Congress calls for impeachment inquiry for President Trump

What happened and what is impeachment?

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What happened? 

On July 18, President Donald Trump chose to withhold $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. This decision began a series of interactions with Ukraine that have since been called into question. A week later, Trump called President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and while many topics were discussed the most notable parts were about what is now being called  the Ukraine scandal. The issue is related to former Ukraine Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin’s prosecution of Burisma Holdings, one of Ukraine’s largest private gas companies. Hunter Biden, son of Joe was a board member for from 2014 to April 2019. Then Vice-President Joe Biden led the western effort to remove Shokin, who was widely viewed as soft on corruption. As a result, he turned in his resignation. Current Ukraine Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko told Bloomberg, that “as of now, we see no wrongdoing” in regards to Hunter Biden and his relationship with Burisma Holdings.  

According to a White House memo based on the notes of the staff in the room during the call, Trump told Volodymyr Zelensky that “there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son… Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it [sic].”

A whistleblower, who we now know to be a CIA officer, filed a complaint in early August, alleging a quid pro quo relationship between Trump and Ukraine. There has been much controversy over the whistleblower’s identity and the process they went through in reporting the issue. The whistleblower went to an aide from House Intelligence Committee, headed by Adam Schiff,  with vague concerns. The aide followed protocol and advised the whistleblower to seek counsel. The aide shared some of what the whistleblower said with Schiff but did not share their identity. There have been allegations that Schiff helped write the claim, which both the whistleblower’s attorneys and Schiff have denied. While there was initial controversy over the release, or lack therefore of, of the complaint, it was declassified, and a lightly redacted version was released to the public on Sept. 26.

Nancy Pelosi,  Speaker of the House, announced the beginning of formal impeachment proceedings on Oct. 2. At the press conference where she made the announcement, she alleged the President Trump’s actions constituted  “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.” 

 

What can a president be impeached for? 

The grounds for impeachment listed in the constitution are as follows: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors [sic].”

Only two presidents in United State’s history have been successfully impeached. Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were both impeached, but they were acquitted by the Senate and not removed from office. Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was a matter of political conflict over the aftermath of the Civil War in 1868. Johnson was charged with high crimes and misdemeanors for violating an act passed by Congress. Bill Clinton, the second President to be impeached, was charged with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. The source of Clinton’s impeachment inquiry was a relationship of a sexual nature that the president had with an unpaid intern in her young twenties. 

In his presidential career, Donald J. Trump has been accused of many controversial acts, bribery and several crimes. There was speculation that he worked with Russians, although it was never proven. Trump has also been involved with several lawsuits, and multiple women have publicly accused him of sexual harassement and rape. He was neither convicted nor acquitted.  His business has been accused of having connections to organized crime. Trump was also scrutinised earlier in his presidential career when it was found that he paid a woman named Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about his affairs with her. 

The impeachment inquiry, however, came in the wake of the issues with Ukraine. The Ukranian scandal began in the spring of 2019, and citizens speculate that it has to do with paying off certain people so he could hold more power in office. These allegations are under investigation. 

 

What does the impeachment process look like? 

Although talks of impeachment have been circulating for some time and the issue has even been addressed by officials in Congress, it wasn’t until early October that Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, announced an official impeachment inquiry for President Donald Trump. 

An impeachment inquiry means the start of investigations into a president’s behavior to determine if they have committed an impeachable offense. 

In past cases of impeachment, the House has taken an official vote to start impeachment proceedings. In this case, however, they seem to have skipped this step, possibly due to the fact that there are already six committees actively investigating the president in some capacity. That means that, moving forward, the investigations will continue as the House deliberates if their findings warrant moving forward. 

The next step would be working to write articles of impeachment. Articles of impeachment essentially act as charges, explaining the reasons the House is choosing to impeach the president and providing the Senate with the grounds for a trial — we’ll come back to that part. From there, the House would take a vote –requiring a two thirds majority — to decide whether or not to approve the articles.

If they approve them, the president is impeached. This does not, however, mean the president will be removed from office. Impeachment triggers a trial conducted by the Senate. The articles of impeachment approved by the house act as the offenses the president is charged with in the trial. From there, the Senate looks at the president’s actions to deliberate their guilt or innocence. In previous cases, representatives from the House have been called to explain the accusations — acting like prosecutors in legal cases — while the presidents have been given the opportunity to defend themselves like defendants in legal cases. 

Should the Senate convict the president, they then have the right to require them to step down, in which case authority would be passed to the next person in the chain of command — almost always the vice president, unless they are for some reason unable to meet the demands of the office of the president. A copy of the judgment will be filled with the secretary of state. 

 

What would impeachment mean? 

Impeachment can take a person out of office, but it cannot convict them of crimes or issue other punishments; that is left up to the courts. It can, however, prevent a person from running for office again.

In this specific case, one of the larger issues is that of time. Impeachment inquiries, hearings and votes take time. It’s not guaranteed that the proceedings will conclude before the 2020 elections begin. Some wonder if this was deliberate, while others worry the action may have come too late.