This essay is about the "I" word - impeachment. At the risk of "teaching my grandmother to suck eggs" - I'm writing this in the belief that folks here are as imperfect in their understanding of impeachment as many of my friends in the US. I'm hoping to provide some clarity about the process, the politics and where the US Congress, House and Senate finds itself now.
Let me state first what impeachment is not. It is not an automatic removal from office of the President or any other high official towards whom the process may be applied. It is the beginning of that removal process.
Impeachment is a fact-finding process leading to a set of charges, called Articles of Impeachment as spelled out in the US Constitution, Article I, Section 2, the impeachment process begins in the House Of Representatives, which has the sole power to initiate impeachment proceedings. Committees of the House will investigate the administration and ultimately the President for possible wrongdoing under the constitutional definition of impeachable offenses, treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanours.
Armed with subpoena power, administration officials and others will be invited, then compelled to testify in hearings. At the end of that process, if it's warranted by the information uncovered, one or several Articles of Impeachment will be presented to the full House for a vote. Assuming that happens, and that the House votes favourably on those articles, they are sent to the Senate where a trial will commence, presided by the chief Justice of the United States. The Senate will either vote to convict or acquit. The sole consequence of conviction, directly, is removal from office and disqualification from further office holding. But the convicted person can still be tried in ordinary criminal court for crimes which may have been unearthed in the process.
Alongside the formality of the process and its rootedness in fact-finding is the reality that impeachment is a political process, one that must satisfy citizens as to the necessity of overturning results of an election. That takes political skills of high order.
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, regarded by many Washington hands as the most accomplished and savvy politician in the place, has now declared an impeachment inquiry.
Mrs Pelosi, whose deft political instincts are matched by her toughness and her courage, was reluctant earlier to move towards impeachment despite the pressure from her more eager progressive members.
Pelosi had opposed President George W Bush's Iraq War at a time when such opponents were few and were being called "traitors".
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It's to her skills that many attribute the shepherding of a broad Democratic coalition enabling passage of Obama's Health Care Act with every republican voting "no". That's proof if any is needed of her ability to count votes.
Pelosi's vote counting and political instincts led her to resist impeachment until now.
What's different is the whistleblower's letter, which provides credible evidence that in a call with Ukraine's President Zelensky, President Trump pressured that foreign leader to provide dirt on the family of former VP, Joe Biden, a political adversary, and thereby influence the potential outcome of the 2020 election. In making his "request for a favour", Trump held hostage congressionally appropriated US aid to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, thus violating US national security interests. After the phone call the administration hid transcripts in unauthorised ultra-secure servers, effectively a cover-up.
If these allegations are established, they describe what is meant by high crimes and misdemeanours.
Those hesitant or opposed to impeachment point to the Trump-dominated Republican majority in the senate and argue that conviction is unlikely and that a failed impeachment strengthens Trump with his base. Fair enough as politics. Pelosi understands that these behaviours force the Democrats to act in order to preserve the constitutional safeguards of restraint on the executive. That overrides any political consideration. Democrats understand that failure to act in the face of these actions would leave Trump unconstrained, and with no limits. What more could he do then?