A disclaimer to all that for the sake of simplicity, I will be making some broad simplifications and generalizations in this explainer.
This Halloween, the United States House of Representatives, led by speaker Nancy Pelosi, voted 232-196 in favour of starting a formal impeachment inquiry into United States President Donald Trump. Sure, that sounds significant, but let’s decipher what is going on with the Americans and their president.
Basically, Article 1, Section 3 of The Constitution of the United States says the House of Representatives votes to impeach the President. Then the Senate, if it so chooses, holds a trial with the Chief Justice of The Supreme Court presiding, as to whether to impeach the defendant. In order to impeach someone, two thirds of the Senate must vote to do so.
The punishment when one is impeached, described in that same section, include “removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States,” and after being removed from office, they can also be prosecuted as any ordinary citizen.
What can someone be impeached for? Well, Article 2, Section 4 of The United States Constitution answers this question. “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.”
So, what is the impeachment inquiry?
The impeachment inquiry, launched last month by speaker Nancy Pelosi, is investigating President Trump for a phone call on July 25 between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In that call, according to an edited transcript released by the White House, Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice-President Joe Biden, a leading contender to be the democratic candidate in the 2020 US Presidential Election, and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump is accused of withholding hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military aid to Ukraine, unless they carried out the investigation. This all came out after a whistleblower filed a formal complaint, which eventually reached the House of Representatives.
Since then, various diplomats and military officials have testified to house committees confirming and denying the allegations against Trump. Whilst various officials within the Trump administration publicly deny the allegations, some like chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani have accidentally said the allegations are true, on national television.
The Oct. 31 motion passed by the House of Representatives outlines how the now formal impeachment inquiry will be carried out. Up to this point, the hearings, depositions and testimony has been behind closed doors. But now, this motion says that hearings will be conducted in public (on TV as well) in the coming weeks, and that transcripts of closed-door hearings can be published.
The second part of the motion says the findings of these various hearings will be sent to the House Judiciary Committee who will then report on any articles of impeachment that may come out of the ongoing inquiry.
As much as the current events are certainly damaging to American democracy and the already polarized United States political climate, don’t hold your breath if you’re in favour of impeaching Trump. The Senate, as mentioned earlier, is required have a two-thirds majority in order to impeach someone. The Senate is currently made up of mostly Republicans, the same party as Trump. There’s also a legal argument that the Senate isn’t bound by law to hold the impeachment hearings, so there may be none.
All any of us can do is hope the situation is resolved soon and in a proper manner, hope that the United States democracy recovers from the damage it’s been dealt, and that stability can soon be returned to the heart of Western liberal democratic values. We can only hope.