Impeachment Inquiry Topical Guide

To help with coverage of the impeachment inquiry, The Associated Press has prepared a guide with key background, explanation and style points.


For only the fourth time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives has started a presidential impeachment inquiry. House committees are trying to determine if President Donald Trump violated his oath of office by asking a foreign country to investigate a political opponent.

The impeachment inquiry revolves around a whistleblower's complaint that Trump was pushing Ukraine's leader into opening an investigation of a company connected to the son of Trump's potential 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden. It is illegal to solicit or receive foreign help in a U.S. election.

The complaint alleged a concerted White House effort to suppress the transcript of the call and described a shadow campaign of diplomacy by Trump's personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani.

The Trump administration has said it will not cooperate with the House's inquiry, claiming it is partisan and illegitimate because the entire House has not voted to proceed. While some impeachment efforts have started with such a vote, the Constitution does not explicitly require one. Regardless, some past and present officials have stepped forward to testify.


Impeachment by the House is the first part of a two-step process set out by the Constitution for the removal of a federal official, up to and including the president. Though this is a political, not a legal process, impeachment is the equivalent of an indictment – a determination that there is enough evidence to proceed to a trial, which would be conducted by the Senate.

The Constitution does not describe the process in great detail. Article 1, Section 2, says merely that "The House of Representatives shall ... have the sole Power of Impeachment."

An official may be impeached for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." The Constitution does not define "high Crimes and Misdemeanors." But there is general agreement that they need not be criminal activities in a legal sense, and that "high Crimes" are abuses of power.

Under guidelines first set in 1974, during the Watergate scandal that engulfed President Richard Nixon, Congress determined that an official may be dismissed for improperly exceeding or abusing the powers of the office; behavior incompatible with the function and purpose of the office; or misusing the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain.

Generally, the Judiciary Committee investigates accusations against the official and draws up articles of impeachment, if warranted. Those articles are put to a vote of the entire House. If a majority of those present and voting approve, the official is impeached.

Article 1, Section 3 says the Senate "shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments." The senators must take an "oath or affirmation," promising to consider the charges honestly and dutifully. When the president is on trial, the Chief Justice of the United States presides.

Historically, the House has selected from among its members managers to present the case to the Senate, while attorneys for the impeached official present a defense. Both sides can call, examine and cross-examine witnesses. Deliberations generally are conducted in private.

The Constitution raises the bar for conviction, requiring a super-majority of two-thirds of senators voting. By majority vote, the Senate can then vote to prohibit a convicted official from holding any federal office. If impeached and convicted, an official may face criminal prosecution, as well.

Prior to Trump's troubles, three presidents have been subject to impeachment proceedings:

– In 1868, 11 articles of impeachment were passed against President Andrew Johnson – chief among them that he violated a statute by ousting Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, though also for attempting to "bring into disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt and reproach, the Congress of the United States." He was acquitted by a single vote.

– In 1974, Nixon resigned after the Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment, but before they could be voted on by the full House. He was charged with abetting the cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices; of violating Americans' constitutional rights; and of obstructing Congress.

– In 1998, the House passed two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton. One charged him with lying to a grand jury about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and the other with obstructing justice. Neither charge won a super-majority or even a majority in favor of conviction, through 50 voted in favor of the second count, and 50 were opposed.


Special counsel Robert Mueller Former director of the FBI, appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in 2017 to serve as special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. His report in March 2019 found that there was plentiful evidence that Russia tried to intervene in the election. But there was not sufficient evidence to prove the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired with that effort. Mueller did not come to any conclusion as to whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, noting Department of Justice policy that a sitting president cannot be charged criminally.

Hunter Biden Son of former Vice President Joe Biden, he joined the board of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine's leading natural gas producer, in 2014. He earned as much as $50,000 a month in that capacity.

former Vice President Joe Biden In December 2015, Biden told Ukrainian officials that $1 billion in loan guarantees would be withheld unless the government tackled corruption. Among his demands: the removal of prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. Though critics would later say Biden was trying to block an investigation into Burisma Holdings and his son, his actions were in line with the agenda of the Obama administration and Western allies. Ukraine's parliament voted to dismiss Shokin in March 2016.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy Star of a Ukrainian television satire "Servant of the People," in which a high school teacher is elected president of Ukraine, Zelenskiy was elected president in real life in April 2019. On July 25, Zelenskiy took part in a telephone call in which Donald Trump told him, "I would like you to do us a favor" and "find out what happened with this whole situation in Ukraine ... There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that." At the time, Trump had placed a hold on $391 million in military aid to Ukraine. The Ukrainian president's name is spelled in various ways; prior to his election, he told the AP that Zelinskiy was his preferred spelling.

