UPDATE: House Democrats released two articles of impeachment Tuesday.
As U.S. lawmakers continue to push on with their investigation into U.S. President Donald Trump‘s dealings with Ukraine, it is becoming a possibility that Trump could be impeached by the House of Representatives and could, at some point, face a trial before the U.S. Senate.
What does it mean if Trump is impeached and what would happen next?
Here’s a look at what could happen:
What is the impeachment inquiry?
The impeachment inquiry centres around a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wherein Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to “look into” former vice-president and political rival Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his work on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice-president or his son.
In the days before the call, Trump allegedly ordered officials to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation he was holding the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge but acknowledged that he had blocked the funds, which were later released.
For the last several weeks, three House committees have been speaking to witnesses and investigating whether there was a quid pro quo and if Trump abused the office of the president for his own political gain.
Trump has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, repeatedly calling the impeachment inquiry a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”
In November, the House approved a formal resolution, which provides the procedural details for the next phase of the impeachment investigation. On Dec. 10, House Democrats released two articles of impeachment against Trump.
How does impeachment work?
The term impeachment is often used colloquially to mean that a president has been removed from office, however, that is a misconception.
In reality, the term “impeachment” refers only to the House bringing charges — similar to an indictment in a criminal case.
That means a sitting president can be impeached, but can remain in office. Here’s how it works:
The committee(s) spearheading an impeachment inquiry develop “articles of impeachment” — much like charges — and bring them before the House for a vote.
If a majority of the House’s 435 members approves the articles of impeachment, the process moves on to the Senate.
The Senate, the upper chamber of Congress, then holds a trial to determine whether the president is guilty.
A two-thirds majority vote is required from the 100-member Senate to convict and remove a president from office.
Currently, the House has 253 Democrats, 199 Republicans and one Independent. Therefore, Democrats could impeach Trump without any support from the Republican Party.
However, the Senate is comprised of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two Independents. That means that in order for Trump to be removed from office, all of the Senate Democrats, both Independents and 20 Republicans would need to vote in favour of his conviction and removal.
What happens if Trump is impeached but isn’t removed from office?
According to, if Trump is impeached in the House but the Senate does not vote to convict him, he would likely remain in office and would be eligible to run for re-election.
“He’ll emerge from this process if he’s not convicted and removed — the likelihood is that he won’t be convicted and removed — claiming he’s been exonerated and then lambasting the Democrats for a sham process,” he said.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Trump said he was “very confident” at his chances of being re-elected despite the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
Gerhardt says it is likely that how the House voted and whatever the Senate did would become an issue in the upcoming presidential election.
If Trump is re-elected, Gerhardt says there is no rule in the U.S. Constitution that prevents Congress from attempting to impeach a president more than once.
However, he says, general congressional practice suggests it would be inappropriate to impeach a president for the same misconduct twice.
“But if there were different misconduct then there’s nothing in the constitution that bars the house from impeaching again,” he said.
According to Gerhardt, a precedent was set for this back when John Tyler, America’s 10th president, was in office.
“When John Tyler was president, the House tried on two different occasions to impeach him, each time taking a different vote,” Gerhardt says. “But in none of those situations did the house actually impeach.”
He added that impeachment does not have to be based on a criminal violation.
“There’s kind of a misunderstanding that he’s pushing here, which is that it’s got to be a crime. It doesn’t have to be a crime,” Gerhardt said.
In fact, Gerhardt says the process is largely used in cases centring around abuse of power, which might not be criminal at all.
“It is irrelevant whether he breaks the law,” he said.
According to the U.S. Constitution, a president can be removed from office for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”
What happens if Trump is impeached and is removed from office?
If Trump is impeached and the U.S. Senate votes in favour of removing him from office, Gerhardt says Vice-President Mike Pence would become the president and Trump would “return to private life.”
Pence would then serve until the end of Trump’s term on Jan. 20, 2021.
The next U.S. presidential election is slated for Nov. 3, 2020.
According to Gerhardt, there is no real precedent in U.S. history for this type of scenario.
“The only people who have been impeached, convicted and removed thus far in U.S. history have all been lower court judges,” he said. “In those cases, once they were not just impeached but convicted and removed, and they ceased to be judges and they returned to kind of private life, so to speak,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve not had a situation in the United States where any president has been convicted and removed from office.”
Former U.S. presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both impeached, however both were found not guilty by the U.S. Senate and were not removed from office.
President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal before an impeachment trial began.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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