Understanding the impeachment process


Sophie Cohan, Editor in Chief

The impeachment of President Trump has been all over the news for months, but the whole thing seems complicated and confusing. So how does the process actually work?

The process begins in the House of Representatives, when someone (a whistleblower) has a complaint about an elected government official. Whistleblowers are protected by law to keep their identity secret so they do not get punished for staging a complaint. The House Foreign Affairs Committee investigates the complaint and holds an inquiry hearing (not a criminal trial) where they hear testimonies and questioning from both Republicans and Democrats. 

After the hearing, a Judiciary Committee votes on the Articles of Impeachment and charges are brought forth. The Articles of Impeachment are basically a set of charges against the elected official that, if voted on, require a further trial. They do not necessarily include a crime, and consist of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors,” according to the Constitution. The current Articles of Impeachment against Trump include abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The entire House of Representatives votes on whether or not it thinks the charges are valid, requiring only a simple majority vote. If it decides that the charges are invalid, the case is dropped and nothing continues. If the charges are found to be valid, the Articles of Impeachment are sent to the Senate for an impeachment trial. 

At this point, the elected official has been impeached. However, this does not mean that he or she has been removed from office, nor does it mean that he or she will face any legal consequences. This is the current phase of the Trump impeachment.

The Senate holds a trial, which, in the case of a presidential impeachment, is lead by the Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. This trial is handled just like a regular court case, with evidence, witnesses, and legal counsel. However, the Chief Justice does not choose the end result; he or she simply leads the investigation to make sure everything is conducted fairly and according to the Constitution. With a two-thirds vote from the Senate, the elected official is either convicted (guilty) or acquitted (not guilty). If acquitted, the official remains in office with no consequences. If convicted, the official may face political consequences including removal from office and potentially not being able to hold office again. If a crime was involved in the Articles of Impeachment, the official will face criminal justice due process in the courts, with another trial.