The House has opened an impeachment inquiry. What’s next?

The flag of the United States flies on a flagpole with the dome of the United States Capitol in t...
The impeachment inquiry into President Trump could reshape American politics, says Jason Ross Arnold, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. (Getty Images)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced that the House would begin a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, saying the “actions of the Trump presidency have revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”

Jason Ross Arnold, Ph.D., an associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences and author of “Whistleblowers, Leakers, and Their Networks: From Snowden to Samizdat,” said the decision by the Democratic-led House could have far-reaching political ramifications for Trump, the Democrats and the country.

“The Democrats’ decision to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump rests on a plausible argument that Trump abused the power of his office. After all, it appears as if Trump may have withheld U.S. aid to pressure Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s political rival.

Jason Ross Arnold, Ph.D.
Jason Ross Arnold, Ph.D.

“It doesn’t take a political scientist to see Trump’s action as being motivated by political self-interest in the context of the 2020 presidential election, for which Biden is currently the Democrats’ front-runner for the nomination. That Trump may have linked his self-interest request to hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars is where the abuse of power comes into play.

“It remains an open question whether congressional Republicans would give the Democrats enough votes in the Senate to convict Trump if the House impeaches him. I doubt they will, unless Trump’s popularity among rank-and-file Republicans greatly diminishes as a result of the impeachment process, but I doubt that too. Moreover, congressional Republicans will have a persuasive argument of their own: that Biden, as vice president, appears to have used a similar tactic in 2016 — a threat to withhold U.S. aid — to force Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, to fire Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, who was investigating a Ukrainian company, Burisma Holdings, for corruption.

“At the time, Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, served on Burisma Holdings’s board of directors. In addition, Joe Biden appears to have known then about the investigation and the involvement of Hunter. The former vice president boasted about his actions at a Council on Foreign Relations event in 2018, recounting what he told Poroshenko: “I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’… Well, son of a bitch, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.” If the Democrats’ proceed with impeachment, but fail to convict the president, then Biden’s chances of securing the party’s nomination will be severely diminished. Trump will always be able to say, correctly or not, that Biden did the same thing, or that what the Democratic candidate did was worse.

“If the Democrats go forward with impeachment, then also expect the Russia story to re-emerge. Withholding aid to Ukraine directly benefits Russia, as the two countries are still effectively at war.

“Finally, this episode shows the power of whistleblowers. A single individual in the intelligence community, acting in accordance with authorized procedures, brought the initial allegation of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky to light. It took members of Congress to pressure the executive branch for more information. As a result of that conflict, investigative reporters at The Wall Street Journal unearthed the aid withholding part, which led to the calls for impeachment.”

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