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How the impeachment articles against Trump are similar to, and different from, Clinton and Nixon

House Democrats have settled on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump — the first alleging abuse of power and the second alleging obstruction of Congress. In several ways, the new articles carry historical echoes. But in other ways, they don’t. 

What do the two articles say?

The first article addresses abuse of power. It focuses on Trump’s alleged efforts to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating his potential opponent, Joe Biden, by withholding military aid and an Oval Office visit. It also addresses how Trump’s actions undermined U.S. national interests. 

The second article focuses on Trump’s efforts to block cooperation with Congress on its impeachment inquiry.

Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine have been investigated by Congress, rather than law enforcement. So obstruction of Congress became the article of impeachment rather than obstruction of justice. Read the full text of the articles of impeachment.

How they’re similar to past impeachment articles 

Both articles offered against Trump have precedents in the impeachments of President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton.

The first article against Trump — abuse of power — is similar to one of the three articles approved during Watergate. 

And the subject of the second — obstruction of Congress — was approved by the committee against both Nixon and Clinton. (In Clinton’s case, it was voted down by the full House.)

The articles introduced against Trump do not address any of the elements of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. These were the focus of Robert Mueller’s special counsel report.

That’s similar to the way the Watergate-era Judiciary Committee narrowed its focus, considering but rejecting a proposed article on the bombing of Cambodia and another on emoluments received at Nixon’s properties and allegations of tax evasion. The two articles against Clinton that passed the House were focused on Clinton’s behavior in response to the sexual harassment lawsuits against him.

How they’re different from past impeachment articles

A big difference from past impeachments is that — numerically at least — House Democrats are starting small with only two articles.

In the case of Nixon, the committee considered five articles and approved three. And for Clinton, the committee approved four, with two of them passing the full House. But this time, House Democrats have taken a pass on other topics, focusing on two core issues.

In the past, offering more options gave lawmakers of both parties the ability to pick and choose their votes. During the Nixon impeachment process, the Judiciary Committee saw several members break with their party on each vote, and during Clinton’s impeachment, a handful of moderates on both sides broke with their party on some votes.

Today, however, party polarization is so strong that experts do not expect much, if any, crossover voting. 

The House Judiciary Committee is currently considering articles of impeachment, and a vote in the full House is expected next week. If the articles pass, the Senate would conduct a trial in the new year. 

The Latest from PolitiFact:

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PolitiFact Behind the Scenes

  • PolitiFact will soon announce our Lie of the Year -- the most significant falsehood of 2019, as chosen by our editors and reporters. We're also inviting PolitiFact readers to vote for the Readers' Choice award. Vote now by using this link to our survey.
  • I was on the public radio show 1A recently. The topic was "Abuse Of Power And Obstructing Congress: The Impeachment Inquiry Moves Forward." Listen to the episode here
  • In case you missed it: Read the State of PolitiFact 2019, a report to our readers. 
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