Trump impeachment FAQ: What you need to know

For the first time in over two decades, the United States has been thrust into an impeachment drama, this one involving President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine’s government. At times over the past two months, the process has been confusing or difficult to follow. Officials from across the federal government have testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee, while constitutional scholars and lawyers have done so before the House Judiciary Committee, which will vote on whether to move the process forward. But with the Constitution murky on the specific roadmap that impeachment must follow, and with bad actors happy to propagate information that isn’t accurate, the entire process has left many Americans scratching their heads. 

Here’s a list of answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about impeachment. 

Why does President Trump face the prospect of impeachment?

House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled two articles of impeachment against President Trump over his dealings with Ukraine, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his efforts to procure Ukrainian investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and alleged election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. You can read the full text of them here.

Is the obstruction charge related to the Mueller report?

No. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation identified at least 10 instances of Trump’s possible obstruction of justice related to that probe, but the special counsel ultimately declined to recommend charges due to a Justice Department policy that prevents federal prosecutors from charging a sitting president with a crime. 

The current obstruction of Congress charge stems from the White House’s blanket order for administration officials to refuse to cooperate with the impeachment probe.

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Donald Trump in Hershey, Pennsylvania
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Donald Trump in Hershey, Pennsylvania
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA, USA - DECEMBER 10 : U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) gesture during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: Trump supporters attend the Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: Trump supporters attend the Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: A Trump woman supporter attends the Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: Trump supporters attend the Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: Trump supporters attend the Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: Trump supporters attend the Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: Trump supporters attend the Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: President Donald J. TRUMP speaks to his supporters at Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: President Donald J. TRUMP speaks to his supporters at Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 2019: President Donald J. TRUMP speaks to his supporters at Make America Great Rally in Hershey.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks for more than an hour as he and Vice-President Mike Pence return to Pennsylvania for a a Keep America Great campaign rally at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Vice-President Mike Pence takes the stage to introduce U.S. President Donald Trump as they return to Pennsylvania for a a Keep America Great campaign rally at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump greets supporters as he steps of the stage after speaking for more than an hour as he and Vice-President Mike Pence return to Pennsylvania for a a Keep America Great campaign rally at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump greets supporters as he steps of the stage after speaking for more than an hour as he and Vice-President Mike Pence return to Pennsylvania for a a Keep America Great campaign rally at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks for more than an hour as he and Vice-President Mike Pence return to Pennsylvania for a a Keep America Great campaign rally at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People in attendance hear U.S. President Donald Trump speak for more than an hour during a campaign rally with Vice-President Mike Pence at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks for more than an hour as he and Vice-President Mike Pence return to Pennsylvania for a a Keep America Great campaign rally at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks for more than an hour as he and Vice-President Mike Pence return to Pennsylvania for a a Keep America Great campaign rally at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump greets supporters as he steps on the stage for a campaign rally with Vice-President Mike Pence at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump greets supporters as he steps on the stage for a campaign rally with Vice-President Mike Pence at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People in attendance hear U.S. President Donald Trump speak for more than an hour during a campaign rally with Vice-President Mike Pence at the Giant Center, in Hershey, PA, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA - DECEMBER 10: U.S. President Donald Trump waves during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This rally marks the third time President Trump has held a campaign rally at Giant Center. The attendance of both President and Vice President signifies the importance Pennsylvania holds as a key battleground state. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA - DECEMBER 10: (L-R) Janelle Kiscaddin and Jadyn Seaman wear matching U.S. President Donald Trump sweatshirts and hats before Trump speaks during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This rally marks the third time President Trump has held a campaign rally at Giant Center. The attendance of both President and Vice President signifies the importance Pennsylvania holds as a key battleground state. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
HERSHEY, PA - DECEMBER 10: U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd upon taking the stage during a campaign rally on December 10, 2019 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This rally marks the third time President Trump has held a campaign rally at Giant Center. The attendance of both President and Vice President signifies the importance Pennsylvania holds as a key battleground state. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
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When could Trump be formally impeached?

The House Judiciary Committee will first debate and vote on the two articles of impeachment. Democrats hold a 24-to-17 majority on the committee, so they are almost certain to pass. A vote in the full House would then take place next week. If any articles pass by a simple majority vote, Trump will become the third U.S. president to be impeached.

If Trump is impeached, what happens then?

A trial in the Senate, presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts, would likely begin shortly after the New Year.

What would a Senate trial look like?

In most matters during an impeachment trial, such as a vote over a potential witness, a simple majority vote in the Republican-controlled Senate would be needed. Trump has suggested he’d like to see Biden, his son Hunter Biden, the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint triggered the impeachment investigation and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called to testify — a spectacle that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may want to avoid.

Indeed, Senate Republicans have already signaled they would rather have a speedy trial that may not include witnesses, though McConnell said no decisions have been made.

Could Trump challenge any aspect of his impeachment trial in federal court? 

No. In Nixon v. United States (not that Nixon), the Supreme Court ruled that impeachment is a political question and cannot be resolved in the courts.

If Trump gets impeached, is he allowed to govern before the Senate trial?

There is nothing in the Constitution limiting a president’s power during the period between impeachment in the House and the Senate trial that follows.

