The Senate debates the impeachment articles against President Trump earlier this week.

Associated Press

President Cleared of Charges

The U.S. Senate votes not to remove the president from office.

Leah Millis-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump during his State of the Union Address on Tuesday

President Donald Trump has been acquitted, or cleared, of the charges against him in his impeachment trial. The U.S. Senate rejected the charges, bringing the third presidential impeachment trial in the nation’s history to a close.

Trump had faced charges brought against him by the U.S. House of Representatives, following an investigation this past fall. The charges led to Trump’s impeachment by the House. That means the House officially accused him of serious wrongdoing. The two charges, known as articles of impeachment, were abuse of power and obstruction of Congress (interfering with Congress’s investigation of him). 

Trump then faced trial in the Senate. Lawmakers from the House presented their case against the president. The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court oversaw the trial. The president was defended by his personal lawyers. The Senate, which acted as the jury, voted on the charges—and whether or not to remove him from office.

The votes in the Senate were almost entirely along party lines. Trump is a Republican, and almost all Republicans in the Senate voted against the charges. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to break with his party and support convicting Trump, on one of the charges, abuse of power. Votes on both charges fell well short of the minimum number—67— that would have been required to remove Trump from office.

The Framers of the Constitution created the impeachment process as a way to remove a president or other government official who is found guilty by Congress of significant wrongdoing. The Framers gave Congress the job of deciding whether a president should be impeached and removed from office. A president doesn’t have to break a law to be impeached. Serious misconduct, abuses of power, and violating the public’s trust that he or she will do what is right for the country are considered impeachable offenses too. 

Why was the president impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate? And what does it mean for Americans? Read on for an explanation. 

1. Why did the House impeach the president? 

This past fall, the House of Representatives held an investigation of President Trump called an impeachment inquiry. The House looked into accusations that he had abused his presidential powers for his own gain by pressuring another country to help with his reelection in 2020. 

That country, Ukraine, relies on the U.S. to help pay for its military defense. White House records show that Trump asked Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden, a former U.S. vice president. Biden is one of the top Democratic candidates running for U.S. president. 

Several current and former government officials testified that the Trump administration withheld $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. They said it was their understanding that the administration would release the funds if Ukrainian officials announced investigations of Biden. Many people, including most House Democrats, say that Trump was trying to hurt Biden’s chances at winning the presidency.

After the investigation, the House determined it had clear evidence that Trump had committed impeachable offenses. It charged him with abusing his power. The House also charged Trump with obstructing its investigation because he ordered members of his administration not to testify and withheld documents related to the case. 

Trump has said that he didn’t do anything wrong and called the impeachment process “harassment.” 

2. Why did the Senate vote to acquit Trump?

During the Senate trial, lawmakers from the House presented their case to the Senate that the president abused his power and obstructed justice. In defending Trump, his personal lawyers argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him—and that the charges against him didn’t amount to an impeachable offense. In the end, enough Senators agreed, and the president was acquitted.

There was heated debate during the trial about allowing new evidence to be introduced. Democrats wanted to hear from new witnesses and see documents that had been withheld during the House investigation on Trump’s orders. Democrats argued that all trials have witnesses and evidence, and that the trial would not be fair without them. But virtually all Senate Republicans voted against allowing new witnesses and documents, saying that it was the House’s job to investigate Trump—not the Senate’s. 

Because Republicans refused to allow new evidence, Democrats have said the trial was a cover-up by Republicans. Democrats in the House vowed to continue investigating the president.

Romney was the first senator in history to vote to remove a president from his own party. He said he believed the evidence against Trump was overwhelming—and that Trump’s actions were an extreme “assault on our Constitution.” 

But many Republicans have defended Trump throughout the impeachment process, saying Democrats simply have it in for Trump because he won the last election. Some Republicans said that what Trump did was wrong, but not impeachable—and that voters should be the ones to decide if he should remain in office in the presidential election this November.

3. What does all this mean for Americans?

The trial could have a big impact on this year’s election, experts say. Trump is the first president to seek reelection after being impeached. 

Recent polls have shown that Trump’s approval rating has gone up, and Trump is using his acquittal to further energize his supporters. After the trial was over, Trump’s presidential campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said in a statement that Trump’s campaign “only got bigger and stronger as a result of this nonsense.”

Meanwhile, some people think Trump’s impeachment will help the Democratic candidate in this year’s presidential election. House Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, has said Trump’s impeachment in the House—and the fact that some Republicans have admitted he did something wrong—will be something voters take into account at the polls. 

“Whatever happens,” she told The New York Times, “he has been impeached forever.”

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