On Wednesday, two congressmen submitted 'Articles of Impeachment' for consideration by the US House of Representatives.
Under the US constitution the President of the United States can be removed from office by articles of impeachment, and also tried in a court of law if they have been charged with a crime.
'Articles' are essentially charges of wrongdoing or even criminality. Impeachable offences outlined in the US Constitution for Presidents include 'treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours'.
Speaking on the floor of the House on Wednesday, Al Green and Brad Sherman submitted House-Resolution 438.
It charged Trump with 'Obstruction of Justice', and committing 'high crimes and misdemeanours'.
Specifically; they claim the President interfered with the investigations into Russian election tampering with the 2016 presidential election.
In a statement on his website, Representative Sherman cites the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey, as cause for concern.
The articles were submitted days after it was revealed Donald Trump Junior had made met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer alluding to information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential campaign.
What is impeachment?
Impeachment is a mechanism built into the US Constitution that allows Congress to remove federal officials from power.
Its roots lie in the senate of Ancient Rome, which for many of the America's Founding Fathers was their inspiration when they drafted the Constitution in 1789.
There are two stages to impeachment.
- Articles of impeachment are submitted to the House of Representative. The House acts as a district attorney, deciding whether or not there is a case. They 'approve' articles of impeachment by a simple majority vote of all those present and voting.
- It is then the job of US Senate to conduct the actual trial, and decide the verdict. A super majority of the Senate (at least 67 votes) is required to convict a President and remove them from power.
What happens next?
At the moment, this is the very first step of the impeachment process.
Writing on his website, Representative Sherman stated:
Introducing Articles of Impeachment will have two possible outcomes. First, I have slight hope it will inspire an ‘intervention’ in the White House. If Impeachment is real, if they actually see Articles, perhaps we will see incompetency replaced by care. Perhaps uncontrollable impulses will be controlled. And perhaps the danger our nation faces will be ameliorated.
Second, and more likely, filing Articles of Impeachment is the first step on a very long road. But if the impulsive incompetency continues, then eventually—many, many months from now—Republicans will join the impeachment effort.
It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on the same day it was submitted.
The committee will consider the articles of impeachment, and then make a recommendation to the entire House (435 members) whether they are enough to impeach.
The House will decide whether or to 'approve' it and send it up to the Senate.
There, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump could theoretically take place, presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States.
If he is found guilty of 'high crimes and misdemeanors' he could be removed from power.
1. Removal from office
When a President is convicted of impeachable offences, the office is filled by the next person in the line of succession, which at present is Vice President Mike Pence.
Articles of impeachment have been brought against three presidents in history: Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.
In all three cases the Presidents were not removed from office. Johnson was 'acquitted' in the Senate because they fell short by one vote of conviction.
Conviction can also mean a President will serve possible prison time, and the removal of the benefits of their office such as a full pension.
Resignation would allow a President to avoid jail time, and keep their pension.
This was the case for Richard Nixon in 1974 who resigned after the House Judiciary Committee had recommended approving the articles of impeachment, but before the House could vote on them, or send them to the Senate.
To date Richard Nixon is the only President in US history of resign. He was then granted a pardon for 'any crimes' he 'may have committed as President' by his successor Gerald Ford.
Democrats such as Green and Sherman wanting to impeach Trump will need to get cross party support, as the Republicans have a 46 seat advantage in the House.
Similarly, the Judiciary Committee which will make its recommendations is chaired by a Republican, and the party has control over 24 of the committee's 41 total - the Democrats have 17.
In short, the tide has to turn heavily against President Trump in his own party for impeachment proceedings to get beyond this first stage.
His reputation would be tarnished if the vote reached the Senate, and often the process of impeachment hearings is more damaging politically even if the President is later acquitted.
The proceedings can act as a distraction, and investigating committees can use them as cover to look into other actions by a President of which they disapprove.