Impeachment: How the process works

Impeachment: How the process works
Say what you will, President Donald Trump has an uncanny ability to navigate disasters that would derail the careers of other politicians. But even Trump will not emerge unscathed if he is impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.

      That's not to say he will be removed from office. If impeached by the U.S. House, the Senate will hold a trial to decide whether to convict the president.
      In U.S. history, only two presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted by the Senate and served out their terms. President Richard Nixon resigned from office rather than face impeachment.
      So, how does impeachment work? Here is a condensed account, along with links for further study:

The Constitution: Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood that one day the country might need a device to remove an unfit president. Article 2 , Section 4, reads, "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.”
    The word impeachment is rooted in the Latin impedicare, meaning, "to catch, entangle," according to the The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2016). "A legal sense of empechen is first recorded in 1384. This sense, which had previously developed in Old French, was 'to accuse, bring charges against.'"
    Merriam-Webster defines impeach this way: "to charge with a crime or misdemeanor specifically: to charge (a public official) before a competent tribunal with misconduct in office."
    Impeachment, then, is the charge. It is like an indictment, when someone is charged with a criminal offense. But impeachment is not the same as a conviction. Think of impeachment as a process. Simply put, an investigation is the beginning. Indictment -- impeachment -- is the middle. The trial is the end.

Setting the stage: One month before the 2016 election, the U.S. government accused Russia of cyberattacks against U.S. political organizations. Concerns about whether those cyberattacks were coordinated with the Trump campaign lingered after the election. 
    In May 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced the appointment of former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to serve as special counsel to oversee an investigation of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
    After nearly two years, Mueller's report, released in March 2019, concluded that operatives attempted to influence public opinion through online media and forums.
    As for Trump, the report said, "The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
    For a time, it looked as though Mueller would not testify before Congress. But four months ago, he agreed to speak to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. During his July 24 appearance he warned, "Many more countries are developing capabilities to replicate what the Russians have done."
    Mueller's remarks were widely reported by newspapers, websites and television news stations. But just one day later, on July 25, Trump seemingly asked for foreign interference during a phone call with the newly elected president of the Ukraine.
    During the conversation, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said he wanted to purchase Javelin anti-tank missiles from the U.S. When Trump responded, he began,  "I would like you to do us a favor though..." He then explained that he wanted Zelensky to investigate a theory involving 2016 election interference. He also said Zelensky should probe into the activities of Hunter Biden, a onetime board member of a Ukrainian energy company and son of Joe Biden, Democratic presidential hopeful.

The next step: The controversy unraveled rapidly. First, a whistleblower -- a government employee familiar with the conversation -- made a complaint addressed to chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees. The release of that complaint was initially delayed, but eventually, it was turned over to congressional committees and made public.
    The White House then released a transcript of Trump's conversation with Zelensky, and immediately, analysts focused on an implicit quid pro quo in the president's words, "I would like you to do us a favor though."
    Put bluntly: Was Trump implying that U.S. military support was conditioned on Zelensky doing a political favor?
    Once the transcript was made public, Trump announced that there was nothing wrong with the call. He described the conversation as "perfect." Politicians, along with a number of government employees, strongly disagreed and began to talk about impeachment.
    So, what is the next step?
    As stated in an article on the U.S. House of Representatives website, "Individual members of the house can introduce impeachment resolutions like ordinary bills, or the house could initiate proceedings by passing a resolution authorizing an inquiry."
    The House Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over impeachment decisions. "The committee then chooses whether to pursue articles of impeachment against the accused official and report them to the full house," the website says.
    In recent weeks, witnesses have been called upon to meet with lawmakers in private. The first public hearings began this week. 

Voting: After the hearings are concluded, there will be a vote to determine whether articles of impeachment are adopted. The U.S. House website says a simple majority is needed.

The trial: If the U.S. House of Representatives votes to impeach, members are appointed to manage the Senate trial. "These managers act as prosecutors in the Senate and are usually members of the Judiciary Committee," the House of Representatives website explains.

Must senators determine that the president committed a crime? Not necessarily, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. "Impeachable conduct does not appear to be limited to criminal behavior. Congress has identified three general types of conduct that constitute grounds for impeachment, although these categories should not be understood as exhaustive: (1) improperly exceeding or abusing the powers of the office; (2) behavior incompatible with the function and purpose of the office; and (3) misusing the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain."

End game: Conviction requires a two-thirds majority. If the Senate votes to convict on any article of impeachment, "the result is removal from office and, at the Senate’s discretion, disqualification from holding future office," according to the Congressional Research Service.  



     What are high crimes and misdemeanors?

     What is meant by quid pro quo?

     What are "whistleblower" protections?

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