Sparked by allegations of improper conduct with a foreign leader, Donald Trump is now facing the one direct threat to his power that a coequal branch of government can force: impeachment. Representative Adam Schiff’s impeachment inquiry is making the case that attempting to gather political opposition from another country (and potentially withholding their funds that had been approved by Congress) is a violation of the Presidential Oath of Office.
For the average person who has better things to do than spend 24 hours a day paying attention to the news, talk of impeachment and Trump is often met with confusion and misunderstanding.
With internet trolls spewing misinformation a mile a minute, we need to separate fact from fiction to get a proper grasp of the impeachment process.
Many people immediately assume impeachment means the removal of a president. Few fully know how the process actually works. Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution states clearly that, “impeachment” is the sole ability to remove “the President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States from office on conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” This ability to convict rests entirely in the Senate which is tasked with holding a trial against the president, which is then presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. In order for this trial to even begin however, the Senate must receive Articles of Impeachment which are created by, and later voted on by the House. These Articles are the set of charges drafted against the president.
Whatever the House decides, for Trump to be forcibly removed from office two-thirds (in this case 67 members) of the Senate must vote to find him guilty.
Of the two previous presidents to face votes in the Senate (Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson) neither was in fact removed. So while a president can be removed as a result of impeachment, it is not guaranteed. However, an impeachment inquiry in the House has been shown to seriously undermine a president’s ability to pass legislation.
In Trump’s current case, he is now facing significant Democratic opposition after what has been nearly three solid years of scandal- the most notable being the investigation into contact between his campaign and Russian officials regarding their attempts to interfere in the 2016 election. While former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report did establish ties between the campaign and Russia, and led to the indictments (formal charges) of 34 individuals (including Trump’s personal advisor, attorney, and campaign manager), the president was able to withstand any potential repercussions.
Now, the president finds himself in the middle of a situation in which he has involved the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, numerous State department officials, and his personal lawyer. This episode revolves around a call the president made with his counterpart in the Ukraine and could have the greatest impact on his presidency thus far. On July 25, 2019, the day after Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee (which essentially marked the end of the Russia investigation), Trump spoke with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. In what Trump later pegged as the “perfect” phone call concerning Zelensky’s election victory, they spoke about a number of topics. Eventually, on Trump’s own accord, he asked the Ukrainian to do him a “favor” and open an investigation into former Vice President and 2020 candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. This investigation, pertaining to work Hunter Biden did as a board member of the gas company Burisma, would look into whether or not his father improperly used the powers of his office to get a prosecutor who was looking into the company off of the case. In actuality, while Biden did push for the prosecutor to be fired, he was one of many foreign dignitaries and government officials (including three Senate Republicans) who sought their removal due to the fact they did not investigate corruption enough (not necessarily in a direct effort to help his son). Despite these allegations of Biden being unproven, Trump’s request for information did not stop there.
In addition to this one call between the two leaders, which only became publicly known after a whistle-blower working for the CIA launched an “unprecedented” complaint against the sitting president, intermediaries for the president sought information in the Ukraine itself. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, has made no secret of the meetings and messages he shared with foreign diplomats. Giuliani, who said he was on a “mission from the State Department” had seemingly not only been abroad to gather negative, politically damaging information of the president’s top rival, but also to look into unproven, conspiratorial origins of the Russia investigation as well.
Only after the call was leaked did the dams of impeachment break around the president. While the number of Democrats supporting an impeachment inquiry in the House continued to climb, efforts went nowhere due to the hard-lining of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi’s skepticism in part came from freshman party members who had just been elected in swing-districts in 2018. These members, many with national security backgrounds, had feared a focus on an inquiry would leave them vulnerable for reelection. Only after they heard from their constituents and local activists during their recess did they suspect doing nothing would be a bigger issue. Support from these Democrats were the last signs the Speaker needed to finally follow the rest of her party.
So, what should we expect over the coming months? As the House starts to draft their Articles of Impeachment, they have gone straight into requesting documents and issuing subpoenas against White House officials. Seeking information, House Democrats have asked for material from not only Mike Pompeo and Rudy Giuliani, but from the ambassador to the European Union, the Secretary of Defense, the White House Chief of Staff, and the Secretary of Energy as well. In yet the clearest sign of escalating tensions between the Executive and Legislative branches, the White House later sent an eight-page letter to Congress indicating it would not comply at all with any aspect of the investigation and believing it purely an effort “to overturn the results of the 2016 election.” Despite obstruction from the president, the House is insisting on continuing towards a full floor vote where they will need a simple majority vote on any one Article to impeach.
Even with the usual noisy back and forth of Washington, voters have been able to develop their own opinions. While the idea of impeachment remained one that was mostly balked at through the Russia investigation, minds have changed regarding the Ukraine scandal. According to polling average by FiveThirtyEight, prior to the Ukraine investigation only 40.1% of the public approved of impeachment. But now, a few weeks out from the start of the investigation, support has jumped to nearly 50% of the country.
With only 13 months to go until the presidential election, the spectacle of impeachment is sure to drown out most of the news cycle. As the Democrats are choosing their nominee and some Republicans are defending Trump from the onslaught of House attacks, staunch supporters on both sides are becoming more entrenched in their ideals. Amidst all the disagreement, there is one thing that we should all be able to agree on: a president potentially abusing their office to gather dirt from a foreign country on a political opponent to better help win an election should be considered an impeachable offense.
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