Impeachment Crisis: The Process of a Government Official Under Review

President Donald Trump has been in office for 3 years. On September 24th, 2019, Nancy Pelosi (D), the current Speaker of the House of Representative, made the official announcement that the House would be filing a “formal impeachment inquiry” against the president based on his alleged actions of pressuring the Ukraine government to investigative presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden. 


According to The New York Times, the current issue relies on a “quid pro quo.” A quid pro quo is the idea of an exchange of services, money, information, etc. In Trump’s case, Democrats are investigating whether he asked for information on Biden and his son in exchange for the US giving Ukraine financial aid. This would be illegal, and could be cause for impeachment, as it could be interpreted as bribery or an abuse of power. Both of those are stated in the Constitution as a ground for impeachment.


On July 25, 2019, President Trump engaged in a call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. There is a “whistleblower” whose identity remains a secret, and they notified the House that during the call, Trump made these requests of the Ukraine president. The White House released the transcript of this call, and according to The Washington Post, the call offers no explicit “quid pro quo,” but emphasizes how good the U.S. is to Ukraine, and the lack of support back. He then asks for two investigations, one involving the Bidens. 


Overall, there are about 9 steps in the process, extending over several months, or even a couple of years. According to USA Today, first, the Speaker of the House (in this case Pelosi) makes the official impeachment inquiry. This just means that they are investigating possible “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.” This statement is very broad, and Congress over the years has interpreted it to mean an abuse of power. 


Then, the investigation begins in the House. There are 6 committees who will look into each aspect of the claims against the president. In the current investigation, the 6 committees are as follows: Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee on the Judiciary, Committee on Oversight and Reform, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Committee on Financial Services, Ways and Means Committee. Each of these committees currently has a Democratic majority. As a lot of votes on Trump’s case has been falling on partisan, or party, lines, this could mean that the committees are less likely to defend Trump. 


The third step took place on October 31, 2019. The House of Representatives made their first formal vote in this impeachment case, the purpose of which is to vote on how they will move forward with the procedures of the impeachment. In this case, the measure was approved,  232-196. The vote mostly fell on partisan lines, with all but three Democrats voting to approve the measure, and no Republicans supporting. 


The next step in the impeachment process is the public hearings. According to Vox, the ultimate purpose of the public hearings are for the accusers to gather specific evidence against the accused, and as they are public, convince the American people that the accused is guilty. In the Trump case, there were two days of public hearings, Wednesday, November 13th and Friday, November 15th. 

 In the first week of hearings, the Democrats heard public testimonies from the people. William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine; George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eursian affairs; and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.


During Yovanovitch’s testimony, Trump tweeted about her, insulting her and attacking her job. Democrats took this very seriously, as this could be considered witness intimidation. “I haven’t had a lot of time to pay attention to the president’s tweets and the legal implications of them,” Pelosi reported to US. “I just think that was totally wrong and inappropriate and typical of the president.” 


The second week of public hearings took place on Tuesday, November 18, Wednesday, November 19 and Thursday, November 20. According to NPR, there were 7 witnesses testifying on these 3 days. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council; Jennifer Williams, a foreign service aide detailed to Vice President Pence’s office; Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine; Tim Morrison, the former National Security Council aide; Gordon Sondland, once a top donor to the president’s inaugural committee; Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department; and Fiona Hill, formerly the top Russia specialist on the National Security Council. 


After the public hearings, comes the Judiciary Committee debating the articles of impeachment. There are several charges for impeachment, called articles, that need to be debated. Any of the committees can propose an article which the Judiciary will debate. The current Judiciary Committee has 24 Democrats and 14 Republicans. After debating, the committee will vote by majority, which, if any, of the impeachment articles will make their way to the House for a vote. 


When the House of Representatives receives the articles, they must vote on all of them individually. If at least one article is approved by the majority, then the impeachment case moves on to a trial in the Senate. In this case, the president has been impeached. It is up to the Senate to decide if they are guilty and need to be removed from office. 


Once it moves onto the Senate, they must approve a resolution on how the trial will be conducted. This will decide how evidence can be presented, the number of days the trial can last, and how many witnesses can be included. In this case, while the Democrats hold the House majority, the Republicans hold the Senate majority, with 53 Republicans to 45 Democrats.  With this Republican majority, it could be likely that Trump could be impeached in the House, but acquitted by the Senate. 


Then, the trial begins. The Supreme Court Chief Justice presides, currently John Roberts, and the entire 100 member senate serves as the jury. Members of the House will serve as prosecutors, and private lawyers hired by the president serve as the defence. 


The final step is the vote. If two-thirds or more (67 senators or more) vote in favor of impeachment, the president is found guilty and is removed from office. If this majority is not reached, the president is acquitted, and remains in office. If the president is deemed guilty, the vice president becomes president. 


Over the existence of the United States, only 3 other presidents have faced impeachment. Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974, and Bill Clinton in 1998. Both Johnson and Clinton were impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate, remaining in office. Nixon, arguably the most famous case of impeachment, was never actually impeached but resigned before a full House vote could be taken. 


Presidents are not the only government officials who can be impeached. Fourteen federal judges have faced impeachment- eight of them being found guilty and removed from office, three were acquitted, and three resigned before trial. Samuel Chase, a Supreme Court Justice, was acquitted in 1804. U.S. Senator, William Blount, was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction in 1797. One Secretary of War, William Belknap, was acquitted in 1876. 


On December 18th, President Donald Trump became the 3rd president in the history of the United States to be impeached by the House of Representatives. The charges approved against him were abuse of power and obstruction of justice. In Article 1, (abuse of power), the measure was approved 230-197. In Article 2, (obstruction of justice), the measure was approved 229-198. The votes fell directly on partisan lines, with no Republicans voting in favor. Although many Americans thought this meant he was removed from office, this is not true. The next step, as outlined above, is the trial in the Senate. After a few days of Pelosi refusing to send over the articles, until a ‘fair trial’ was granted, and Trump’s top aids allowed to testify, Pelosi relented and started the process of sending them over and voting which House members will be sent to prosecute the president. 


Still, it seems unlikely that Trump will be removed from office by the Senate, as everything in this process has fallen almost directly on partisan lines, and there is a Republican majority in the Senate. 


Whatever happens, it is important to acknowledge that we are living through history, and this is a good time to learn about the United States governmental procedures. So keep learning, and one day children will read about this in their history books.