The Impeachment Inquiry as Told by a Poli Sci Major

If you’ve been looking at the news over the past month or so, you will have seen something about President Trump potentially being impeached. The coverage has been all over the place, and very complicated, so here’s the basics of what you need to know. All of my sources are listed at the end of the article, in case you want to take a look. 


What Does Impeachment Entail?

Impeachment is a two part process used to hold presidents accountable to the Constitution. It’s one of the few legitimate checks on presidential power, but the language used to define it in the Constitution is anything but clear. Essentially, it’s up to Congress to decide whether something is an impeachable offense. The impeachment process is actually more complicated than most people realize. Once an issue is raised, the House of Representatives investigates the claim, and then is given a choice on whether to file articles of impeachment. These are documents that outline the charges they will be investigating. Deciding whether to file articles is almost like a grand jury deciding whether to pursue charges, it focus the investigation on specific areas. After the investigation, the House votes on the articles based on the evidence they’ve collected. If a majority of the House votes yes on at least one of the articles, the inquiry moves to the Senate. Think of the vote as an indictment of sorts, it means the House believes there is enough evidence of wrongdoing to move the investigation forward. If the inquiry moves to the Senate, it means the president has technically been ‘impeached’ and the House subsequently decides whether to remove them from office. 

Once the inquiry reaches the Senate, a pseudo trial takes place. This consists of witness testimony in front of members of the Senate, with a team of lawmakers serving as prosecutors and defense lawyers present on behalf of the president. The Senators serve as jurors, and decide whether the evidence they are presented with proves the president deserves to be removed from office. At the end of the trial, the Senate votes on whether to find the president guilty. If two-thirds of them vote guilty, the president is removed from office. 


What Did Trump (allegedly) Do?

During a July call with Ukranian President Zelensky, Trump is accused of telling him that military aid to Ukraine would be withheld unless Zelensky agreed to investigate the business dealings of Hunter Biden, as well as any role 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden might have played in helping Hunter's business prospects. Now, before we dive into why this is wrong in oh-so-many ways, it’s important to note that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Hunter or Joe Biden, at the moment these allegations seem to be baseless. What it boils down to, is Trump demanding a quid-pro-quo from Ukraine; an “I can do this for you, but only if you do this for me first.” While this is already wrong, as it’s basically extorting a smaller, weaker country, it is worsened by the fact that the investigation was directed towards one of Trump’s political rivals. Ukraine exists in a perpetual state of vulnerabiltiy, with Russia consistantly challeneging their power and looking to undermine the country. Therefore, American military aid is actually super important  to Ukraine, their national security literally depends on it.

Based on witness testimony, it seems that Trump froze over $200 million of military aid that had been allotted by Congress in the Federal Budget, about a week before his scheduled phone call with Ukraine. Then, based on reading the (albeit edited) transcript from the call, you can see numerous requests from Trump that Zelensky get in touch with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as well as the Attorney General of the US, to get dirt on the Bidens. This means that Trump not only involved US  and foreign government officials in an effort to damage his political rival, he also hinged allocated foreign aid on the completion of that request. The writers of the Constitution were terrified of foreign influence and intrusion into American democracy, and it seems that Trump not only invited it, but specifically requested it.  


Where is the Impeachment Inquiry Currently At?

Evidence is currently being evaluated in the House. Testimony from several key individuals has been televised corroborating the initial reports of wrongdoing. Obviously, not all the evidence is in. The White House is currently playing hardball, and directed all officials not to comply with subpoenas, submit documents or testify. Trump has used Twitter to criticize and borderline threaten witnesses, including former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who actually received a standing ovation after completing her testimony. Additionally, top Security Council Advisor on Ukraine, Lt. Col. Vindman, testified yesterday. He was actually present on the call, and reported it almost immediately because he was concerned about what had transpired. A nice little moment from his testimony included Congressional Republican Devin Nunes referring to Vindman as “Mr. Vindman,” who then replied “Ranking member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please.” This interaction is pretty stereotypical of the impeachment hearings in general, Republicans have come off as very combative, and witnesses who once supported the President’s account of events have since recanted. For instance, US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, initially testified that there had been no quid pro quo with Ukraine. In later testimony, he reversed this and admitted to telling top officials that aid would be suspended until the investigation into the Bidens was opened. All in all, as evidence is piling in, it’s getting harder for Republicans supportive of the President to say that there was no quid pro quo. The strategy of the President has seemingly shifted from denying the entire encounter, to admitting it happened, to saying it’s not an impeachable offense, to saying the entire impeachment is an illegitimate attempt at removing him from power.

All the sources I used are linked below, so please check them out for a more ~formal~ account of events. Also shout out to my Professor Ken Mayer, currently teaching a class titled The American Presidency. He gives us a rundown of the impeachment every lecture, and I wouldn’t understand half of what’s going on without his lectures. (p.s. Sorry I almost fell asleep in lecture the other day, it was a long day) (this one talks about the impeachment process/what it is) (this talks about the allegations against Trump) (this is an explainer of Hunter Biden's role in the Ukranian company) (this article is a rundown of the transcript, as well as a link to it) (here is a super helpful timeline of events) (this one reviews some of the witness testimony)