The impeachment process against the US President Donald Trump that began on Capitol Hill in September went into public session on Wednesday, with the first hearing beaming around the US and the world. The first public hearings started on Wednesday in the lower house of Congress, the House of Representatives.
In US, impeachment implies a legislative body formally levelling charges – which have to be very serious – against a high official of government, including the president. However, 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.
The current president Donald Trump is accused of pressuring Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up damaging information on one of his main Democrat challengers, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.
The story broke out when an unnamed intelligence official wrote a letter expressing concern about Mr Trump’s 25 July call with Mr Zelensky. A rough transcript of the call revealed that Mr Trump had urged President Zelensky to investigate discredited allegations against Joe and Hunter Biden.
This was followed by numerous testimonies corroborating a narrative that Mr Trump pushed for the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into his 2020 rival Joe Biden. Democrats argued this imply that the US president abused the power of his office to influence a foreign country to meddle in the 2020 election.
The Democrats have been calling it as an impeachable offence. Donald Trump, in response to these allegations, admitted speaking about Mr Biden with Ukraine’s leader but insists he acted appropriately.
In the hearings this week, three witnesses – career public servants who have privately testified that Mr Trump withheld military aid to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rival Joe Biden, will be heard through the proceedings.
This will be followed with the intelligence committee wrapping up its investigations and hearings, and sending a report and recommendations to the house judiciary committee, which will then draft any possible articles of impeachment. A panel would then vote on them and present them to the full House. A full House vote would likely happen quickly with the aim of wrapping up the House side of proceedings before the end of the year.
Two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote against Mr Trump in order to remove him from office. This would be unprecedented in the American history. At this point, however, only 16 of 47 Senate Democrats and independents publicly support impeaching the president.
The US has witnessed impeachment proceedings against the president only twice before. The former president Bill Clinton was impeached on the grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice after he lied about the nature of his affair with Monica Lewinsky and then allegedly asked her to lie about it as well. But when the trial reached the Senate in 1999, the vote for a conviction failed to get close to the two-thirds backing required.
The only other president impeached was Andrew Johnson in 1868. He was accused of, among other things, dismissing his secretary of war against the will of Congress. Mr Johnson had a narrow escape – the two-thirds majority in the Senate was missed by just one vote.
There would have been a third case as well, but Richard Nixon, the 37th US president, resigned in 1974 before he could be impeached over the Watergate scandal.
If the current president Donald Trump is removed from the office then the Vice-President would take his position. According to the line of succession for the US government, as established by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, Vice-President Mike Pence would be moving into the Oval Office and taking the control of the US government.