Rudolph Giuliani Former mayor of New York, he acted as Trump's personal lawyer and made numerous trips to Ukraine to press an investigation into Hunter Biden's activities, as well as the discredited theory that Ukraine and not Russia tried to intervene in the 2016 election. U.S. diplomats dealing with Ukraine testified to Congress that they were told to work with Giuliani, and not through State Department channels.

the whistleblower An unidentified CIA officer who filed a complaint alleging misconduct during the president's July 25 call. The officer was not present to hear the call, but was disturbed by reports from people who were in attendance. One point of contention: the decision to place the transcript of the call in a special, top-secret server – one intended for national security and not political purposes. The whistleblower's allegations have since been corroborated by others.

Joseph McGuire Acting director of national intelligence, he was obligated to send a whistleblower's report to the Senate and House intelligence committees under the statute, but he did not. He cited the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which said the complaint did not involve an "intelligence activity" within McGuire's responsibility and authority.

Rep. Adam Schiff A California Democrat and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He has played a prominent role in investigations of the Trump administration and impeachment.

Sen. Richard Burr A North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which also has been investigating the Trump administration's actions. Compared with some other Senate Republicans, Burr has maintained a low profile during the Trump controversies.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi California Democrat, now in her 17th term in the House. Refused to support an impeachment inquiry until the whistleblower's complaint caused a public uproar. She told six committees – Judiciary, Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, and Ways and Means – to proceed with their investigations with an eye toward impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Kentucky Republican first elected to the Senate in 1984. Though it is not clear that the Constitution mandates that the Senate conduct a trial if the House impeaches, he's said he will allow an impeachment trial to proceed. Also known with the title Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer New York Democrat first elected to the Senate in 1998. He has declined to take a stance on impeachment, citing his responsibility to remain impartial as a juror in a possible trial. Also known with the title Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

Attorney General William Barr Though he distanced himself from the Zelenskiy call, Barr was among those present when it was made. It has since been reported that as part of a Trump administration investigation of the Mueller inquiry, Barr sought help from authorities in Australia and Italy.

U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker Also known as special envoy Kurt Volker. He sent a text to a Zelenskiy aide, dangling a Zelenskiy visit to the White House if the Ukrainian chief executive pressed an investigation into the Bidens. Volker resigned on Sept. 27, and later testified before Congress.

Gordon Sondland The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, he received a text from Bill Taylor, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, declaring, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Four hours later, Sondland responded that Trump had been "crystal clear: no quid pro quo's of any kind." Sondland would tell Congress that he was merely repeating Trump's assurances to him.

Marie Yovanovitch The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. A career diplomat, she was recalled in May 2019. She told House impeachment investigators that she was told the president had lost confidence in her. She said there was a "concerted campaign" against her based on "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives;" the president, she had been told, had been seeking her ouster since the summer of 2018.


House Intelligence Committee One of six House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry, it has taken a lead role in investigating Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

Office of the Director of National Intelligence The coordinating body of American intelligence agencies. It was the office's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, who spread the word that the whistleblower's complaint was being withheld from Congress.

Burisma Holdings Major Ukrainian natural gas producer. Its owner, oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky, has been the subject of 15 investigations by Ukrainian prosecutors, all of them dismissed. Burisma's board has been packed with prominent names, including Hunter Biden.


Ukraine Not "the Ukraine." Eastern European country of 42 million people. Once part of the Soviet Union, it has been embroiled in an ongoing conflict with Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimea region and has been intent on retaining Ukraine in its orbit.

Kyiv Capital and largest city of Ukraine. AP style changed this year from Kiev in line with the Ukrainian government's preferred transliteration to English and increasing usage. Pronunciation: KEE'-yeev.


No schedule for impeachment and the subsequent trial has been advanced, though McConnell has told colleagues that he hopes matters will be concluded by the end of the year.


Some 229 House Democrats — and one former Republican who has since gone independent — have expressed support for the inquiry that could lead to articles of impeachment. That is comfortably more than the 218 votes that constitute a majority in the House. No Republicans have said they are in favor of impeachment, though Florida GOP Rep. Francis Rooney has said he was open to voting to impeach.

A more detailed tally of House Democrats' positions on the inquiry and a possible impeachment vote, powered by the reporting of AP journalists, is now available. See where Democrats in your state stand on the probe and a potential vote to impeach Trump.

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