A Guide to Trump’s Impeachment Inquiry

President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Donald Trump meet in the White House on September 25 to discuss the phone call made between them after a whistleblower complaint was made public. Photo via Administration of the President of Ukraine.

As the impeachment inquiry of current U.S. President Donald Trump moves forward, the word impeachment has gained new weight. Before, some may have heard that Trump was elected and thought, “Boy, I hope he is impeached.” Now, that is beginning to look a little more likely. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the current processes put in place, and what would need to happen for Trump to be impeached.

The Inquiry (Where we are now): According to Franklin law teacher David Marsh, this is best described as the “gathering evidence phase.” Committees selected by the House will collect evidence and write the Articles of Impeachment, which will cite one of three possible reasons for impeachment. The investigating committees for this inquiry are the Intelligence Committee, the Oversight Committee, and the Foreign Affairs Committee. They will then present their case to the House.

The House: Once the three committees are finished writing the Articles of Impeachment, they will present them to the House for voting. “Impeachment…is important in that regard because it says ‘there is enough evidence here to move on with the trial,’” according to Marsh. “It’s a step…where in the Senate it becomes a trial.”

The Senate: If the House votes to impeach Trump, then the case moves to the Senate. The Senate holds a vote on whether to convict Trump. This is the part that removes him from office. In order to convict Trump, it must be a two-thirds majority, which at this moment requires 19 senators to vote against their party.

Past Impeachments: There have been three previous presidential inquiries, the first being Andrew Johnson, the second being Richard Nixon, and the third being Bill Clinton. Nixon resigned shortly before the House voted. Andrew Johnson’s impeachment concerned his firing of his secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, after he attempted to replace him with another secretary who would better suit his plans. The House impeached him, but his opponents failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority to convict him. Bill Clinton’s road to impeachment began in November 1995 and the official inquiry was started October, 8 1998. He was impeached by the house on December 11. Congress did not convict, not even coming close to a two-thirds majority.

What Makes An Impeachment: Any federal official can be impeached. The basic grounds that constitute an impeachment are as follows. First, Bribery. This is a favor for a favor, or quid pro quo. The second is Treason. This is defined as betraying one’s country. The third, and most interesting reason, is High Crimes and Misdemeanors. This is what both prior impeachments, and the current one, are based on. High Crimes refers to anything against the law, only committed by government officials. Misdemeanors refer to things that, while not illegal, may be immoral or unethical. Things like abuse of power, and misuse of funds or resources. This prevents a president from simply being a bad person while not breaking any laws. This is best shown in Clinton’s impeachment. Clinton’s impeachment centered around an affair he had with a White House intern, and the lies he told to cover it up. Marsh says, “Clinton’s behavior was not ethical…but there wasn’t anything truly illegal in there.”

Why This Impeachment Is Different: This impeachment, when compared to the most similar inquiry, which was Nixon, has one major difference. According to Marsh, “[With Watergate] we had the lower criminals, caught them, and then it kind of worked its way up to Nixon, this one…we know what happened at the top, because we have the evidence of that, and now we’re working down to figure out who else is connected to this and what else was going on.” Another major difference is the poll numbers. In a statistic collected by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which evaluated all possible polls that ask some version of a yes or no question surrounding impeachment, support peaked on October 15, at 50.3 percent, reaching a higher value than Nixon in less than half the time, and far surpassing Clinton’s highest mark.

What This Means Going Forward: There is an argument to be made that this is one of the most significant moments in American history, with sizeable amounts of evidence and a president who has been everything except cooperative, with record high polling numbers thrown in for good measure. This could radically change the political landscape of America. In the words of Pete Buttigieg, “The president ten years or a hundred years from now will look back at this moment and draw the conclusion that either no one is above the law, or that a president can get away with anything.”

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