Making Sense of the Trump Impeachment Inquiry

Jeana Fermi, News Editor

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What is impeachment?

Impeachment is simply the filing of formal charges against an elected official. The House of Representatives starts and oversees the impeachment process. After formal impeachment, the elected official may be convicted and removed from office through a trial in the Senate. Impeachment is not a criminal proceeding, and is more of a political act/punishment by Congress.

 

What can the President be impeached for?

The Constitution says the President can be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Treason and bribery are pretty clear, but “high crimes and misdemeanors” is vague and leaves room for interpretation. Ultimately, the House of Representatives in session at the time determines the grounds for impeachment. One thing to take away is that “high crimes and misdemeanors” implies the president can be impeached for crimes against the state, even if his or her actions are not actual criminal violations. 

 

What is the process of impeachment and conviction like?

  1. The House of Representatives begins the impeachment process by launching an impeachment inquiry.
  2. Committees in the House of Representatives start formally investigating the accused elected official. 
  3. If the House Judiciary Committee finds there is enough evidence of wrongdoing, the House votes on articles of impeachment. Otherwise, the official remains in office.
  4. If a simple majority of the House supports impeachment, the elected official is formally impeached. If a simple majority is not reached, the official remains in office.
  5. Formal impeachment by the House starts a trial in the Senate.
  6. After the trial, the Senate votes on whether the official should be convicted. If two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict the official, he or she will be removed from office. In the case of the President, the Vice President then takes over. If two-thirds support is not reached, the official remains in office.

 

What is Trump being accused of?

President Trump is accused of trying to get the Ukrainian government to publicly announce corruption investigations into the former vice president and his current political rival, Joe Biden, for Trump’s personal gain. Trump did so by allegedly withholding military aid for Ukraine (which is fighting a war against Russia right now) as well as a meeting at the White House, until Ukraine agreed to his demands. At the heart of the accusations is a July 2019 phone call with Volodymr Zelensky, the newly elected president of Ukraine. In this call, Trump asked Zelensky to “do us a favor” and begin an investigation into Joe Biden. Furthermore, Trump is accused of directing his subordinates to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations. Many consider his action to be a quid pro quo, which is essentially giving someone what they want, if they give you what you want. Quid pro quos are often associated with political corruption. Trump is also accused of undermining the integrity of US elections by trying to obtain foreign help with his campaign for reelection. 

 

What is Trump’s defense?

President Trump and his administration argue that the July 2019 phone call with President Zelensky was “perfect” and was just a routine conversation with a foreign leader. Trump also argues that America should not give millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine if there is corruption in the nation. 

 

What will Trump be formally impeached for?

The House Democrats outlined two articles of impeachment that the House will soon vote on:

  1. Abuse of power: Trump abused the powers of the presidency by seeking election interference from Ukraine for his own political gain.
  2. Obstruction of justice: Trump blocked witnesses and documents requested by the House for the impeachment inquiry. 

 

What is happening now and what will happen next?

Hearings in the House Judiciary Committee began on December 4, 2019. During this time, many high-ranking diplomats and officials testified before the House, and the Democrats and Republicans debated over whether Trump’s actions are impeachable. On December 10, 2019, The House of Representatives introduced formal charges of impeachment that will be voted on in the coming weeks. Considering that the House of Representatives is Democrat-dominated, Trump will likely be impeached. After this happens, a trial will occur in the Senate, which will culminate with a vote on whether to convict and remove Trump or to clear him of the charges.