There’s been a lot of talk about impeachment investigations against Donald Trump recently. But what does impeachment mean, and why is Trump being investigated?


What is impeachment?

Impeachment is when a president is removed from office. In the United States, the impeachment process begins with an investigation into the president’s behaviour. Based on what is found out, the inquiry will recommend whether or not the US Congress should have a vote on impeachment. 

First, the House of Representatives (the equivalent to the Dáil) will take a vote. If they vote to impeach the president, the Senate (the equivalent to the Seanad) will then hold a trial, followed by a vote as well. If the Senate also decides to impeach, then the president will be removed from office. 

According to the constitution of the United States, a president can be impeached due to treason, bribery or ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’. No president has ever been removed from office for impeachment, despite several attempts to do so.


Hasn’t there been talk of Donald Trump being impeached for a while now?

Yes, but this is the first time an impeachment inquiry has actually been launched. There was talk before about impeaching Trump due to allegations of collaboration between his 2016 election campaign and the Russian government. However, an investigation into Russian involvement in the US elections, known as the Mueller Report, found that Trump’s campaign had not collaborated with Russia, although there were links between members of the campaign team and the Russian government. The lack of concrete proof of wrongdoing led many politicians to not support the impeachment, although there are  a number of politicians who have been trying to impeach Trump since he was elected.


Why is there an attempt to impeach him now?

Allegations were made that, on a phone call, Trump pressured the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, in exchange for the US unfreezing military aid to Ukraine and allowing Zelensky to meet face to face with Trump. Trump alleges that Biden pressured the Ukraine to not investigate his son’s Ukrainian business dealings, although there is no evidence of this. Applying pressure to Zelensky to investigate Biden is seen as a big deal because Biden is running to be the US Democratic party’s presidential candidate, so he could end up running against President Trump in next year’s election. 

This situation is considered to be worse than the Russian collaboration allegations,  because there is clear evidence that the call actually occurred. Many Democrats who had not previously supported impeachment have now changed their minds. Trump has not denied that he asked Zelensky to investigate Biden, but has denied that he did so in exchange for military aid, which he claims was frozen for other reasons. 

This all led to the launching of an impeachment inquiry against Trump last month, and a vote last week in the House to formalise the inquiry and make its findings more public. As such, the inquiry will for the first time hold public hearings and publish the witness statements which were already made at the private hearings. 

It’s important to note that launching an investigation does not mean that there will definitely be a vote to impeach the president, but may signal trouble for Trump.


Is he going to be impeached?

The impeachment investigation hinges on whether Trump used his position as president to get a foreign country to interfere in US elections. So far, the witnesses that have testified for the impeachment investigation have been fairly damning against Trump’s actions. They have suggested that Trump did tell Ukraine that the launching of investigations against Joe Biden was in exchange for military aid, despite his denials. However, no one knows yet what the inquiry will actually conclude, as there are many more witnesses to be heard from. 

Even if it does conclude that Trump’s action was illegal, electoral incentives of US politicians will determine whether that actually leads to a vote on impeachment. If the Democrats think that they won’t win the vote to impeach Trump, they may not actually hold the vote, as some of them will worry that voting against Trump could lead them to lose their seats to Republicans in the next election.

If the impeachment gets to a vote, the outcome will depend on whether enough Democrats think it is worth that political risk to impeach Trump only a year before he leaves office and whether enough Republicans will turn against Trump. The Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives so a vote seems very likely to pass the House, but the Senate has a majority of Republicans so it would be difficult to secure enough votes there. 

Given the high support for Trump among Republicans it seems unlikely he will be impeached, although some Republican politicians have expressed worries about his conduct. The House had a vote on formalising the impeachment inquiry last week, and not one Republicans voted for it. This suggests that Republicans in the Senate are also unlikely to vote to impeach Trump and he may stay in office until at least the 2020 elections. What effect the impeachment investigation has on his chances of reelection remains to be seen.



Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr


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