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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.
Image: Impeachment live blog
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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

Hearing room bursts out laughing after Democrat snaps back at Jordan

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., got a round of laughs in the hearing room for a joke he made in response to a lengthy rant from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, about how impeachment investigators need to have “the person who started” the impeachment probe, meaning the first whistleblower, come testify.

Welch retorted, "I'd like to see the person who started it come testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there."

Laughs followed.

Ratcliffe seeks to find out about Democrats’ interactions with the whistleblower

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, sought to engage in a "colloquy" with Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., during his round of questioning to find out details about what Schiff knows about the whistleblower and any interactions with the person. 

Schiff then said that Ratcliffe should direct his questions to the witnesses. 

"I’m not trying to find out the identity," Ratcliffe said. "I’m just trying to find out the date that this happened." 

Republicans have been focused on the whistleblower approaching a member of the majority staff before filing their official complaint about what they knew about the Trump-Zelensky phone call. Republicans claimed both before and throughout the hearing that Schiff knows the identity of the whistleblower, but Schiff made clear Wednesday that he doesn’t know who the person is. Democrats have said that during the closed-door depositions that Republicans have sought to out the whistleblower. 

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., chimed in and read from the rules of the public hearings that what Ratcliffe was seeking to do regarding the whistleblower was not in accordance with the resolution passed by the House that outlined procedures for the hearings. 

Ratcliffe pushed further asking Schiff, "Are we ever going to find out the details?"

"Mr. Ratcliffe, your time is dwindling. I suggest you use it," Schiff responded. 

Hurd's questioning highlights Dems' point on timing of Trump's interest in Ukraine corruption

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, sought to make the point in his line of questioning that the Trump administration provided substantial military aid to Ukraine in fiscal year 2017 and 2018, trying to highlight that the administration was very supportive of Ukraine.

But that point also highlights something else important: that Trump did not become enamored with Urkainian “corruption” until earlier this year, which happens to also be when Biden began running for president. It’s a point Democrats have sought to make in the impeachment process.

Of course, the two “corruption” investigations Trump sought were probes of the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory involving the Democrats and the 2016 election.

The diplomat who overheard Trump call once won award for dissenting

The U.S. diplomat who is said to have overheard a phone call between President Donald Trump and E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland in which Trump asked about "investigations" once won an award for voicing dissent within the government when he saw something amiss. 

David Holmes, now the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is the latest character to be drawn into the impeachment saga when he was unexpectedly added to the hearing calendar for a closed-door deposition on Friday. He’s expected to be questioned by House investigators about events during and around Sondland’s visit to Kyiv in July, including what he overheard Sondland on his cellphone discussing with Trump. During public testimony Wednesday, Bill Taylor revealed that a staffer recently told him about the conversation. Two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News that Holmes is the staffer in question.

Holmes has a history of speaking up when he disagrees, according to an NBC News review of archived materials from the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents U.S. diplomats. In 2014, he won AFSA’s William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent, which honors a midcareer foreign service officer for intellectual courage in speaking up.

At the time of the award, Holmes was senior energy officer as U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He was recognized for his work on Afghanistan and South Asia during which he filed a formal dissent channel message in February 2013. He argued that the division of authority for Afghanistan-Pakistan policy among different parts of the State Department “hindered our diplomatic effectiveness.”

“My efforts over this period, and then my formal dissent, were intended to give a voice to an important perspective that I felt lacked an advocate,” Holmes was quoted as saying in an article in the September 2014 edition of The Foreign Service Journal, the union’s monthly magazine.

A dissent cable is a unique State Department mechanism that lets diplomats voice disagreement about U.S. policies, with protections against retribution. They’ve been used previously during the Vietnam War and in 2017 when diplomats objected to Trump’s travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority nations. Read more about Holmes' background here

Kent, Taylor say they aren’t 'Never Trumpers': 'No, sir'

Kent and Taylor, under questioning from Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said they are not "Never Trumpers."

Trump has accused administration officials who have testified before the committee of being "Never Trumpers." On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, "NEVER TRUMPERS!"

When Swalwell asked Kent if he was a "Never Trumper," meaning a conservative who refuses to support the president, Kent said he was just a career foreign service official who has served for nearly three decades under Republican and Democratic presidents.

Taylor was more succinct in his answer.

"No, sir," he told Swalwell.

Kent says smear campaign against Yovanovitch was led by Giuliani, corrupt Ukrainians

Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., asked Kent about the smear campaign against former Ambassador the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Kent said that the smears against her were led by corrupt people in Ukraine and also promoted by Giuliani. He stopped short of saying that the smear campaign was directly linked to Trump’s decision to remove her. 

