Impeachment: The process and history | theSkimm

Impeachment: The process and history

Published on: Oct 21, 2019fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
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The Story

President Trump is now the fourth president in US history to face an impeachment inquiry.

The Background

The Constitution says presidents can be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The definition on that last part is up for some debate, so Congress gets to play Merriam-Webster.

So how does impeachment work?

Historically, the House Judiciary Committee has investigated and recommended articles of impeachment. Then it goes to the whole House for a vote. If the majority of reps say ‘aye’ it goes to the Senate. The Senate holds a trial. House members are the prosecutors. Senators are the jury. The president’s lawyers can also be there. Two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote for impeachment for the president to be removed. 

Where are we right now?

Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for the House to begin a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. She then instructed six House committees to investigate Trump “under that umbrella” of possible impeachable offenses. 

How likely is it that Trump is removed from office?

Right now, not super likely. Democrats themselves have been resisting impeachment for months over fears that impeachment proceedings could backfire politically. Now, it looks like the majority of House Dems support an impeachment inquiry, but it’s unclear if a majority would support a vote to actually impeach. Then there’s the fact that if it gets that far, the GOP is top dog in the Senate. And there are no signs so far that Republican lawmakers will ditch Trump. In order to remove Trump from office, every Senate Dem plus 20 Senate Republicans would have to vote in favor.

What’s the allegation against Trump?

That he betrayed his oath of office, national security, and election integrity.

Remind me what the oath says.

*pulls out pocket Constitution*: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

What’s the precedent here?

Two other presidents have been impeached. Andrew Johnson in 1868, related to firing his Secretary of War. And Bill Clinton in 1998, for perjury and obstruction of justice related to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Both were acquitted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 under the threat of impeachment related to Watergate – the House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment but Nixon said ‘peace out’ before the full House could vote.

The Big Issue

The question of the hour: Whether Trump violated the oath of office by asking a foreign government to investigate a political opponent. Specifically former VP Joe Biden, one of the frontrunners in the 2020 Democratic race. There’s also a question of whether Trump violated campaign finance law, which makes it illegal to receive any “thing of value” from a foreign national. Here’s everything to know to get up to speed:

This all centers around a July 2019 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president, during which Trump pushed the president to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. Trump also wanted the president to look into an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine (not Russia) hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016. The White House acting chief of staff acknowledged that Trump withheld US military aid to Ukraine as leverage to look into the server. He later walked back the statement. 

I need some more background.

In 2016 when Biden was VP, he pressured the Ukrainian gov to fire its top prosecutor, who was widely seen as failing to fight corruption. But one company the prosecutor had been looking into was a Ukrainian gas company whose board Hunter sat on. Cue Trump speculating that something shady was going on and asking Ukraine to look into Biden and his son. (Note: the EU also called for this prosecutor to be removed for being corrupt, and there’s no evidence anything shady was going on with the Bidens.) 

So...now what?

The call raised enough alarm bells that a US intelligence official filed a whistleblower complaint a few weeks later, accusing Trump of trying to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. The public found out about this complaint in September and it led the House to open its impeachment inquiry. We have since also gotten a summary of the July phone call, and a copy of the complaint itself. Bookmark for when you have some downtime

Can’t wait to dig into those. 

Glad to be of service. Witnesses testified both privately and publicly in front of House committees, while the White House tried to prevent them from appearing, and said it has no plans to cooperate with the investigation. 

Where does that leave things?

Some officials and former officials said ‘eff it’ and testified anyway. But the White House is calling the investigation unconstitutional since the House didn’t hold a vote on whether to launch the inquiry. The Constitution doesn’t require the House to do this, but it was done ahead of the last two impeachment inquiries. Pelosi has been holding off on this vote, which could be politically risky for some House Dems facing tough re-election bids. The House eventually passed a resolution formalizing the inquiry and laying the ground rules for public hearings. Those kicked off in mid-November. Here’s how it went:

Now what?

In mid-December, the House decided to impeach Trump.

The Debate

Team This Could Backfire says that legally, there may be a case for impeaching Trump. But that politically, it’s risky for the Democratic party. Not only because the GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to vote to remove Trump from office. But because the proceedings are unlikely to negatively impact his popularity with his base. And ultimately could distract voters from more compelling political reasons to oppose him.

Team Nothing To See Here says this whole impeachment thing is a big waste of time. That the summary of the call shows no quid pro quo. That Trump is simply trying to weed out corruption. And that the whistleblower complaint isn’t legit because the whistleblower wasn’t actually on the phone call. (Note: the intel community inspector general investigated the complaint and concluded it appeared credible.)

Team Push It, Push It Further says the Ukraine call is a good place to start. But the impeachment inquiry should actually go further, and also focus on the findings from the Mueller investigation. And hush money payments made to women who alleged affairs with Trump. 

The Impact

No president has ever been removed from office due to impeachment. But as Trump said, it’s not exactly something you want on your resume. Beyond the reputational hit, impeachment can have an impact on the stock market. And you can expect it won’t exactly help a bitterly divided country feel any less divided. Polls show that a majority of Americans support the impeachment inquiry, and that half of Americans support Trump being removed from office. 

theSkimm

This isn’t the first time Democrats have raised the possibility of impeachment during Trump’s presidency, and Republicans are calling the inquiry politically motivated. Democrats argue that it is their duty to uphold the Constitution and hold the president accountable. Heading into a presidential election year, how this inquiry ends could have major implications for candidates from both parties.


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