AN impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump was announced last night amid claims he enlisted a foreign power for his political gain.
The probe – which threatens to oust the US President – will investigate whether he sought Ukraine’s help to smear ex-Vice President Joe Biden.
It will begin in the Democrat-led House of Representatives, whose speaker Nancy Pelosi said last night: “No one is above the law.”
Some Democrats in Congress have long wanted to kick-start the constitutional process to oust Trump, despite the slim odds of success. Previous bids have failed.
In May a 21-month long investigation by Robert Meuller into claims Donald Trump’s election was backed by Russia found no evidence to support this — and crucially impeachment proceedings did not go ahead.
But now such proceedings will go ahead, posing the greatest threat to Trump’s presidency so far.
It will allow the six House committees already probing various other alleged business wrongdoings to speed up their work on issuing subpoenas and calling witnesses.
The investigation against Trump will be only the fourth time they have been used against a President in US history.
Pelosi revealed the dramatic move following a meeting with her party — as pressure on Trump increased over his calls to Ukraine.
Trump has been accused of urging the president of Ukraine to probe the business activities of Joe Biden’s son and threatening to withhold aid.
Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president.
Reports previously claimed Biden, while vice president, threatened to withhold $1billion in American loan guarantees in 2016 if the nation’s leaders did not fire Ukraine’s top prosecutor.
At the time the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was probing the company where Hunter was a board member.
However, Ukraine’s current prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, said in May he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son.
What is impeachment and how does it work?
IMPEACHMENT is a formal charge of serious wrongdoing against a holder of public office in the United States.
It is one of the few ways a sitting president can be kicked out of the White House before an election.
The US Constitution states a president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours”.
The “sole power of impeachment” is held by the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress.
A simple majority is required – i.e. more than half of Representatives must vote to impeach the president.
Then the case would be tried by the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress, where a two-thirds majority is needed.
While the Senate is still controlled by the Republicans, with 53 of the 100 seats, the Democrats have control of the House of Representatives, with 235 of the 435 seats.
This means that it’s possible for the House of Representatives to pass a vote to impeach the president.
However, a two-thirds majority of 67 Senators voting to impeach Trump would still be needed in the Senate when it is tried.
A whistle-blower alleged that Trump tried to pressure Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating his opponent over the issue.
Days earlier, Trump withheld $400million in military aid to Ukraine – which critics say was an attempt to create leverage over Zelensky.
Details of the call form only part of the anonymous whistleblower’s overall complaint – which is being reviewed for classified material.
But it could go to Congress by Thursday, blowing potentially explosive details about Trump’s activities in office wide open.
In a TV address, Pelosi said: “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed a dishonourable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
It couldn’t have been nicer and even the Ukrainian government put out a statement that that was a perfect call, there was no pressure put on them whatsoever
Trump insists he did nothing wrong and vowed to release a transcript of a July phone call with Zelensky – who had just been voted into office.
Speaking at the UN on Tuesday, he admitted he mentioned the Biden in his call – but said it was in regards to helping keep out foreign corruption from Ukraine.
The US president said: “It couldn’t have been nicer and even the Ukrainian government put out a statement that that was a perfect call, there was no pressure put on them whatsoever.
“But there was pressure put on with respect to Joe Biden.
“What Joe Biden did for his son, that’s something they should be looking at.”
CALLS FOR TRANSCRIPT
Trump said that he would authorise the release of a transcript of the conversation – but Democrats want the full whistle-blower complaint.
And responding with a flurry of angry tweets, the president said: “Such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage.
“So bad for our Country!”
Naming some of his most prominent Democrat critics, Trump added: “Pelosi, Nadler, Schiff and, of course, Maxine Waters!
“Can you believe this?”
He added: “They never even saw the transcript of the call. A total Witch Hunt!”
In a final furious salvo, Trump blasted: “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”
Trump later kept up his attack, writing: “Secretary of State Pompeo recieved permission from Ukraine Government to release the transcript of the telephone call I had with their President.
THREAT TO PRESIDENT
Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry – reminiscent of the one created in 1973 to investigate the Watergate scandal – will look at the president’s dealings with Ukraine.
It could potentially lay the groundwork for articles of impeachment to be formed.
Articles of impeachment charge that the president may be guilty of “treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanours”.
Impeachment charges need a simple majority to pass the House of Representatives.
They then move to the Senate – currently controlled by Republicans – where 67 per cent of the vote is needed to find the president guilty.
If guilty, he is removed from office.
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No US President has ever been removed from office by impeachment.
President Nixon resigned from office in 1974 before he could be impeached for his role in the Watergate saga.
Bill Clinton survived an attempted the Senate impeachment trial sparked by his affair with White House staffer Monica Lewinsky.
And Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Abraham Lincoln as president between 1865 and 1869, stayed in office after surviving by one vote.
He was impeached in 1868 after sacking the Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton – against the wishes of Congress.
What other presidents have had impeachment proceedings launched against them?
The Republican-controlled House voted in October 1998 to begin impeachment proceedings against Clinton after months of controversy over his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
That vote was triggered by two rounds of testimony given by Clinton earlier in the year.
In January, he denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky; in August, under questioning from independent counsel Kenneth Starr before a federal grand jury, he testified that he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky.
Clinton was impeached on December 19, 1998, on the grounds of perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice.
A Senate trial against Clinton commenced on January 7, 1999, and unfolded over four weeks, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding.
On February 12, the Senate voted to acquit Clinton on both charges falling far short of the 67 votes needed to convict.
Only 45 senators voted for conviction on the perjury charge, and 50 for the obstruction charge.
The House initiated an impeachment process against Nixon (pictured) in February 1974, authorising the Judiciary Committee to investigate whether grounds existed to impeach him of high crimes and misdemeanors.
The charges mostly related to Watergate shorthand for the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters and the Nixon administration’s attempts to cover up its involvement.
In July 1974, the Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress.
Before the full House could vote on the articles of impeachment, a previously undisclosed audio tape was released that made clear Nixon had a role in the cover-up.
He resigned from office on August 9, 1974.
Johnson’s impeachment in 1868 was the culmination of a bitter dispute between the president and the Republican-controlled House over Reconstruction following the Civil War.
The specific trigger for impeachment was Johnson’s attempt to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who favored a tougher approach than Johnson toward the defeated South.
Nine of 11 impeachment articles concerned the head of the War Department.
The House voted to impeach Johnson on March 3, 1868.
Three days later, the Senate convened a formal impeachment trial, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding.
On May 16, after an often-stormy trial, the Senate failed to convict Johnson on one of the 11 articles, falling short of the necessary two-thirds majority by one vote.
After a 10-day recess, two more votes failed by the same margin, and the trial was adjourned.
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