An impeachment primer

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Will 45 get 86’d?

By Julia Peterson

What is going on south of the border? Ever since President Donald Trump announced his campaign in June of 2015 to run in the Republican Party’s primary and become the President of the United States, American political news has been moving incredibly fast. Recently, discussions of impeachment have been dominating journalistic coverage and social media and seem as though they are going to continue to do so for a while. But what is impeachment, really? Is Donald Trump going to be impeached? And what might it mean for the country? Well, let’s get into it.

Simply put, impeachment is the formal process by which a legislative body, like the House of Representatives in the United States, brings charges against a government official. It’s comparable to any citizen being indicted in a criminal court – essentially, it means that you are officially accused of having committed a crime. Impeaching a president of the United States happens in a three-step process.

First, Congress opens an investigation to determine whether they should move forward with trying to impeach. Then, the House of Representatives votes by simple majority on whether to pass articles of impeachment. If the vote succeeds, then the defendant – in this case, Trump – has been impeached. However, just being impeached does not necessarily mean that the President is guilty of the things that they have been accused of doing, or that they must leave office – just like how a person charged with a crime in criminal court is still innocent until proven guilty.

Once articles of impeachment have been passed, the process moves to the Senate. Unlike in Canada, where the Senate is an appointed body, all American senators are elected and serve six-year terms. Currently, the American House of Representatives is controlled by the Democratic party, while the Senate is controlled by Republicans.

When the articles of impeachment are brought to the Senate, the Chief Justice of the United States – currently, Justice John Roberts – presides over a trial to determine whether to acquit or convict the President on the charges approved by the House. If the President is convicted, they are removed from office.

Although pundits and politicians have been talking about impeaching Donald Trump for the better part of the last four years, the official impeachment inquiry – the first formal step in the process – only began last month, on Sept.24, in response to an anonymous but well-corroborated whistleblower allegation.

According to the first whistleblower accusation, Trump and other senior government officials pressured the Ukrainian President to open an investigation into one of Trump’s political rivals. A second anonymous whistleblower came forward in early October to corroborate the first account. We now know that on a phone call with the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, during a period of time where the United States had placed a hold on military aid to Ukraine, Trump responded to Zelensky’s interest in obtaining more U.S. missiles by saying “I would like you to do us a favor though.” He then asked the Ukrainian government to investigate current Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as his son Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. A partial transcript of this phone call was declassified by the White House and made public on Sept. 25. Biden is one of the front-runners in the democratic primary and is a likely opponent for Trump in the upcoming 2020 general election, and there is no evidence to suggest that either Biden was engaging in any sort of criminal behavior in Ukraine.

In the Constitution of the United States, the grounds for impeaching a President are limited to “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” This might seem clear-cut, but the actual meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is not spelled out within the constitution, so there is some room for interpretation.

“The actions taken to date by the President have seriously violated the Constitution, especially when the President says ‘Article II [of the U.S. Constitution, which discusses how Presidents are elected and sworn into office] says I can do whatever I want,’” said Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, in her address to the nation on Sept. 24.

“Therefore today, I’m announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry [. . .] The President must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”

President Trump, in response, has called the inquiry a “scam,” said that Democrats are liars and cheats, equated being under investigation to a lynching, and suggested on Twitter that the Democratic Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – one of the committees responsible for the impeachment inquiry – should be arrested for treason.

The poll analysis website FiveThirtyEight has found that public support for impeachment is rising in the States. By mid-October, a few weeks after the whistleblower report was made public, polls were showing that just over 50 per cent of Americans supported impeachment, and that number has stayed fairly constant since. On one hand, these polls only mean so much in terms of predicting what will happen, since impeachment is decided in the houses of government rather than by national popular vote. However, voters can pressure their elected representatives to vote to impeach and, if the charges make it to the Senate, to convict.

The last president to be successfully impeached was Bill Clinton in 1999. He was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice after denying under oath that he had sex with one of his interns while he was in office. President Clinton was acquitted by the Senate and served out the remainder of his second term. Prior to him, Richard Nixon resigned rather than face probable impeachment and removal from office after the Watergate scandal and its coverup.

If Donald Trump were to be impeached by the House, convicted in the Senate, and removed from office, the presidency would go to current Vice President Mike Pence, who would serve out the remainder of the term. Pence, a former governor of Indiana, is staunchly anti-environmental, pro-gun, and anti-abortion, with a long history of associating with groups that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people and signing laws that would enable more legal discrimination in his home state of Indiana.

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