1. Why exactly did Trump do?
In a July 25 telephone call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to “look into” unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing by former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Trump next year. Trump acknowledges ordering a halt to about $400 million in vital U.S. military aid to Ukraine about a week before the call, which is seen by some as having added leverage to his request. A U.S. intelligence official, whose identity isn’t publicly known, filed a whistle-blower complaint alleging that Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
He defends the call as entirely appropriate and ordered the release of an approximate transcript to the public. He says he delayed funding to Ukraine out of frustration that European nations weren’t contributing enough to its fight against Russian-backed separatists. He says he’s concerned about “all of the corruption taking place” in Ukraine and “the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son” adding to that corruption. Trump and his associates allege that Biden, while vice president, acted inappropriately to prevent an investigation into Burisma Group, one of Ukraine’s biggest private gas companies, while Hunter Biden sat on its board, a position that earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars. The former vice president says the allegation is “baseless and untrue and without merit.”
Here’s What We Know About Joe and Hunter Biden in Ukraine
3. Does Trump’s request constitute an impeachable offense?
Congress decides that. The U.S. Constitution says the president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” As Congress has defined it through the years, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” includes exceeding or abusing the powers of the presidency, or misusing the office for improper purpose or gain.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is directing six committees already investigating Trump -- Judiciary, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Oversight, Ways and Means, and Financial Services -- to proceed with their probes under the “umbrella” of a formal impeachment process, with the Intelligence panel handling the Ukraine matter. It is not clear which committee would ultimately recommend one or more articles of impeachment (formal written charges) to the full House. That would normally be Judiciary, but Pelosi and other Democratic leaders could name a special committee to oversee the process or move straight to a floor vote without a vote in the committee.
Graphic: Here’s how the congressional impeachment inquiry could proceed
5. How long will this take?
Democratic lawmakers are talking about drafting one or more articles of impeachment in a matter of weeks by staying narrowly focused on the Ukraine matter. The only modern precedents offer only partially direct comparisons. In the case of President Richard Nixon, the House Judiciary Committee worked for two and a half months before passing three articles of impeachment, which prompted Nixon to resign. But a special Senate panel -- the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities -- had laid the groundwork by investigating Nixon and the Watergate break-in for a year before that. In the case of President Bill Clinton, a two-month House inquiry preceded the approval of four articles of impeachment; Clinton was then acquitted after a five-week trial in the Senate. But that prosecution, too, built off a previous investigation, led by an independent counsel.
6. What’s the outlook in the House?
All it takes is a simple majority vote by the House, where Democrats hold 235 of the 435 seats, on any article of impeachment to send it to the Senate for consideration. The number of House Democrats supporting an impeachment inquiry is now reported to be at least 218 -- one more than a simple majority, even without any Republican support -- though it’s far from clear how many of them would vote for one or more specific articles of impeachment if and when they are proposed.
7. What would the Senate’s role be?
In one of the more unusual spectacles in American politics, the 100 members of the Senate would become the jury in a trial, with House “impeachment managers” functioning as prosecutors and the chief justice of the United States presiding. Witnesses would be called, and evidence submitted, with the impeachment managers and counsel for the accused giving opening and closing statements. If two-thirds of the senators present vote to convict -- a high bar, especially considering that Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a majority in the Senate -- Trump would be ordered removed from office.
8. What would happen if Trump were removed from office?
Vice President Mike Pence would automatically be elevated to the presidency. He would then appoint a vice president, subject to a majority vote in both houses of Congress. In this very hypothetical scenario, a President Pence could himself run twice for re-election, in 2020 and 2024. A removed-from-office Trump himself could, legally, run again, unless the Senate voted separately (and by simple majority this time) to disqualify him from federal office.
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