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What comes next in the Trump impeachment inquiry?

Trump is likely to face at least three articles of impeachment.

Image: Susan Walsh/AP/Press Association Images

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump is likely to face at least three articles of impeachment in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

Democratic speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday that she had asked for articles of impeachment to be drawn up against the 45th president by the House Judiciary Committee.

The Democratic-controlled panel will then vote on the articles which, if passed, will be presented to the full 435-member House, where Democrats enjoy a majority.

If Trump is impeached by the House he will face a trial in the Senate, where Republicans currently hold 53 seats to the Democrats’ 47.

Approval of articles of impeachment is considered likely in the Democratic-majority House. Conviction in a following trial in the Republican-dominated Senate seems very unlikely.

The House is expecting a full vote by Christmas. That would send the issue to the Senate for a trial in the new year.

trump-impeachment-pelosi Source: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Press Association Images

What are articles of impeachment? 

Articles of impeachment are charges against the president. If the House approves them, they are then sent to the Senate for a trial and eventual vote. There can be as few or as many articles as the House decides.

In a Senate trial, senators are jurors and select House members act as prosecutors, or impeachment managers. The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides. If the Senate approves an article of impeachment with a two-thirds vote of “guilty,” the president is convicted and removed from office. If all the articles are rejected, the president is acquitted.

While the process has the trappings of a criminal trial, the decision is purely political.

This is the fourth time in history US Congress has moved to impeach a president. If he were convicted by the Senate, Trump would be the first to be removed. But that is unlikely in the GOP-controlled Senate.

No House Republicans have come out in favour of impeachment and Republicans currently control the Senate, making Trump’s ultimate conviction unlikely.

No president has been ousted from office by impeachment, but even the threat can bring one down — Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid certain removal in the Watergate scandal.

Two presidents beat the process: the House formally impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, but in both cases they were acquitted in the Senate.

house-judiciary-impeachment-hearing-on-constitutional-grounds Source: Douglas Christian/Zuma Press/PA Images

What will the articles cover? 

At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, three constitutional scholars called as witnesses by the Democrats outlined the possible articles of impeachment which Trump could face.

The articles of impeachment are likely to encompass two major themes — abuse of office and obstruction. But they could be divvied up into multiple articles.

An impeachment article accusing Trump of abuse of office, or abuse of power, would focus on the findings of the Ukraine investigation and his efforts to persuade the Ukrainian government to investigate Democrats as the US withheld military aid. That conduct is the focus of a House Intelligence Committee report that will be presented to the Judiciary panel for consideration in a Monday hearing.

Some lawmakers have suggested that Democrats could break out “bribery” as a separate article. It would likely centre on Trump withholding the aid, and also withholding a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in exchange for the political investigations.

Obstruction articles could be broken up into obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice, or the two could be combined.

The administration’s repeated refusals to provide documents and testimony would serve as the basis for an article charging Trump with obstruction of Congress. If Democrats decide to draft an article on obstruction of justice, it could mention the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

dc-white-house-christmas-tree-lighting-ceremony Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Polling shows Americans are about evenly split on impeaching and removing Trump — and the process has the potential to backfire on Democrats who face reelection in districts won by Trump.

According to a FiveThirtyEight.com poll average, 46.8% of respondents support Trump’s impeachment and removal, versus 44.5% who do not.

Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999 – not an election year – lasted five weeks, from 7 January to 12 February. If the same timing were used in 2020, Trump’s trial would run through both the Iowa caucuses on 3 February and the New Hampshire primary eight days later.

Trump himself has taken some time to get to grips with impeachment but now seems to be signalling the White House will launch a robust defence in the senate.

“If you’re going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate and so that our country can get back to business,” Trump tweeted on Thursday. 

After Pelosi announced that the House Judiciary Committee would be proceeding with articles of impeachment, Trump tweeted: “The good thing is that the Republicans have never been more united. We will win.” 

Longtime Democratic analyst David Axelrod, who served as president Barack Obama’s chief campaign strategist, offered a blunt prediction for the impeachment timetable.

“The House will impeach @POTUS by the end of the year because what he did warrants it,” he tweeted.

“The Senate will hold a trial in January but not convict, regardless of evidence, because he has absolute control of his party. And then we will move on.”

-  With reporting from Associated Press, Adam Daly 

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