Everything you need to know about US president Donald Trump's impeachment process: What's happened, who the players are, and what comes next
- Donald Trump's presidency has been upended by an explosive whistleblower complaint that has snowballed into a fast-moving impeachment inquiry.
- The scandal has ensnared dozens of people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and poses the most immediate threat to Trump's presidency yet.
- What is impeachment? How did we get here? And what could happen next?
- We hope this guide will help answer these questions. There's even a table of contents below so you can jump to a specific section.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Donald Trump's presidency has been upended by an explosive whistleblower complaint that has snowballed into a fast-moving impeachment inquiry, ensnaring dozens of people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and posing the most immediate threat to Trump's presidency yet.
What is impeachment? Impeachment doesn't mean automatic removal from office. The impeachment process can be thought of as somewhat analogous to a criminal proceeding, even though impeachable offences don't have to be criminal offences. The House, like a grand jury, collects evidence, hears testimony, and drafts articles of impeachment - or charges - against the president.
Now that a majority of the House has voted to impeach the president on a charge of abusing his office and a charge of obstructing Congress, the Senate holds a trial where both sides present their cases and senators act as jurors. If two-thirds of senators vote to convict the president on the charges brought by the House, the president is removed from office.
How did we get here? And what could happen next? We hope this guide will help answer these questions. We highly recommend you read the entirety of this story so you can be as informed as possible, but you can also jump to a specific section from the table of contents below.
Table of contents
First, here's a 60-second explanation of what's going on:
In early September, an anonymous whistleblower complaint lodged by a member of the intelligence community said that in a series of events culminating in a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump used "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."
The complaint detailed concerns that Trump, days after withholding a nearly $400 million military-aid package, used the call with Zelensky to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian oil-and-gas company, from 2014 to 2019. Trump and his allies have, without evidence, accused Biden of using his power as vice president to urge Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma in order to protect Hunter.
The whistleblower's complaint has been corroborated by the White House's summary notes of the July 25 call, White House officials themselves, and the sworn testimony of several career diplomatic and national-security officials.
Multiple diplomats testified under oath that the Trump administration explicitly conditioned lifting the hold of the military aid to Ukraine on Zelensky publicly announcing investigations into Burisma and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to benefit Hillary Clinton.
On Friday, December 13, the House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abusing his office and obstructing Congress.
Here are the key players, broken down by group. Click on their names to learn more about their role in the Trump-Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry:
- White House officials:
- President Donald Trump, who asked Zelensky to do him "a favour" related to an investigation into Burisma and the 2016 election.
- Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump used as a conduit to further get the message across to Ukraine that it needed to investigate corruption to get US support.
- Jennifer Williams , a State Department official detailed to the Vice President's office who listened in on the July 25 call and testified before Congress.
- Mick Mulvaney , the acting chief of staff, who in a press briefing undermined Trump's impeachment defence by confirming that the administration withheld the aid in exchange for an investigation into the Democratic National Committee server.
- Pat Cipollone , the White House counsel and the White House's first line of legal defense against the impeachment inquiry.
- Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an expert on Eastern European affairs on the National Security Council who listened to the July 25 call and raised concerns about it to his superiors.
- Current and former Trump administration officials:
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also on the July 25 call with Ukraine. Pompeo is also accused of misrepresenting his involvement in the matter and obstructing congressional investigations into it.
- John Bolton , the former national security adviser, who is said to have pushed back on the idea of conditioning assistance to Ukraine for investigations. He could soon testify before Congress.
- Former NSC senior director for Eurasian and Russian affairs Fiona Hill, who gave powerful testimony to Congress about the efforts to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations into the Bidens.
- Attorney General William Barr, whom Trump entangled in the impeachment inquiry by asking Ukraine to work with Barr on corruption investigations and requesting that Barr hold a press conference clearing Trump of wrongdoing.
- Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, whom Trump tried to blame for the Ukraine call after the fact. Perry is set to leave the administration at the end of this year.
