The U.S. House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), officially announced an impeachment inquiry of President Trump on September 24th as a result of a whistleblower complaint of a phone call between President Trump and the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. The whistleblower, a CIA analyst with expertise in the region who was previously detailed to the White House, filed a complaint with the Inspector General in accordance with 50 U.S.C § 3033(k)(5)(A), and deemed it an “urgent concern” that “appears credible,” alleging an inappropriate quid-pro-quo by the President of investigating the Biden family in exchange for nearly $400 million of aid that had previously been placed on hold.
The memorandum from the July 25th call–which is not a perfect transcript but notes compiled by National Security Council members that listen to the call for the express purpose of memorializing it–includes President Trump asking President Zelensky “to do us a favor” with regards to investigating an unsubstantiated claim that the Ukrainians were involved in the emails stolen from the DNC and investigating the Biden family–particularly Vice President Biden’s son Hunter Biden, who previously served on the board of the Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings during the Obama administration. Claims of corruption or impropriety on the part of the Bidens have been debunked multiple times.
The President, speaking to staff members at the United States Mission to the United Nations, said that the whistleblower is “close to a spy” and that the US should “handle” them like “in the good old days,” a reference to execution. He has also repeatedly tweeted that this inquiry is a “witch hunt,” said that his call to Ukraine was “perfect,” and insisted that the inquiry was “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” Despite his claim that the call was “perfect,” his closest advisors saw fit to move the memorandum of the call to a database reserved for code-word protected data, a move seen by many as evidence of the White House’s understanding of their own wrongdoing. The Ukranian president has said that he did not feel pressured into action by the call from President Trump despite reports to the contrary.
President Trump has also now issued calls to the governments of China and Australia to also launch investigations into the Biden family. The encouragement for China to investigate was provided via a news conference at the White House. The appeal to Australia was also communicated via a call that was moved to the same database for classified information after the fact.
The official announcement by Speaker Pelosi of the impeachment inquiry was not technically the start of the impeachment hearing, as inquiries by the House of Representatives had previously been utilizing the legal force of an impeachment inquiry. Now, six committees will investigate the President’s claims. The House also issued subpoenas to both the White House and Vice President Mike Pence on Friday, October 4 with deadlines of October 18 and October 15, respectively. The letter from three committee chairmen, Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Eliot Engel (D-NY) lays out the House’s authority for both an impeachment inquiry and subpoena as well as two previous requests for documents by the House to the Trump Administration that went unfulfilled. The White House has now signaled their intent not to cooperate with the inquiry on October 10th with a letter to the House Democratic leadership saying that the impeachment inquiry had “violated civil liberties” by denying the President due process; the letter also reaffirmed the White House’s stance that the call with the Ukrainian President was “completely appropriate.”
Additionally, a second whistleblower is set to come forward with first-hand knowledge of the information put forward by the first whistleblower; this would undermine a crucial talking point of President Trump’s supporters who have attempted to discredit the first whistleblower on account of his knowledge of the call being second-hand.
The constitution defines impeachable offenses as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” a phrased derived from English law. Former President Gerald Ford famously said that “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.” Only three presidents before Trump have ever faced impeachment: Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both successfully impeached while President Richard Nixon resigned before being impeached.
Contrary to common understanding, impeachment does not mean removal from office, which requires a trial and vote of two-thirds majority by the Senate. No president has ever been successfully removed from office under the Constitution. As of now, a majority of the House of Representatives supports impeachment, but two-thirds of the Senate would not vote to remove. Nonetheless, former Senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake said that if the vote for removal were a secret ballot “at least 35” Republican Senators would vote to remove. The former senator has been one of the President’s greatest Republican critics, and, as such, did not run for re-election in 2018. Several senators, including Democrat Doug Jones, facing tough re-elections in 2020 have been trying to walk the fine line between support for removal and support of the President.
Within House Republicans, only former Republican Justin Amash (I-MI) is in support of an impeachment inquiry; 8 House Democrats, who are mostly freshmen in more conservative districts, are on record as either “no” or “not right now” for the impeachment inquiry. At 227 in favor, this constitutes a majority, even though the legal force imbued in an impeachment inquiry does not require a majority vote by the entire House of Representatives.
The persistent fears that prevented Speaker Pelosi from opening an inquiry after the release of the Mueller Report are that this impeachment process will have a similar outcome as the Clinton impeachment in 1998, where the President was impeached but not removed and Democrats picked up seats in the 2000 election. Thus, the question of this impeachment inquiry’s impact on the 2020 election looms large in every conversation, as Democrats must weigh the potential political fallout from impeaching–but likely not removing–President Trump with the constitutional imperatives and precedent set by his actions. And, the impacts of this impeachment inquiry will not be truly felt until the results of the 2020 election are announced.
This situation continues to develop, but I would encourage you to read the complaint, the Inspector General’s letter, and the transcripts of the call. All three documents are under 20 pages and linked to below.
READ THE UNCLASSIFIED COMPLAINT HERE: https://intelligence.house.gov/uploadedfiles/20190812_-_whistleblower_complaint_unclass.pdf
READ THE SUMMARY OF THE CALL HERE: https://games-cdn.washingtonpost.com/notes/prod/default/documents/d2311f4f-a767-4ddc-868b-8bc9af8226c5/note/339b784b-719c-464f-9eda-85daede53092.pdf#page=1
READ THE INSPECTOR GENERAL’S LETTER HERE: https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/26/politics/read-icig-report-dni-whistleblower-complaint/index.html