Why, how, who is behind it? The main questions around the impeachment proceedings against the US president.
Proceedings to impeach Donald Trump have been brought by the Democrats. This is what you need to know.
What is impeachment?
Impeachment is when a legislative body formally levels charges – which have to be very serious – against a high official of government, including the president.
It does not mean automatic removal from office and is only the first step towards removal.
It is not a criminal trial but a process to remove a high-level official, usually only a president in the US.
If they impeach, how do they do it?
Talk of impeachment has been slowly but surely ramping up in Washington.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has now begun the process, announcing an impeachment inquiry, which will formalise investigations into the president’s actions.
That may lead to the launch of articles of impeachment, a process that begins in the House, which debates and votes on whether to bring charges against the president by a simple majority of the House’s 435 members.
If the House approves a resolution, a trial is then held in the senate, and the chief justice of the US Supreme Court presides.
In the unlikely event the senate convicted Trump, Vice President Mike Pence would become president for the remainder of Trump’s term, which ends on 20 January, 2021.
So who will handle it?
At the moment Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to be endorsing a continuation of existing investigations (by six committees) to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment. If they do the House Judiciary Committee will vote on those articles of impeachment before the full House does.
So it appears Mrs Pelosi is pushing for what is already to some extent taking place. The distinction is that she’s now signalling she’s supportive of calling it an impeachment inquiry. The ultimate aim is to decide whether to impeach Trump.
A vocal minority have been calling for Donald Trump’s impeachment pretty much since he took office – they grew during Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and waned at its conclusion.
Now cylinders are firing up again. Why?
It all centres around a phone call Mr Trump had with the Ukrainian president back in July.
One intelligence official was so alarmed by what Mr Trump said that they turned whistleblower and filed a formal complaint.
We don’t know for sure what Mr Trump said but it’s been widely reported that he pushed for the Ukrainian PM to open an investigation into his 2020 rival Joe Biden.
If true, Democrats say it would mean the US president abused the power of his office to influence a foreign country to meddle in the 2020 election. The growing view among Democrats is that amounts to an impeachable offence.
Mr Trump has admitted speaking about Mr Biden with Ukraine’s leader but insists he acted appropriately.
What happens in the senate?
Any impeachment resolution adopted by the House would have to be watertight to survive in the majority-Republican senate – an acquittal there would be a political gift for Mr Trump.
Nearly all senate Republicans are firmly behind the president. The senate phase is where things would really ignite.
Proceedings are governed by an eight-page manual that says the senate needs to hear articles of impeachment shortly after the House reports them. Members of the House of Representatives present the prosecution case and Mr Trump’s defence would be argued by his own lawyers.
Two thirds of the senate would need to vote against Mr Trump in order to remove him from office.
At this point, only around a third (16 of 47) senate Democrats and independents publicly support impeaching the president.
Is there anything in the Joe Biden claims?
After Ukraine’s 2014 revolution, then vice president Biden became Obama’s point man visiting frequently – tasked with tackling corruption.
Around that time his son Hunter took a lucrative position on the board of Ukraine’s largest private gas company, Burisma.
At the time it raised concerns of a possible conflict of interest.
Mr Biden argued that his son was a private citizen who made his own decisions.
The Obama administration actually supported an investigation into Burisma because the owner had close ties to the recently ousted president.
Separately, Mr Biden threatened to cut off US aid if a top prosecutor who was seen as failing to investigate corruption was not removed from office.
Mr Trump’s supporters say Mr Biden was actually doing this so that his son would not be investigated. No evidence has been offered to back this claim which has been called “baseless” by the Biden camp.
Who wants impeachment?
Opinion polls continue to show voters sharply divided over removing Mr Trump from office through impeachment.
Mrs Pelosi herself doesn’t like the politics of impeachment. She previously opposed it on the grounds it’s a politically risky move unless investigators have powerful evidence of misconduct that would unify public opinion.
But the political pressure is mounting and there is an increasing sense of inevitability about an inquiry.
House Republicans have made their positions clear over the past few days. They say Mr Trump has done nothing wrong in trying to root out corruption in Ukraine. Many say they don’t think there is anything wrong with the principle of a president trying to find out if Mr Biden and his son Hunter committed a crime.
However, at the time of writing, 173 Democrat representatives, that’s more than two thirds, of House Dems are supporting an inquiry.
How much trouble could Mr Trump be in?
Potentially, a lot.
Investigators don’t have to prove the phone call was a quid pro quo. A president asking a foreign country to dig for dirt on a political opponent may be enough to land him in seriously hot water.
A bribery charge wouldn’t hold up in court because offering military aid for a foreign investigation of a political opponent’s son doesn’t line up with the federal bribery statute.
Extortion is unlikely to carry either. Many legal experts say impeachment proceedings are the only viable recourse Democrats have.
But we’re certainly not there yet and Democrats would be wise to take their time. We still have to see the transcript and hear from the whistle-blower.