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How Impeachment Works and Why It’s in the News

(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that in response to recent, substantial allegations that President Donald Trump attempted to extort the Ukrainian government into pushing a conspiracy narrative about Vice President Joe Biden and his son, the House of Representatives would officially initiate the process of impeachment. Per Washington Post reporter Rachael Bade, Speaker Pelosi and “her top lieutenants” intend to narrow the scope of the impeachment down to the apparent quid pro quo arrangement between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky as revealed in a telephone transcript released by the White House.

This all seems like a very important story – we are watching history unfold, literally – but if you’re anything like me, a lot of it is going over your head. So, I did what any good content staffer would do in this situation. I scoured the internet exhaustively (I’m talking New York Times, Wikipedia, and even a White House reporter’s Twitter) and now I’m presenting myself as an accomplished political pundit-slash-impeachment expert, here to answer all your questions.

What does quid pro quo even mean?

It’s Latin for “a thing for a thing.” It describes a shady arrangement between two parties exchanging favors, especially when one party has an inequitable advantage in the deal. In the case of Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the former had only a couple days prior moved to withhold foreign military aid to Ukraine when the crucial phone call took place; the quid was that America would resume providing that aid. The quo was that Zelensky had to smear Vice President Joe Biden by finding proof of a conspiracy theory about Biden’s son’s business dealings in Ukraine. As we keep hearing the phrase quid pro quo on the news, however, it’s important to keep in mind that this was not a simple exchange of favors. It was Trump personally extorting an entire foreign nation, by withholding aid money that wasn’t even his to withhold. This is a man who has built an entire career on playing dirty with house money. This is peak Trump.

What exactly did Joe Biden do?

First of all, his son Hunter Biden served as a board member at the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings between 2014 and 2018. During this time, then-Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Viktor Shokin, was investigating Burisma’s founder and owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, for fraud and corruption. It is important to note here that this investigation was inherited and not initiated by Viktor Shokin. It is also important to note that the U.S. government was not alone when, soon after Shokin took office, they grew concerned over the Prosecutor General’s loyalties.

Joe Biden met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in March of 2016 to secure Viktor Shokin’s dismissal from office. Whereas Trump and his sycophants point to this as evidence that the Vice President intended to protect his son Hunter from Shokin’s investigation into Burisma Holdings, the truth of the matter is quite the opposite. The Obama administration in fact was motivated to get Shokin sacked in part because of his foot-dragging in that investigation. In fact, Shokin’s own former deputy Vitaliy Kasko has produced documents which show that the investigation into Burisma Holdings had come to a full stop under Shokin’s purview. So to make it short, Joe Biden got the guy who was protecting his son’s company fired for doing so. That’s essentially the opposite of a conspiracy.

So how is this impeachment process going to work?

As I write this, six separate House committees are compiling reports for the consideration of the House Judiciary Committee, who will have to reach a majority agreement that the charges are in fact impeachable. Afterward, the Committee will present its Articles of Impeachment to the House for debate, which is followed by a vote. Again, like with the Judiciary Committee, a simple majority is needed to pass this step. Should the House of Representatives pass the Articles of Impeachment, certain representatives are appointed as “managers” who then present them to the Senate.

This senatorial phase of the process is called the trial, and it works a lot like a criminal trial in the judicial system: the managers appointed by the house act as the prosecution, and the impeached individual – in this case, Individual 1 himself, Donald Jambajuice Trump – defends himself with his own legal representation.  Once the facts of the case have been argued by both sides, with each having called all relevant witnesses to testify and stand under cross-examination, the Senate acts analogous to a jury, voting whether to convict the impeached individual. Unlike in criminal trials, however, a conviction results from a two-thirds majority vote. If this final vote is successful, the impeached individual is removed from office.

What are the odds that the trial is successful?

Basically zero. It is not guaranteed at this point, by any means, that the impeachment will even make it through the House of Representatives. What is far closer to guaranteed – I put it at a hundred percent, personally – is that the Senate (which is currently controlled by Republicans under the wise and highly ethical leadership of “Moscow” Mitch McConnell) will never, ever, ever convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors. Worse still, it’s likely that the impeachment will backfire entirely for Democrats and help ensure a second term for Trump. When the Senate failed to convict Bill Clinton, his approval rating rose significantly. Unless the scope of the impeachment is widened to include a lot more misbehavior, or unless the process is slowed down so much that Trump’s impeachment is still a current news story next November, this will likely prove to have been a political mistake — a principled mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.

What can I do?

First of all, you can educate yourself much further by visiting well-sourced, informative Wikipedia articles For greater reliability, you can also subscribe to and support excellent journalism from sources like the New York Times and The Washington Post.

If you’re so inclined, don’t forget to follow great reporters on Twitter and other social media platforms, too – @rachaelmbade was a font of insider information as I put this article together.

If you haven’t registered to vote yet, you can do so here in less than three minutes.

Lastly, whether you support impeachment or not, you can always inform your legislators of how their constituents stand on this or any other issue. A great place to begin is here for the House, and here for the Senate.