The House of Representatives speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat in Congress, announced on 24 September an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump. The proceedings have developed with a swiftness and complexity that might leave some readers feeling dazed.
Here’s a thumbnail guide.
What is Trump accused of?
In a July 2019 phone call, Trump asked Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to mount an investigation of his potential rival for the White House in the 2020 election, Joe Biden, and son Hunter Biden – and also to investigate a Fox News-space conspiracy theory that Ukraine, instead of Russia, was behind foreign tampering in the 2016 election.
Trump framed the requests as a “favor” after he reminded his counterpart that “the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine”. Overshadowing the conversation was the fact that Trump had recently suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid that Congress had approved for Ukraine to defend itself against Russia .
News of the call emerged in a Washington Post report on 18 September that an internal whistleblower complaint, filed in August, involved “communications between Trump and a foreign leader”.
Trump’s attempted dealings in Ukraine caused a scandal in US diplomatic ranks. The Democrats have obtained text messages between top US envoys in Ukraine establishing that diplomats told Zelenskiy that a White House visit to meet Trump was dependent on him making a public statement vowing to investigate Hunter Biden’s company. “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” one message said.
What’s Trump’s version of events?
Trump does not dispute public accounts of what he said in the call, as established by the intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint, released on 26 September, and a call summary released by the White House itself the day before.
But Trump and allies have argued that the conversation – “I’ve given you that, now I need this” – was not actually as transactional as it appears to be. That’s beside the point legally, analysts say, but you be the judge.
Meanwhile Trump and Republicans have, without denying their conduct, sought to undermine his accusers and frame the proceedings as, surprise, a partisan “witch-hunt”.
This sounds depressingly familiar, bye
No hard feelings, bye! But really, that appears to be part of Trump’s strategy here – to sow division and doubt to create the impression that this impeachment inquiry amounts to just one more crazy whirl around Washington’s wacky partisan merry-go-round. It’s a ride many Americans are truly sick of.
Is this just one more whirl around Washington’s partisan merry-go-round?
The thing is, so long as Republicans in Congress don’t contradict Trump, he has a lot of power to make it seem so. But just because Trump is out there ranting and crying BULLSHIT – just because the president is throwing a fit about the allegation that he violated his oath of office or commited a crime does not mean he did not violate his oath or commit a crime.
Did Trump violate his oath or commit a crime?
A lot of people – from the whistleblower, to career government officials swept up in the affair, to legal scholars, to Democrats and Republicans who have not drunk the Trump “Kool-Aid” – believe it’s plausible that the president has committed an impeachable offense.
What about the other foreign countries and people involved?
In at least five countries, Trump or Trump administration officials have been active on two fronts: urging attacks on Biden and rewriting the story of the 2016 US election.
Trump has conscripted the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who listened in on the July Ukraine call and the attorney general, William Barr, who has met with government contacts in Italy and London and sought Australian contacts to review special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation. That investigation had prompted much impeachment talk but the Ukraine scandal quickly sparked a formal impeachment inquiry.
Meanwhile Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has pressured Ukraine to smear Biden, and the whistleblower said White House officials had caused records of Trump’s Ukraine call to be moved into a specially restricted computer system. And the vice-president, Mike Pence, has acknowledged contacts with Ukrainian officials while claiming to have no knowledge of Trump’s Biden agenda.
Trump, foreign election tampering – is this just a replay of Mueller?
No. Unlike when he was a candidate, Trump’s invitations for foreign powers to attack his domestic political opponents now have all the power of the White House behind them.
Critics say this is a plain abuse of that power and stinks of despotism.And it undermines US national security because it places Trump’s personal agenda first. In America, l’état, c’est pas moi.
Trump is also accused of undermining the integrity of US elections, violating the civil rights of the US citizens he is calling out for foreign attack, and violating campaign finance laws by soliciting foreign help. The Trump administration also stands accused of obstruction of justice for resisting congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony relating to the crisis.
After a series of sensational public hearings in front of the House intelligence and judiciary committees in recent weeks, the House of Representatives votes on the two articles of impeachment drawn up by the judiciary committee – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. If a simple majority votes to impeach Trump he faces trial in the Republican-dominated US Senate, expected in January 2020, just as Democratic primary voting is about to get under way to pick the party’s nominee to fight Trump in the election.