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News Made Easy: Impeachment Explained

Georgina Kuhlmann, BA Development Studies and Politics

In the last few weeks, word has been swirling about the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump. An intelligence whistleblower complaint has been put forward accusing Trump of ‘soliciting interference’ in the 2020 election from Ukraine. Now, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives have launched an impeachment inquiry. 

What is impeachment?

Impeachment is when a government official is removed from office, it falls under Article II of the US constitution.

  • Article II says that “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

 If a majority of the House of Representatives votes to impeach an official, they are tried by the Senate. If two-thirds of the Senate finds the official guilty, that person is removed from office and may be forbidden from holding Federal office in the future.

Has anyone been impeached before?

18 people have been impeached by the House of Representatives, most of which were judges. Two Presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives, but both were acquitted in the Senate and finished their terms.

  • Andrew Johnson (1868) was impeached because he had dismissed an appointed official without congressional consent, violating an Act that was later declared invalid.
  • Bill Clinton (1998) was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice regarding a sexual harassment suit.
  • Richard Nixon (1974) was nearly impeached after the Watergate scandal, but he resigned before the House of Representatives voted.

Why could Trump be impeached?

The Phone Call:

  • On July 25, 2019, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. An unnamed CIA officer submitted a report that described their ‘urgent concern’ that Trump was using his office’s power to ‘solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election.’
  • On the call, Trump urged Zelenksy to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. He implicated Attorney General William Barr and his own former attorney and close associate Rudy Giuliani in the call.
  • Trump had frozen a $400 million security aid package to Ukraine shortly before the phone call. He has been accused of withholding that assistance to pressure Zelensky for information on the Bidens, though this has been denied by Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the EU.
  • Even if Trump didn’t explicitly suggest a ‘quid pro quo,’ using the power of his office to solicit interference in the upcoming election from Ukraine could be grounds for impeachment.

What is happening now?

  •  In September, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that formal impeachment proceedings would begin with an inquiry. This means that six committees are in the process of investigating possible impeachable offenses.
  • On Tuesday, October 8, the White House announced that it would not cooperate with the inquiry, calling it ‘illegitimate.’ This refusal in itself could be grounds for impeachment.
  •  Republican senators have rallied in support of Trump.
  • The House of Representatives has issued subpoenas to members of White House Staff.
  • Two associates of Guiliani have been arrested on charges of campaign finance violations. 
  •  According to a Fox News poll, 51% of voters support Trump’s impeachment and removal from office.

What could happen next?

Maybe Trump won’t be impeached:

  • The inquiry could take a very long time, and with the 2020 election coming up, Trump may be ousted from office before the impeachment process is through.
  •  While support for the inquiry is strong, it may be more difficult to rally a majority for actual impeachment by the House of Representatives.
  • Like Nixon, Trump might be forced to resign if his support in the House and Congress disappears.
  •  Partisan politics in the Republican-controlled Senate might result in an acquittal.

Maybe Trump will be impeached:

  • The GOP may turn on Trump, convict him in the Senate, and forbid him from running again. In this scenario, Mike Pence would become President.
  • If Mike Pence is found to be involved in Trump’s wrongdoings, he too could be removed, and Nancy Pelosi would become President.

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