Impeachment inquiry: Was the Ukraine call legal, what’s next for whistleblower, what happens next?

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced Tuesday that the House is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

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Pelosi said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon that she is "directing our six (House of Representatives) committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of an impeachment inquiry."

The inquiry will focus, at least in part, on whether Trump abused his presidential authority and sought to help his re-election effort by asking a foreign government to help him find damaging information on Democratic challenger Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Trump has said he spoke by phone to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in July, where he is said to have asked for help investigating Biden and his son.

According to media reports, in the days before the call, the president ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine. Trump opponents say he was holding out the money until he got information from Zelensky on Biden.

Trump has denied that charge but did say he had blocked the funds to try to get European countries to help with the financial burden.

The funds were later released by the U.S.

Here is a look at the process of the impeachment inquiry called for by Pelosi, when the public will be able to see a transcript of a call and when the whistleblower complaint will be released.

What is an impeachment inquiry and how does it work?

An impeachment inquiry is an investigation – in this case by six committees -- into whether there’s enough evidence to go forward with an impeachment case against the president.

In the past, the inquiry was carried out by one committee, the Judiciary Committee.

If enough evidence of wrongdoing is found through hearings and collection of records, members of the committees will decide whether to write articles of impeachment – or a set of charges drafted against the president -- and present them to the full House for a vote on impeachment.
An inquiry is not impeachment, it is the official beginning of the process.

Was the subject of the Ukraine phone call illegal? 

Some think the call between Trump and the president of Ukraine was within the boundaries of the president’s powers to act on behalf of national security and was not a criminal act.

Trump’s critics are claiming that withholding the military aid until and unless an investigation into the Bidens was initiated constitutes bribery under current federal law.

Do you have to have a criminal charge to impeach an elected official? No, not every impeachable action is a crime.

What is next for the whistleblower; when are the call transcript and the complaint to be released? 

The whistleblower’s legal team has been in touch with the House and Senate intelligence committees about potentially testifying.

On Tuesday around 10 a.m. ET, the White House issued this statement: "President Donald J. Trump has released a declassified, unredacted transcript of his telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy from July 25th, 2019. The transcript can be read here."

The White House says it will release to Congress by the end of the week the whistleblower complaint and the inspector general report on the complaint.

What is considered an impeachable offense? Here are the four legal reasons for impeachment.

In reality, an impeachable offense is whatever Congress decides it is.

The authors of the Constitution, with two exceptions, did not spell out what constitutes an impeachable offense.

What they did offer were four legal reasons a president – or some other federal officeholder – can be impeached. Those reasons are treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors.

What are high crimes and misdemeanors?

"High crimes and misdemeanors" is not defined in the Constitution, but Jeffrey A. Engel, director of the Southern Methodist University Center for Presidential History, told Politifact that the meaning just takes a look back in history to figure out.

"A high crime is an affront to the state, to the people, the body politic," Engel said. "A president, or any leader really, need not break any statute in order to break the public’s trust."

What law prohibits asking a foreign government for help in an election?

Under federal election laws, contributions and donations by foreign nationals are not allowed in U.S. elections. The statute, 52 U.S. Code §?30121, says that “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election” is illegal.

Additionally, the law says, “a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication, or a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation … from a foreign national” is illegal.

What about the criminal complaint concerning the call?

According to CNN, the Intelligence Community Inspector General referred a criminal complaint to the Justice Department in August to investigate whether Trump's call was a violation of campaign finance law.

According to the Justice Department, CNN reported, its criminal division determined to not open a formal investigation of the president for possible campaign finance violations.

They made the decision last week.

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