It started with a phone call.
The Washington Post reported that on July 25, 2019, President Donald Trump called the newly elected leader of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to congratulate him on the victory — at first.
During the half hour call, Zelensky expressed his appreciation for the military aid the U.S. provided his country and mentioned the country is almost ready to buy more defense weapons in the form of Javelins, an anti-tank missile. With the proverbial ball lobbed into Trump’s court, he then asked Zelensky to “do us a favor though.”
In the summary of the conversation released by the White House, Trump asked Zelensky to start speaking with U.S. Attorney General William Barr to “get to the bottom” of digging up dirt on former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who used to be on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
“Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible,” Trump said.
Trump had a card up his sleeve. About a week before the phone call, his administration had put $400 million of aide to Ukraine on hold even though it was passed by Congress. A picture begins to focus in frame. Is Trump using a withdrawal of aide to persuade a foreign power in helping him politically? That’s the question an individual in the intelligence community asked when they were made aware of the conversation.
This individual, known only as the whistleblower, sent a complaint to the Inspector General for the Director of National Intelligence Michael Atkinson, on Aug. 12. Atkinson then sent the complaint to the Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire on Aug. 26 where it stayed until Sept. 19, when Atkinson took the complaint to Congress himself.
On Sept. 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, formally announced the initiation of an impeachment inquiry of Trump; a move she had been hesitant to make in recent months. “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” she said.
So, now what?
It’s been more than 20 years since the impeachment process has poked its divisive head out of Article I of the Constitution. Under Section 4, this gives Congress the power to determine whether “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.” Several offenses can be charged against a president as an impeachment inquiry proceeds and it seems an abuse of power and obstruction of justice will be likely charges for President Trump.
Before the House of Representatives can vote, the inquiry must pass through the House Judiciary Committee, which is led by Jerrold Nadler D-NY. If a majority of the committee find grounds for impeachment, it is then sent to the House for debate and a vote and it is most certain that a majority vote will be reached. The threshold to pass is 218 votes. As of Sept. 26, 219 Democrats, and one Independent, Justin Amash of Michigan, would support such a move. In past impeachments, the House has never been the hurdle; it’s been the Senate trial. A two-thirds vote in favor of impeachment must pass the Republican controlled Senate.
Four presidents have now been faced with an impeachment inquiry. Two of those had trials in the Senate. Neither of them passed. Even Andrew Johnson, who had 11 articles of impeachment against him in 1868, was able to complete his term as president after the Senate failed to pass the vote.
Assuming all 45 Democrats and two Independents in the Senate vote in favor of impeachment, 20 Republicans would have to be persuaded. And right now, Mitt Romney R-UT is the only GOP senator who might budge as he called the transcripts of the conversation between Trump and Zelensky “deeply troubling.”
Get used to navigating this story in your timelines over the next year. In times like these, we’re reminded of the old Cleveland Plain Dealer slogan; “Miss a day. Miss a lot.” Updates for this story will be rapid and loud.This is democracy experiencing itself.
This impeachment inquiry should stand as a warning to future elected officials in American democracy. To anyone who wishes to run, you can not have power without checks and balances even if you think the scales are tipped against you. If they are tipped against Trump, it’s on purpose as the right of the people to have a fair and honest leader outweigh any qualms or plight on his end.
Contact Jarett Theberge at [email protected]