By Annisa Essack
The first open hearing in the inquiry began on November 13th, 2019 after momentum built up after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, announced an inquiry in September, after a whistle-blower complained about a White House phone call with Ukraine. The House formalised the inquiry and outlined their path forward with a vote on October 28th, 2019.
In a call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump asked for an investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election and potential 2020 rival and former Vice President Joe Biden. The White House is also accused of withholding military aid to Ukraine for Trump's political gain. Trump maintains that he has done nothing wrong.
Trump has called the inquiry the continuation of a “witch hunt” that has dogged his presidency and Republicans members of Congress have attacked the process as a sham that disregards the president’s due process rights and impedes his ability to conduct foreign policy.
But what is the impeachment process and what does it mean for Trump and the US?
An impeachment proceeding is the formal process by which a sitting president of the United States may be accused of wrongdoing. It is a political process and not a criminal one. The articles of impeachment are the list of charges drafted against the president. The vice president and all civil Officers of the U.S. can also face impeachment.
The process begins in the House of Representatives, where any member may suggest launching an impeachment proceeding. The speaker of the House, as leader of the majority party, determines whether to proceed with an inquiry into the alleged wrongdoing.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formal opening of an impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, citing what she called Trump’s “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections" and the full House voted on Oct. 31 to authorize the inquiry.
In Trump’s case, the House Intelligence Committee has been tasked with the investigation, after which the matter will be turned over to the Judiciary Committee which could draw up articles of impeachment, but the process is dictated entirely by the ruling party.
A simple majority of the members of the committee would have to vote in favour of approving an article or articles of impeachment to proceed to a vote by the full House. The House Judiciary Committee currently consists of 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans; 21 votes in favour would be necessary.
Each article of impeachment that is passed by a simple majority vote in committee would then be voted on by the full House of Representatives. If any of those articles get a simple majority vote, which is 50% plus one more vote (218), then the president would be impeached.
When it comes to impeachment, The Constitution lists "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours," as justification for the proceedings, however, the vagueness of the third option has caused problems in the past. According to experts in constitutional law, nobody knows what is specifically included or not included in the Constitution’s broad definition of “high crimes and misdemeanours.”
The Senate is tasked with handling the impeachment trial, which is presided over by the chief justice of the United States. To remove a president from office, two-thirds of the members must vote in favour – at present 67.
If the Senate fails to convict, a president is considered impeached but is not removed. Whilst the Senate trial has the power to oust a president from office and ban him or her from running for future office, it does not have the power to send a president to jail. Disqualification from holding office, a separate process, requires a simple majority vote.
A sitting president can continue governing even after he or she has been impeached by the House of Representatives.
A president can face later criminal charges as the Constitution states "the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law."
While presidential removal is unprecedented, the vice president would assume office under the 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967. Then the new president would nominate a new vice president who would have to be confirmed by most of both houses of Congress.