Is the impeachment investigation an attempted coup
The seven most important answers to Trump impeachment
Donald Trump is only the third US president to face impeachment proceedings - and the first since the invention of Twitter, through which he is likely to comment on the proceedings from the sidelines. This Tuesday, at 1 p.m. Washington time (7 p.m. CET), the impeachment in the Senate begins. DW answers the most important questions about the crucial round in the impeachment process.
What's the charge again?
In the process, the so-called Ukraine affair is dealt with: On July 25, President Trump phoned his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Selenskyj - and asked him to investigate the natural gas deals of Hunter Biden, son of the Democratic presidential candidate and ex-Vice President Joe Biden, to apply. A US intelligence agent set up an internal complaint mechanism about the delicate phone call. The Democrats eventually launched the impeachment investigation against Trump.
After weeks of hearings in the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, the MPs agreed on two charges: First, they accuse Trump of abuse of office because investigations into Biden junior could give the president personal advantages in the election campaign against Biden senior. Second, the House of Representatives believes that the White House has not cooperated adequately with the Judiciary Committee in dealing with the matter, so the second count is obstruction of Congress.
Richard Nixon narrowly escaped the impeachment process in the Senate in 1974 - through his own resignation
How does impeachment work in the Senate?
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, will preside over the proceedings. The legal texts only vaguely indicate the course of the procedure and there are hardly any precedents. Before the process begins formally, the senators must agree on a course of action.
But one thing is clear: First, the representatives of the prosecution, i.e. seven Democratic members of the House of Representatives, are allowed to spread their allegations for a total of 24 hours over two days. Trump's defense lawyers are given just as long time for the counter-speech. One of them, by the way, is Kenneth Starr, whose 1998 investigation report led to the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton.
Last week the prosecutors delivered the two impeachment articles to the Senate
Probably the most contentious question about the process is currently whether the prosecution may summon additional witnesses who may further incriminate Trump. In addition to the Democrats, some moderate senators from Trump's Republican Party are also in favor of not wanting to be accused of preventing a fair trial. After the opening speeches at the latest, the senators will make the decision on further hearings. In the end, they will vote on whether they consider the president guilty as charged.
Who would be possible witnesses?
The Democrats have a list of four witnesses they would like to summon to the Senate. Probably the most prominent person on it, Trump's former security advisor John Bolton, has already publicly stated that he is ready to testify. Trump's office boss Mick Mulvaney is also among the Democrats' dream witnesses.
For their part, the Republicans are flirting with a subpoena for Hunter Biden, around whom the Ukraine affair unfolded in the first place: If incriminating material about his Ukraine business were to come to light, it would distract from the accusation of the Democrats that Trump only wanted the whole maneuver Biden senior harm.
Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani with his Ukrainian-American assistant Lev Parnas
Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani had also sent his colleague Lev Parnas on a similar mission. Parnas' testimony or his documents would probably weigh heavily on Trump - therefore, there is a dispute among the senators whether they allow them as evidence or not.
Will Trump testify himself?
Trump himself said on Twitter that he was "seriously" considering a statement - in person or in writing. However, his lawyers also have a say in the matter - in the case of the special investigator Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia, they ultimately persuaded the president to only comment in writing and with legally sophisticated formulations. Should Trump appear in the Senate in person, he would earn a historical unique selling point: The two previous presidents who had to endure impeachment proceedings so far, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, stayed away from the negotiations.
Who would take over if Trump impeached?
Should the Senate remove Trump from office, Vice President Mike Pence would be promoted to "Acting President". In the final vote, Pence is expected to abstain because he has a conflict of interest in view of his job opportunity.
Impeachment alone would not rule out Trump being re-elected president in November 2020: The Senate would first have to separately decide that Trump may no longer run in the future.
How likely is a conviction anyway?
One must never forget that impeachment is not a legal but a political process - even if the senators officially committed themselves to act as an impartial jury. The previous two trials against Johnson and Clinton resulted in acquittals. Trump can also hope for it because of the balance of power: His Republicans hold 53 seats. Just 51 votes are enough to design the process according to your ideas. A president is only removed from office with 67 votes - it is hard to imagine that so many Republicans would support the Democrats' request.
The three impeachment presidents: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump
In the 2020 election year, Trump also plays the "Red Wall" in the cards: This refers to the 31 Republican senators who represent very Trump-friendly states. 15 of them are up for re-election at the same time as the president in November - a publicly documented vote against Trump would hardly boost their careers. They are therefore considered to be assured advocates.
Overall, Trump's impeachment would only be conceivable if public opinion changed significantly to his disadvantage before the final vote and the Republicans saw a political advantage in dropping their president.
What does the public think?
So far, the public has apparently not been too impressed by the revelations of the past few months and the judicial committee hearings. The online service "RealClearPolitics" has calculated from various opinion polls that recently 47 percent of those questioned supported an impeachment of Trump; 47.4 percent were against it. The page "FiveThirtyEight" calculated in a similar method a narrow majority of 49.4 percent for impeachment. Over the entire period since September, when the Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, first announced an impeachment investigation, both values have barely changed.
Citizens' attitude towards impeachment is primarily linked to which party they sympathize with: four out of five Americans who are close to the Democrats want Trump to be chased out of office. In the Republican camp, it's less than ten percent. These attitudes have also been quite stable over the past few months.
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