The House on Thursday passed a resolution that formalized the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump after weeks of complaints from Republican lawmakers on the closed-door process.
The resolution's passage sets rules for the inquiry and signals that it will begin to transition into a more public phase. Witnesses are still testifying privately, but this historic development could result in public, televised hearings within a month and possibly even a vote on impeachment by the end of the year. Over a dozen witnesses have been interviewed as part of the inquiry so far.
Key aspects of the resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry:
- Allows the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, to hold open hearings.
- Allows for the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, to call for witnesses to be invited or subpoenaed to testify.
- Allows the Intelligence Committee to publish redacted transcripts of closed-door depositions.
- Directs relevant committees to report their findings to the House Judiciary Committee.
- Directs Schiff to compile a report that summarizes the inquiry's findings and deliver it to the House Judiciary Committee so it can determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment.
- Allows the president and his attorneys to cross-examine witnesses.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Monday that a vote would be held to formalize the process. Now that the resolution has passed, Republicans have shifted from criticizing how Democrats have so far conducted the inquiry to making the case it's already tainted and beyond repair.
The GOP has overwhelmingly focused on the process surrounding the impeachment inquiry while avoiding diving deep into the substance of the allegations against Trump as witnesses offer increasingly damning testimony against the president.
For weeks, Republicans have claimed the inquiry is a sham and illegitimate because witnesses have been interviewed in private by the three House committees leading the process, but there are no rules requiring the House to hold a vote to formally authorize an impeachment inquiry.
Impeachment is enshrined in the Constitution but the rules for how it's conducted are determined by the House. And House rules passed in 2015 under a Republican majority allow for the initial interviews of witnesses in impeachment inquiries to be done privately, similar to the way a criminal case is presented before a grand jury.
The House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs Committees have been conducting the investigation thus far, and have chosen to do it privately given there has not been prior federal or congressional inquiries into the allegations against Trump. Democrats control the House and therefore represent the majority on each committee, but a total of 46 House Republicans sit on one of the three committees.
The president was accused in a whistleblower complaint from a US intelligence official of using the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. This is linked to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he urged the Ukrainian leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, over the latter's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company. Trump also wanted Zelensky to launch a probe that could discredit the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
At the time of the call, Trump had moved to freeze up roughly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine as it continues to face Russian aggression and deals with an ongoing conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. Based on testimony from US diplomats and officials thus far, the decision to freeze the aid was part of Trump's efforts to pressure Zelensky into launching an investigation into Biden.
Given there have been no prior investigations into this matter, Democrats have argued they've been adhering to proper procedure and avoided allowing the process to turn into a public spectacle as they seek to understand what transpired and determine if there's enough evidence to bring articles of impeachment against Trump.
Republicans have also complained that House Democrats are not respecting "due process" via the way they've handled the inquiry so far. But legal experts have pushed back against that characterization based on the way impeachment works. Impeachment is often interpreted as meaning removal from office but that is not accurate. When a public official is impeached, it means charges have been formally filed against the official.
According to the Constitution, a President can be impeached for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
If Trump is impeached in the House, which would require a simple majority vote, a trial would then be held in the Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans. A two-thirds majority vote is required in the Senate to remove a president from office. Only two US presidents, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, have been impeached and both were acquitted in the Senate.
This article will continue to be updated.