House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced an official impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, making him only the fourth president in U.S. history to face the prospect of impeachment. Here’s a look at what the process involves, what the precedents are and what to watch for next:
What is impeachment?
It’s the formal process by which the House can charge a federal officer with wrongdoing. Impeachable offenses include “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” according to the Constitution. Impeachment is not to be confused with removal from office, which is up to the Senate.
What is an impeachment inquiry?
It’s the first key step and involves investigations by the House into alleged wrongdoing. Typically, according to the Congressional Research Service, an impeachment inquiry is authorized through the adoption of a resolution directing the House Judiciary Committee to investigate an official.
What could come next?
In past cases, the Judiciary Committee conducted probes, then drafted articles of impeachment — or written accusations — to be voted upon by the full House. If at least one article passes with a simple majority, the federal official is impeached. The case is then moved to the Senate, which holds a trial. House managers serve as prosecutors, and the Supreme Court’s chief justice presides. A two-thirds vote of present senators is needed to convict the official and remove him or her from office.
Who has been impeached?
Nineteen people have been impeached in U.S. history, mostly federal judges but also presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Johnson and Clinton were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate. President Richard Nixon resigned under the threat of impeachment.
How is this process different?
Pelosi has instructed that the six House committees already probing Trump — the Judiciary, Intelligence, Ways and Means, Financial Services, Oversight and Foreign Affairs panels — continue their investigations “under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.” The committees are expected to contribute to any articles of impeachment drafted by the Judiciary Committee.
What could Trump be charged with?
According to the Lawfare blog, impeachable offenses alleged against Trump could include obstruction of justice and abuse of law enforcement institutions and personnel, attempts to leverage the power of the presidency to cause investigation and prosecution of political opponents, and lying to the American public.
What are the standards and rules in an impeachment process?
The Constitution doesn’t offer much guidance. The interpretation of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” is up to the sitting House members. And the procedures for a Senate trial are up to sitting members of that chamber. Additionally, the Constitution does not set a standard of proof in the way that criminal or civil courts call for “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” for conviction.
What are the political realities of Trump’s situation?
About 90 percent of House Democrats have come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry, but whether all or most will vote for impeachment is dependent on what the investigations find. And no Senate Republicans have yet indicated they want Trump removed. What’s more, Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to President Barack Obama, wrote in Lawfare that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could break from precedent and, if the House votes to impeach, simply refuse to hold an impeachment trial.