What happens next in Donald Trump’s impeachment?

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Nancy Pelosi announces formal impeachment inquiry of Trump

Editor’s note: Many people may want to refresh their memory on the impeachment process now that Nancy Pelosi has announced a formal impeachment investigation. The Daily Mail gives a great refresher course that you might want to read.

DailyMail. Nancy Pelosi announcing a formal impeachment investigation is only the start of what will be an epic legal and constitutional clash. Impeachment does not mean removal from office. In fact it means being charged with misconduct. 

Congress determines the alleged offenses which the Senate will be asked to vote on with one possible sanction: removal from office.

No president has ever been removed from office at the end of an impeachment inquiry. 

Richard Nixon left voluntarily in the course of one, when its outcome appeared to be certain removal from office after his party turned against him; Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both tried but not found guilty by the required two-thirds majority. Johnson survived by just one vote but Clinton kept his party in the Senate united behind him and won over enough Republicans to be clearly acquitted. 

Here is how impeachment goes from here.

1) Investigations step up

Six committees are now tasked by Pelosi with investigating Donald Trump with the intention of deciding whether he should be impeached. 

They are the House Judiciary, Oversight, Intelligence, Ways and Means, Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees. 

Most already have investigations which offer some idea of what their areas of inquiry into Trump will be; the Judiciary Committee has an explicit impeachment investigation.

All of them may well now adopt new rules to specify how their investigations will run and exactly what they are looking at.

And all of them are now likely to issue a flurry of subpoenas which is certain to lead to a new:

2) Court battle over subpoenas – which could go to the Supreme Court

The Trump administration has so far resisted subpoenas by claiming executive privilege and is certain to continue to do so. 

Federal judges are already dealing with litigation over subpoenas for Trump’s tax and financial records and many more cases are likely to follow. 

But the courts have never settled the limits of executive privilege and whether an impeachment inquiry effectively gives Congress more power to overcome it. 

If Trump fights as hard as he can, it is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, expect:

3) More hearings

Democrats know they need to convince the public that Trump needs to be put on trial and the best way to do that is hearings like those which electrified the nation during Watergate. 

They botched the Mueller hearing and their questioning of Corey Lewandowski was fiery but gained nothing until he was forced into an embarrassing series of answers by a leading white collar criminal attorney hired specially by the Judiciary Committee for the questioning. 

If they produce question and answer sessions with people from Trump-world which cause public outrage, they are on their way to:

4) Drawing up formal articles of impeachment in committee

The charge sheet for impeachment – the ‘articles’ – set out what Trump is formally accused of. It has no set format – it can be as long or as short as Congress decides. 

The offenses have to be ‘high crimes or misdemeanors’ but it is up to Congress to decide what those are. 

Three such set of articles have been drawn up – for Andrew Johnson on 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974, and Bill Clinton in 1998. 

Johnson’s were the most extensive at 11, Nixon faced three, and Bill Clinton four but with a series of numbered charges in each article. 

Among the terms already been used to describe Trump’s possible ‘high crimes or misdemeanors’ are ‘abuse of power’ but there are other areas of interest in the current set of investigations which offer a suggestion of where Democrats might decide there are grounds for impeachment – obstruction of justice, breach of the emoluments clause, and possible tax offenses.

While there are six committees investigating, it will fall to the House Judiciary Committee to consolidate the findings of all six into one set of articles of impeachment.

Once drawn up, the Judiciary committee votes on them and if approved, sends them to the House for:

5) Full floor vote on impeachment

The constitution says the House needs a simple majority to proceed, but has to vote on each article. 

Nixon quit before such a vote so Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only precedent. 

The House passed two out of the three articles against Clinton and all 11 against Johnson. Passing even one article leads to:

6) Senate impeachment trial

Even if the Senate is clearly not in favor of removing the president, it has to stage a trial if the House votes for impeachment. 

The hearing is in not in front of the full Senate, but ‘evidentiary committees’ – in theory at least similar to the existing Senate committees. 

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over it, but the procedures are set by senators. 

Members of the House prosecute Trump as ‘managers,’ bringing witnesses and presenting evidence to set out their case against the president. 

The president can defend himself, or, as Clinton did, use attorneys to cross-examine the witnesses. The committee or committees report to the full Senate. 

Then it can debate in public or deliberate in private on the guilt or innocence of the president. It holds a single open floor vote which will deliver:

7) The verdict

Impeachment must be by two-thirds of the Senate. Voting for impeachment on any one article is good enough to remove the president from office. There is no appeal.

In 1867, Andrew Johnson went through three roll call votes on impeachment in a smaller senate. A total of 36 guilty votes were needed to remove him – but only 35 senators voted to find him guilty each time, saving him by one vote. 

Bill Clinton faced two roll call votes in 1999. It was a far clearer result, with 66 senators’ votes needed to remove him from office: 55 voted to clear him of lying to a grand jury, while 50 voted to clear him of obstructing justice.  

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