Impeachment is an act that some governments can take where the legislative body of government, Congress in the United States, place a government figure on trial for a crime related to their office.
President Trump is accused of attempting to pressure the Ukrainian government to conduct investigations into Hunter Biden, son of one of Trump’s political rivals, Joe Biden. Trump is accused of using bribery and threats to pressure the Ukrainian government, such as withholding $400m of US military aid to the country. The President is also accused of refusing to co-operate with Congress during their congressional inquiry.
These claims were levelled after a call log of Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian leader was leaked by a whistle-blower. This action, if proven true, would be seen as bribery and an attempt to meddle in the elections of the United States. Donald Trump has been quick to retaliate calling the trial a “witch hunt” by Democrats and the mainstream media. He also argues that it was appropriate for him to ask Ukraine to investigate what he believed to be corruption.
Impeachment trials in the United States are as much political as they are legal affairs. The trial takes place in Congress with the Democrats acting as the prosecution while Trump’s political party, the Republicans, act as the defence. Once the trial is over and both sides have made their cases a vote will be held in the Senate. If two-thirds or more of senators vote that Trump is guilty of the charges he will be removed from office and his Vice-President will take over.
However, if the Democrats fail to garner that much support for the threshold to be reached, Trump will remain in office at least until the next Presidential election, due to take place later this year.
If Trump were removed from office in this manner, he would go on to face criminal charges. The Republicans’ defence of the President follows three main points; Ukraine’s leader said he didn’t feel that he was threatened or under pressure, the Ukrainian government was not aware of any aid being held back by the Americans and the US military aid money did eventually go to the Ukrainians.
Before the trial could even begin there were fierce arguments in Congress over the role of witnesses and whether any will be questioned at all. Both sides have witnesses they wish to call which they believe will help their case for or against the President. Democrats have been keen to allow witnesses such as John Bolton, the former National Security Advisor. However, the Republicans have been keen to point out that they too would be able to call witnesses, such as Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, which could prove unhelpful for the Democrats. At the moment witnesses are being withheld but that could change in the coming weeks.
Historically only three other presidents have had impeachment trials laid against them. In modern days we remember Richard Nixon who faced impeachment after the Watergate scandal but resigned from office before the trial got underway. Bill Clinton was also impeached but was not removed from office as neither counts of impeachment received the necessary two-thirds majority vote of the senators.