- Pentagon official Laura Cooper, who testified on November 20 that the DOD was aware of the freeze placed on the aid to Ukraine by late July, almost a month earlier than had been previously reported.
- Intelligence community officials:
- Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who transmitted the whistleblower complaint to Congress and was the first witness to testify publicly about its contents.
- Michael Atkinson , the intelligence community inspector general, whom the whistleblower initially filed their complaint to.
- The anonymous whistleblower.
- Current and former diplomats:
- Kurt Volker , the former US special representative for Ukraine, who gave critical testimony to Congress about the extent of Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's involvement in the Trump-Ukraine saga.
- Gordon Sondland , the US ambassador to the European Union, a Trump appointee who testified that the pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was "insidious" and at least improper, if not illegal.
- Bill Taylor , the acting ambassador to Ukraine, a Vietnam veteran and career diplomat who gave explosive and damning testimony to Congress that it was his "clear understanding" that "security assistance money would not come until" Zelensky "committed to pursue the investigation."
- Marie Yovanovitch , the former US ambassador to Ukraine, a career diplomat who gave powerful and damning testimony that Trump and Giuliani pushed her out of her position for standing in the way of their efforts to compel Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
- David Holmes , a political counselor at the US embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine who publicly testified along Hill about Giuliani and Sondland's efforts to trade military aid for Ukraine announcing investigations into Burisma.
- Members of Congress:
- Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, the person taking charge of the impeachment inquiry, subpoenaing witnesses, and holding hearings.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is guiding the trajectory of the impeachment inquiry in the House and recently called for a vote on a resolution to formalise the terms of the inquiry's public phase.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who would set the agenda for an impeachment trial in the Senate.
- Former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who ran point on US-Ukraine relations in the Obama administration.
- Hunter Biden , Joe Biden's eldest son, who served on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings from 2014 to 2019.
- Rudy Giuliani , Trump's personal attorney who served as an unofficial envoy to Ukraine and roped various diplomats into his efforts to demand that Ukraine investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election He's now the focus of a federal investigation.
- Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two business associates of Giuliani's who were recently charged with federal campaign-finance violations in connection with their Ukrainian lobbying work. Parnas is cooperating with the impeachment inquiry.
Asking a foreign government for material campaign aid is not only unprecedented from a US president, but it could even violate campaign finance laws against soliciting campaign contributions or help from foreign nationals.
Beyond the immediate threat to Trump and those in his inner orbit, the Trump-Ukraine scandal could have lasting geopolitical consequences that reverberate for years to come.
Ukraine is highly dependent on American military aid to defend itself from incursions from Russia. Ukraine has been engaged in a hot war with Russia, a US adversary, since 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed the peninsula of Crimea, a contested territory.
In his testimony to Congress, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an expert on Eastern European affairs on the National Security Council, expressed concern about the military and political implications of the administration withholding the aid.
Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, also testified that the US withholding aid and signaling less support for Ukraine could further embolden Russia to take more aggressive military action and contribute to further destabilization of the region.
The possible outcomes
The impeachment process traditionally begins in the House Judiciary Committee, which on Friday passed two articles of impeachment against Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
On Wednesday, the full House of Representatives voted to pass the abuse of power article by a vote of 230 to 197 to 1 and the obstruction of Congress article by a vote of 229 to 198 to 1.
Now, the Senate will hold a trial where Trump will either be convicted or acquitted.
For Trump to be removed from office, two-thirds of the US Senate - 67 members - must vote to convict him of articles of impeachment. Currently, the Senate consists of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with Democrats.
If Trump is not impeached, or impeached but not convicted in the Senate, he stays in office, and it'll be left up to the American people to reelect him or vote him out of office in 2020.
Here's a timeline of events from our past coverage:
Former White House counsel Don McGahn has been ordered to testify before Congress. Experts say the court ruling may encourage Bolton and other top Trump officials to come forward in the impeachment probe.
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