"You can't promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people,” Kent said. "Rudy Giuliani's smear campaign was ubiquitous in the spring of 2019 on Fox News and on the internet and Twittersphere."

What to know about Rep. Ratcliffe

Several GOP lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee yielded some of their allotted questioning time to Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, on Wednesday, who repeatedly asked the witnesses simple yes or no questions without letting them elaborate or fully answer. 

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, arrives for a House Intelligence Committee hearing on impeachment on Nov. 13, 2019.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

During one round of questioning during the hearing, Ratcliffe asked Taylor a sequence of questions but didn’t give him the chance to respond. 

Ratcliffe served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas at the end of the George W. Bush administration. Trump nominated Ratcliffe in July to serve as his next director of National Intelligence to replace Dan Coats, but Ratcliffe withdrew himself from consideration in early August after lawmakers questioned his lack of qualifications and reports that he may have overstated his accomplishments on his résumé. 

Ratcliffe has served in Congress since 2015 and has been a staunch defender of Trump and his policies.

Jordan argues that because the investigations didn’t happen, Trump did nothing wrong

In another line of questioning, Jordan highlighted what is becoming a more prominent Republican defense of Trump’s conduct: Because Ukraine didn’t end up investigating the Bidens and Democrats and the roughly $400 million in military aid was released, Trump did nothing wrong.

“What you heard didn’t happen,” Jordan said to Taylor in trying to discredit his understanding of the administration’s efforts toward pressuring Ukraine to probe the Bidens and Democrats.

As The New York Times reported, Ukrainian President Zelenskiy was set to deliver a statement on CNN on Sept. 13 announcing the investigations in order to secure a White House meeting and the military aid. But earlier that week, Congress was alerted to the whistleblower complaint. Then, on Sept. 11, the Trump administration released the hold on aid.

As Schiff said earlier in the hearing, the Trump administration released the aid after facing significant pressure from lawmakers to do so, not to mention the effect of the timing of the whistleblower account being reported to Congress.

Texas GOP Rep. shouts at Taylor

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, spent much of his five minutes of questioning yelling at Taylor.

During a particularly fraught exchange during his questioning, Ratcliffe repeatedly asked Taylor whether he had any evidence that Zelenskiy was "lying" when he told reporters that he was not aware of a military aid hold or of any conditions being placed on the military aid to his country when he had held the July 25 call with Trump.

"Yes or no," Ratcliffe demanded to know. 

"If I can respond," Taylor said, before being interrupted by Ratcliffe, who yelled, "My time is short, yes or no?"

"I have no reason to doubt what the president said,” Taylor said.

Ratcliffe, with sweat on his brow, then replied, “where is the impeachable offense in that call?”

"Shout it out! Anyone?" he continued. Ratcliffe then attempted to withdraw his question and have the clock suspended for his five-minute allotment.

"I have one minute left," he said. "I withdraw the question," he said. 

Kent knocks down the equivalence between Biden and Trump

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., pressed Kent on the difference between Biden acting on Obama administration orders and getting rid of a corrupt prosecutor in Ukraine and Trump pressing the country to open an investigation into the Bidens. 

Kent testified that the former Ukrainian prosecutor undermined a U.S.-backed assistance program and it was a part of American foreign policy to lobby for his removal. He also said that he did not see in the transcript of the July 25 call a genuine interest from Trump to end corruption in Ukraine. 

"I don’t think he was trying to end corruption in Ukraine, I think he was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine — at Joe Biden," Himes said. 

What was Joe Biden's role in Ukraine?

Moments ago, the Republican counsel questioned Kent and Taylor about former Vice President Joe Biden's role in Ukraine. 

Here's a quick primer: Beginning in 2014, Biden led diplomatic efforts in Ukraine to bolster the country’s fledgling democracy and root out corruption after mass protests ousted a Russian-backed president. He specifically called for the removal of Viktor Shokin, the Ukraine prosecutor general who was widely believed to be corrupt. 

“I said: ‘You’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in’ — I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’ ” Biden said at a 2018 event, recounting his actions. “Well, son of a b---- , he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”

The removal of the prosecutor was U.S. government policy at the time, and widely agreed to among the international community as the right move. In his closed-door testimony, Kent testified last month that the International Monetary Fund, the European Union countries and the U.S. agreed that Shokin should be removed as prosecutor general.