The House of Representatives is conducting an impeachment inquiry into President Trump over allegations he pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. That inquiry, which has been going on behind closed doors, will enter a new phase in mid-November with the first public hearings. Here’s what you need to know about the impeachment process, and the politics of this inquiry.

What is impeachment?

It means that Congress thinks the president is no longer fit to serve and should be removed from office. It is written in Article II of the Constitution, which sets up the presidency and executive branch but also lays out a way to remove the president. The key clause is: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

AD
AD

“High crimes and misdemeanors” is the phrase you will hear invoked frequently as the bar lawmakers are using to determine whether an action is impeachable. It is generally understood to mean a violation of oath of office, not necessarily a crime in the traditional sense of breaking the law. That means there doesn’t have to be clear evidence of a crime for Congress to impeach the president.

Who can impeach the president?

Congress. Specifically, the House of Representatives. Under the framework of the Constitution, the House can vote to impeach a president for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It’s up to the House to decide what that means.

But impeaching the president is not the same thing as removing the president from office. To determine whether that happens, the Senate holds a trial presided over by the chief justice of the United States. More on this later.

AD
AD

Which presidents have been impeached?

Two presidents in American history have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton; and Richard M. Nixon resigned under the threat of impeachment. None actually has been removed from office via a Senate trial. The vice president would become president after a successful impeachment.

So wait, is impeachment happening?

No. There’s an impeachment inquiry happening. If lawmakers decide at the conclusion of the investigations they are conducting that there is enough evidence to consider writing up articles of impeachment, then they will. At which point, impeachment will be underway. The difference may sound semantic, but the distinction is important; A majority of House Democrats support an impeachment inquiry. We don’t know how many would vote to actually impeach Trump. So far only 32 have publicly said they want him impeached.

What is the process for this impeachment inquiry?

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) is leading the investigation, and working with his two other committees (Government Oversight and Foreign Affairs. If the investigations conclude that there is cause for impeachment, the House Judiciary Committee will draw up articles of impeachment, and the Judiciary Committee and then the full House will vote on them. That could happen by Christmas. Then the Senate will hold a trial.

AD
AD

When did the impeachment inquiry begin?

It depends on whom you ask. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold E. Nadler, whose committee ultimately is in charge of writing articles of impeachment, urprised some of his members this summer when he publicly said they had started an inquiry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was not supportive of this and as recently as mid-September, would not say “impeachment inquiry” publicly. But the allegations facing Trump on Ukraine changed her mind. She authorized moving forward on impeachment on Sept. 24.

Why did Democrats decide to start an impeachment inquiry into Trump?

AD
AD

Then the White House released a rough transcript the White House released of the July 25 call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. It shows Trump asked the Ukrainian president for “a favor, though”: to investigate the Bidens and a conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election, not Russia. To a number of Democrats, that call alone was a potentially impeachable offense because Trump is soliciting election help from a foreign power.

Then, Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said that the White House held up bipartisan Ukrainian military aid to try to get Ukraine’s president to agree to investigate the 2016 election, potentially befitting Trump politically.

What is happening with Trump’s impeachment?

The House has been bringing in witnesses to testify behind closed doors, and for the most part, they are confirming the allegations that Ukrainian officials were pressured to launch investigations in order to get their White House meeting and military aid.. The transcripts of some of those testimonies have been released, and at least four of them have said there was a quid pro quo set up for Ukraine: The country’s new president would get military aid and an audience with Trump if he publicly stated he was investigating Trump’s political rivals, like former vice president Joe Biden. Others have said this came from Trump’s personal lawyer and top aide at the White House.

AD
AD

Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was the diplomat who appeared to be doing much of Trump’s bidding in Ukraine, and he said he relayed a quid pro quo request to a Ukrainian official that amounted to: They’ll get their military aid when they announce an investigation into the Bidens and 2016.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council who listened to Trump’s July call with Ukraine’s president and was so alarmed by the pressure he heard Trump put on Zelensky that he notified a National Security Council lawyer about his concerns. That lawyer, John Eisenberg, then proposed moving the call transcript to a secret server with restricted access -- an unusual step.

Vindman and another top national security aide, Fiona Hill, both testified the quid pro quo was linked to Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

AD
AD

Other State Department and White House officials testified that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, was conducting a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, pushing false narratives fed to him by Ukrainians with an ax to grind with the American ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch. She testified that Trump had her ousted over concerns she had been critical of him and was loyal to the Bidens. She also questioned whether her focus on anti-corruption could have jeopardized some of Giuliani’s clients in Ukraine.

Will the Senate remove Trump from office if the House impeaches Trump?

We don’t know. At least 15 Senate Republicans have expressed reservations or concerns about Trump’s actions as they relate to asking foreign governments for political help, but none have said they’d vote to impeach him. Most Senate Republicans support Trump. So right now the math is in Trump’s favor. To remove him from office, it would take at least 20 Republican senators to join Senate Democrats and vote to remove him. As new revelations come out, Senate Republicans are lying low, trying not to comment on what’s happening.

AD
AD

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said a trial would likely mean the Senate meets six days a week.

Could Trump run in 2020 even if he’s impeached?

If he is impeached by the House, yes. If he is removed from office, well, that’s never happened before, so we’d probably all be armchair-interpreting the Constitution to figure that one out. In the past two impeachment trials the Senate has taken two votes, says Cornell Law Professor Josh Chafetz:. One to convict or acquit the president and thus remove him from office, and another on whether to bar him from running again.

Could impeachment go into 2020?

The Fix’s Aaron Blake notes that, if past is precedent, this could be wrapped up in a few months. But Democrats probably are on a tight timeline here. Pelosi wants to act while there’s momentum. Politically, it could be much more difficult to make their case that impeachment is necessary if it’s 2020 and nearing an election in which Trump could get thrown out of office anyway.

AD
AD

What do the polls say about an impeachment inquiry?

Americans have been skeptical of an impeachment inquiry. But that changed as more evidence supporting the whistleblower complaint was released. A Washington Post-Schar School poll out the first week of October found a majority of Americans, 58 percent, say the House was right to open an inquiry. And 49 percent think Trump should impeached and removed from office. That’s before the inquiry is even over. Still, Americans are split overall on impeachment: A November Washington Post-ABC News poll finds 47 say Trump should not be impeached.

What’s Trump saying about the impeachment inquiry?

Things like this:

And a bevy of other falsehoods to defend himself as evidence mounts.

What resources do you have so I can follow the impeachment inquiry?

Glad you asked. Beyond breaking news on washingtonpost.com, we have:

The 5-Minute Fix impeachment newsletter, in your inbox every weekday afternoon

What happened in impeachment this week? will be posted every Friday afternoon on The Fix