Nancy Pelosi announcing a formal impeachment investigation is only the start of what will be an epic legal and constitutional clash.
Here is how impeachment goes from here.
1) Investigations step up
Six committees are now tasked by Pelosi with investigating Donald Trump with the intention of deciding whether he should be impeached. They are the House Judiciary, Oversight, Intelligence, Ways and Means, Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees. All of them are now likely to issue a flurry of subpoenas which is certain to lead to a new:
2) Court battle over subpoenas – which could go to the Supreme Court
The Trump administration has so far resisted subpoenas by claiming executive privilege and is certain to continue to do so. Federal judges are already dealing with litigation over subpoenas for Trump’s tax and financial records and many more cases are likely to follow. But the courts have never settled the limits of executive privilege and whether an impeachment inquiry effectively gives Congress more power to overcome it. If Trump fights as hard as he can, it is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, expect:
3) More hearings
Democrats know they need to convince the public that Trump needs to be put on trial and the best way to do that is hearings like those which electrified the nation during Watergate. They botched the Mueller hearing but if they produce question and answer sessions with people from Trump-world which cause public outrage, they are on their way to:
4) Drawing up formal articles of impeachment in committee
The charge sheet for impeachment – the ‘articles’ – set out what Trump is formally accused of. It has no set format – it can be as long or as short as Congress decides. Three such set of articles have been drawn up – for Andrew Johnson on 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974, and Bill Clinton in 1998. Johnson’s were the most extensive at 11, Nixon faced three, and Bill Clinton four but with a series of numbered charges in each article. Once drawn up, the judicial committee votes on them and if approved, sends them to the House for:
5) Full floor vote on impeachment
The constitution says the House needs a simple majority to proceed, but has to vote on each article. Nixon quit before such a vote so Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only precedent. The House passed two out of the three articles against Clinton and all 11 against Johnson. Passing even one article leads to:
6) Senate impeachment trial
Even if the Senate is clearly not in favor of removing the president, it has to stage a trial if the House votes for impeachment. The hearing is in not in front of the full Senate, but ‘evidentiary committees’ – in theory at least similar to the existing Senate committees. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over it, but the procedures are set by senators. Members of the House prosecute Trump as ‘managers,’ bringing witnesses and presenting evidence to set out their case against the president. The president can defend himself, or, as Clinton did, use attorneys to cross-examine the witnesses. The committee or committees report to the full Senate. Then it can debate in public or deliberate in private on the guilt or innocence of the president. It holds a single open floor vote which will deliver:
7) The verdict
Impeachment must be by two-thirds of the Senate. Voting for impeachment on any one article is good enough to remove the president from office. There is no appeal