The Impeachment Inquiry: Here’s What You Need to Know

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry. Here's what you need to know.

October 17, 2019


The New York Times

Nancy Pelosi announces the impeachment inquiry.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on September 24, accusing him of violating the Constitution by seeking help from the president of Ukraine in order to damage Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the upcoming 2020 elections. The Paw Print answered the most common questions concerning the inquiry below.

What needs to happen for Trump to be impeached?

Six House committees are currently investigating President Trump and will provide this information to the Judiciary Committee. The House of Representatives may vote to start an impeachment process. If the House votes to impeach a federal official, then it goes to the Senate. The Senate holds a trial and, afterward, the Senate votes on the articles of impeachment. Two-thirds or more of the Senate would need to vote to convict Trump in order to remove him from office. Vice President Mike Pence would then take office.

The current head of the Supreme Court is Chief Justice John Roberts. He would oversee the impeachment trial process.

NBC News
Chief Justice John Roberts pictured with President Trump.

Has Trump broken a law?

According to a rough transcript of a July 25 phone call, President Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, one of Trump’s political opponents. This would break a law “barring solicitations of foreign campaign contributions.”

However, impeachment is not technically about breaking the law. According to the Constitution, the president, vice president, and other high-ranking officials can be removed from office if they commit “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“The president doesn’t have to have broken a law. If [the House of Representatives] thinks any person in the government is unfit to be in that office they can impeach them for any reason that they see fit,” said Gregory Gruszynski, a history teacher at Woodside High School.

How long will the impeachment process last?

The length of the impeachment process depends on the length of the various processes within the impeachment. The length of the investigation, House debate, Senate delay, and Senate trial all affect how long the process lasts.

If the process extends after the 2020 presidential elections and if Trump is re-elected, then he could still be removed from office during his second term.

Who (and what) is the “whistleblower”?

According to Merriam-Webster, a whistleblower is “an employee who brings wrongdoing… to the attention of a government or law enforcement agency.” 

In the situation of the current impeachment, the first whistleblower is described as an individual in the intelligence community. The whistleblower notified the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, with the complaint of Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian leader. There is also said to be a second whistleblower who has recently provided more information and who is described as having greater involvement. According to ABC News, the second whistleblower has first-hand knowledge of some of the allegations provided in the original complaint and has also been interviewed by Atkinson.

The identities of the whistleblowers remain unknown; whistleblower identities are protected under the Whistleblower Act, which was enacted to protect those who disclose information to Congress.

Have other presidents been impeached?

Two presidents have been impeached in the past: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. The House also began the impeachment process against President Richard Nixon, but Nixon resigned before the process was complete.

“It became clear that [Nixon] was going to be impeached, so that is why he resigned,” said Gruszynski. 

The major political scandal, Watergate, led to Nixon’s resignation after it was discovered that he and members of his administration were guilty of bugging the offices of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters and using the FBI and CIA to investigate political opponents and activist groups. The political climate of the 1970s was significantly less polarized than the current climate, so it was clear to Nixon that he would be removed from office.

Is Trump likely to be impeached?

No, but it’s possible. Currently, the Democrats control the House, but Republicans control the Senate. The House has already voted to start an impeachment inquiry, but, even if they vote to impeach,  in order to remove Trump from office, the majority of the Senate must vote to convict him. Because the Republicans currently control the Senate, it is unlikely that the majority will vote to remove him from office.

“It’s really very divided in a partisan sense,” said Gruszynski. “The Republicans, for the most part, are standing with the current president, but there are a couple of people who sound like they may have defected.”

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