EXPLAINER: The road to Trump's impeachment

2019-12-04 15:04
US President Donald Trump has maintained that the impeachment inquiry is a waste of time. (Brendan Smialowski, AFP)

US President Donald Trump has maintained that the impeachment inquiry is a waste of time. (Brendan Smialowski, AFP)

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The House Intelligence Committee released a 300-page report on Tuesday that will serve as the basis for articles of impeachment against US President Donald Trump in the full House of Representatives.

The report effectively paves the way for the opening of impeachment hearings in the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee.

The report found "overwhelming evidence" of misconduct and obstruction of justice by Trump and accused him of subverting national security by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for political dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden.

The president allegedly stalled $400m in military aid and a White House visit for Zelensky to strong-arm Kiev - which is at war with Russia - into opening an investigation into Biden.

Democrats appear determined to hold an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives by the end of the year, which could see Trump go on trial in the Republican-majority Senate in January.

Trump, however, has time and again slammed the inquiry either during public speeches or via tweets.

Articles of impeachment

The House Judiciary Committee is to hold its first impeachment hearing on Wednesday featuring four prominent legal scholars discussing the "constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment."

Further hearings are expected next week, but a list of witnesses has not yet been released.

Unlike in the initial fact-finding phase in the Intelligence Committee, Trump and his attorneys can take part, submitting testimony, attending the hearings, reviewing the evidence and questioning witnesses.

Trump's White House counsel Pat Cipollone refused an offer to participate, however, calling the inquiry "baseless and highly partisan" and in violation of "fundamental fairness."

Cipollone reserved the right to join in subsequent judiciary hearings, in which the charges are debated and further witnesses could be called.

READ: Evidence of Trump misconduct 'overwhelming': House impeachment report

Following the hearings, the panel will vote on formal articles of impeachment, the political equivalent of an indictment.

The US Constitution's definition of impeachable offenses is broad: "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Democrats are weighing at least two counts: abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

There is no formal time frame for the impeachment process.

But Democrats have aimed to hold a full House vote on articles of impeachment before the body goes on break for Christmas, December 25.

The House impeachment vote

The articles of impeachment passed by the Judiciary Committee will then be sent to the entire House for a vote.

Representatives will debate the charges in a phase that could take some time: in the 1988 impeachment of former president Bill Clinton, House members spent more than 13 hours over two days arguing the case.

Passing the articles - or "impeaching" the president - requires a simple majority of the House.

Democrats have control of the 435-member body with 233 members to the Republicans' 197, and the party has shown a united front, meaning approval is widely expected.

Trial in the Senate

A vote to impeach would send the case to a Senate trial of a sitting president for only the third time in US history.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court would preside, and the 100 senators would sit as the jury.

Representatives from the House would act as prosecutors, with the president's attorneys presenting his defense.

ALSO READ: Trump fumes over impeachment drive while he's at Nato summit

Convicting Trump could be difficult, because it would require two-thirds of the Senate, and Republicans hold 53 of the 100 seats.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell would control the process and could keep it short with limited testimony and arguments, lasting two weeks or less.

He could also stretch it out: Clinton's trial lasted six weeks and accepted new witness testimony and evidence.

A complicating factor is that five of the Democratic presidential hopefuls are senators, and a January trial would hinder their campaigning ahead of the crucial first primary on February 3 in Iowa.

No matter what the charges are, politics will have a big influence on the final vote.

With presidential and congressional elections looming in November 2020, Republican senators especially have to consider whether their constituents will favor voting to remove or protect the Republican president.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  impeachment-inquiry

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