If you’ve been listening to the news buzz in the United States lately, you’ve likely heard the words impeachment, President, and phone call. What is impeachment anyway? Most ordinary people can be investigated by the police if they commit a crime, right? Well, when a government official is charged with a crime while in office, the process is called impeachment. Not every crime qualifies for an impeachment inquiry, but treason, bribery, and other high-level crimes are reasons to start an impeachment investigation.
Recently, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, officially launched an inquiry into President Donald Trump. Why? There have been accusations that President Trump, while on a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, asked for a favor in investigating his rival Joe Biden’s son. President Trump is also being accused of holding back support to Ukraine as a bargaining tool. Was the President using his power in an illegal manner? The purpose of the investigation is to find out the answer to that question.
The inquiry is only the start of the process though. As the investigation proceeds, interviews and questioning will help fill in the picture with additional details, and in the meantime the President will continue his job.
Impeachment inquiries have been launched three times at past US presidents, all with surprisingly different results. President Andrew Johnson faced an impeachment inquiry in 1868. What was he accused of doing? The eleven charges included trying to replace the Secretary of Defense, and speaking in a different style than was the norm. President Johnson was acquitted (or found not guilty), but the investigation changed the laws regarding how much power a President has over public policy. President Richard Nixon was accused of obstruction of justice in 1974, but before he was impeached and removed from power, he stepped down as President. And most recently, President Bill Clinton was investigated for charges of obstruction of justice and perjury (or lying when under oath). When the Senate failed to get a two-thirds majority vote to impeach, President Clinton was eventually acquitted.
For a more detailed look at how the process works, check out this handy chart on how an impeachment inquiry progresses!