Image of the U.S. Capitol building with the seal of the president behind it
Image of the U.S. Capitol building with the seal of the president behind it

Opposition Democrats in Washington have launched an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. The move came after a government whistleblower accused the president of abusing his office for personal gain. Here are the basics of the dispute:  

Why has Congress opened up an impeachment inquiry involving President Trump?

Opposition Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, believe the president may have abused his power under the Constitution by asking Ukraine to investigate one of his political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the leading Democrats running for president.

Why do Democrats regard this as potentially an impeachable act?

Democrats argue that by reaching out to another country for election help, the president may have violated campaign finance laws that prohibit foreign interference in U.S. elections. At the very least, they say it amounts to undermining the U.S. election system.

How does the Constitution define an impeachable offense?

The Constitution says impeachment is reserved for officials who commit “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” What misconduct qualifies as an impeachable offense is ultimately for Congress to decide, but legal scholars say it is not necessary for an official to have committed a crime in order to be impeached.

What is the president's defense?

The president has said his call with the Ukrainian president was "perfect" and that he did nothing wrong. He has accused Democrats of launching a partisan investigation and for now the White House is not cooperating with the impeachment probe.

What does the American public think about Trump’s possible impeachment?

Opinion surveys taken in the days following the announcement of the impeachment inquiry show about half of American voters support impeaching the president and removing him from office. The polls indicate that public support for impeachment has grown slightly since previous surveys conducted earlier this year.  

What happens now in the process?

House Democrats have officially begun an impeachment inquiry to gather evidence of potential wrongdoing. That could lead to an eventual effort in the House to impeach the president. A simple majority vote in the House is required to approve articles of impeachment, which basically is an indictment of the president alleging wrongdoing.

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WATCH: VOA Explains the Impeachment Process
Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist reads the vote tally in the Senate's impeachment trial of President Clinton, Feb. 12, 1998.

What would happen if the House votes to impeach the president?

Under the Constitution, a trial would be held in the Senate where the 100 senators would act as jurors. They would decide if the impeachment charges are serious enough to warrant the president’s removal from office. Removal requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, or 67 of the 100 votes. Republicans currently hold a 53- to 47-seat majority there.

Have other presidents been impeached?

Two. Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Both remained in office after they were acquitted in Senate trials. Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974 after Congress began impeachment proceedings against him and Republican congressional leaders told him he would not survive a trial in the Senate.

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