he seemed to pivot away from the guilt or innocence of the president, but instead focusing on the impeachment process being a vendetta orchestrated by the Democratic Party for losing the 2016 presidential election. 

He called it a “scorched earth war against President Trump” and complained about the process of the  inquiry, saying the closed-door hearings were a "cult-like atmosphere in the basement of the Capitol.”

He referred to the depositions as "secret," despite the fact that more than 40 Republican members were permitted to ask questions during the depositions.

Nunes called the impeachment process the “low-rent sequel” to the Russian investigation, which he called a hoax and part of a Democratic ploy to go after Trump by any means, and “an impeachment process in search of a crime.”  

He also defended Trump’s actions, saying they were directed at rooting out corruption in Ukraine and inquiring about Hunter Biden’s work at Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company he was a board member of from 2014 until earlier this year. 

Nunes also began to directly go after the witnesses, calling their closed-door testimony auditions for the Democrats. 

“What we will witness today is a televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats,” Nunes said.