Is impeachment the same thing as removal from office?

It is not. Impeachment in the House is similar to a criminal indictment, while a vote in the Senate is required for removal. Both Andrew Johnson, who was impeached in 1868, and Bill Clinton, whose impeachment came in 1998, were acquitted by the Senate. After acquittal, they served out their terms. Impeachment articles against Richard Nixon passed the Judiciary Committee in 1974, but he resigned prior to the full House voting.

Must a president have committed a crime in order to be impeached?

No. The Founding Fathers kept things vague with the intention of making impeachment political and not legal, with the Constitution saying impeachment can be for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The burden of proof has been lower than that of criminal courts, where it’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

How many votes does it take to impeach a president?

Two hundred and eighteen. A simple majority in the House is all that’s required, so half of the members who vote plus one. The current makeup of the House is 233 Democrats, 197 Republicans and one independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the Republican Party in July and has been supportive of impeachment.

If Trump is impeached, how many Senate votes are needed to remove him from office?

Sixty-seven. A two-thirds supermajority of the 100-member Senate is required to remove a president from office. The current composition is 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, meaning 20 GOP members would have to break ranks with Trump for him to be removed, something that appears highly unlikely. 

What happens if Trump is removed?

Vice President Mike Pence would immediately become president. Pence would then nominate a candidate to become his vice president. Per the 25th Amendment, a majority vote in both houses of Congress is required to confirm a vice presidential nominee. This process happened twice in the 1970s, when Gerald Ford was nominated to replace Spiro Agnew after Agnew’s resignation and again when Nelson Rockefeller was nominated to replace Ford after Nixon’s resignation.

Could Trump run for president again if he’s removed by the Senate?

That depends. The Constitution says that the Senate can vote for removal and for “disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” In U.S. history, a president has never been removed from office only to seek it again, but federal judges who have been removed have required a second vote to disqualify them from future office. If that precedent were to be applied in the case of Trump’s ouster, the Senate would have one vote to remove him from office and another to disqualify him from future office. If the second vote isn’t held or fails, he could legally be free to run again.

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Impeachment witness Pamela Karlan
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Impeachment witness Pamela Karlan
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 04: Constitutional scholar Pamela Karlan of Stanford University greets members of the committee during a short break in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill December 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. This is the first hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals. The Judiciary Committee will decide whether to draft official articles of impeachment against President Trump to be voted on by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 04: Constitutional scholars Pamela Karlan (R) of Stanford University and Noah Feldman (L) of Harvard University testify before the House Judiciary Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill December 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. This is the first hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals. The Judiciary Committee will decide whether to draft official articles of impeachment against President Trump to be voted on by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 4: Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan testifies during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry of President Trump in Longworth Building on Wednesday Dec. 4, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
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Can the Senate vote to imprison a president?

No. That would require a separate criminal process, as the Constitution states the “party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgement and Punishment, according to Law.” The Senate’s abilities are limited to removing an official and disqualifying him or her from holding that office in the future. 

Can the House vote to ‘censure’ Trump instead?

Yes. It’s an idea currently being floated by a small group of House Democrats from districts where impeachment could be an electoral liability. Rather than face the prospect of being removed from office, Trump would be rebuked in a vote of formal disapproval over his actions in Ukraine. But it’s a long shot, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had previously ruled it out.

“If the goods are there, you must impeach,” she told reporters in June. “Censure is nice, but it is not commensurate with the violations of the Constitution should we decide that’s the way to go.”

If he’s impeached, but acquitted by the Senate, can Trump still run for reelection?

Yes.

Following a Senate acquittal, could Trump be impeached again?

Yes. In theory, the House could continue to pass additional articles of impeachment that would then trigger additional Senate trials. Throughout it all, the president would remain in office unless two-thirds of the Senate voted to remove him.

What is Trump saying about all of this?

The president has repeatedly called impeachment “a dirty word” and has reportedly fretted about the stain it would leave on his legacy.

“It’s a disgrace,” Trump told reporters after articles of impeachment were unveiled. “It’s a disgrace to our country. It’s a hoax. And it should never, ever be allowed to happen again.”

He continued to gripe at a rally in Hershey, Pa., the same night.

“You saw their so-called articles of impeachment,” Trump said. “People are saying, they’re not even a crime. What happened? All of these horrible things, remember? Bribery and this and that. Where are they? They’re not even a crime.”

Do Americans support impeachment?

According to FiveThirtyEight.com’s impeachment poll tracker (as of Dec. 11), 48.1 percent of Americans support Trump’s impeachment, compared to 44.8 percent who do not. Support for impeachment is up since Sept. 24, when Pelosi announced a formal impeachment probe. At that time, a majority (51.2 percent) did not support impeachment, while 38.7 percent did.

Does support for impeachment fall along party lines?

Mostly. Among Democrats, 83.8 percent support impeachment, compared to just 9 percent of Republicans, per FiveThirtyEight.com.

Will Fox News save Trump from impeachment?

Some observers have suggested that Nixon might have survived Watergate if Fox News had been around back then. And they might be right. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found just 29 percent of Fox News viewers support Trump’s impeachment and removal, compared to 70 percent who watch MSNBC or CNN.

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