You’ve probably heard by now: The president of the United States of America is going to be impeached.
It’s pretty easy to act the Smart Person and say things like, “Yeah, yeah…Trump…Ukraine something…idk…Joe Biden’s son, maybe?” But let’s be real: Trump’s America Season 2 is confusing AF, with new characters, plotlines, and alleged crimes.
Now, imagine what it’s like for people outside of the United States? Well, we can tell you: It’s an impossible nightmare, folks!
Because this Trump-impeachment mess will be so face-meltingly intense for the foreseeable future, we’re going to try to equip the non-Americans with the facts you need to get through it.
We’re going to explain three main things: 1. the Trump–Ukraine call, 2. new goons and (potential) crimes...and 3. impeachment.
Make yourself a cuppa, add some vodka, and sit down. We've got some ground to cover...
We start with something really simple, at the core of the entire shemozzle: President Donald Trump asked a foreign leader — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — to investigate his political rivals and held hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money to the country ahead of the call.
What happened on that now-infamous call has become the main focus for Trump’s critics in trying to throw him out of office before next year’s presidential election.
Now, the July 25 call started as some pretty standard back-patting between two world leaders. Trump was just wishing Zelensky congratulations for winning the country’s parliamentary elections. Then things got super fucking weird.
According to a summary of the call released by the White House, Trump pivoted to asking Zelensky for some, err, let’s say favours.
Firstly, Trump effectively asked Zelensky to help dig up some dirt on former vice president Joe Biden, who’s one of the major Democrats running to take on Trump in 2020.
This startling “request” by Trump has its roots in a swampy history involving Biden’s time as vice president and his large, adult son Hunter Biden (pictured).
The mess probably deserves its own side thread, but…what you need to know is that several prominent US leaders, including Joe Biden, joined other governments and organizations in pushing for a Ukrainian prosecutor named Viktor Shokin to be fired for failing to root out corruption in the country.
Trump and his crew are convinced that Biden was part of that effort because Shokin was investigating the conduct of a Ukraine company called Burisma. Who was on the board of Burisma? Ding, ding, ding, collect your winnings if you guessed Hunter Biden.
TL;DR: Trump is pushing a theory that Joe Biden called for the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor while he was vice president in order to protect his son. There is no evidence to support this idea.
The other Trump request was for Zelensky to look into a quite frankly bonkers conspiracy theory that Ukraine had access to a missing computer server owned by the Democratic National Committee — his opponents. Yeah.
He apparently thinks that the Democrats faked a hack of their own server in order to implicate Russia and undermine Trump’s win in 2016. You can read more about the batshit conspiracy theory here.
Back to the call. Trump said he’d have his attorney general Bill Barr and lawyer Rudy Giuliani — more on these guys in a bit — to get in touch so they can “get to the bottom” of these conspiracies.
Very importantly, both requests came just days after Trump had blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine.
Trump’s critics have been arguing that this formed the basis of a “quid pro quo” — a kind of, "you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours".
Or in this specific case, “hey man, if you investigate my political opponents, I’ll release the hundreds of millions of aid you need from us for the Ukrainian people”.
Quite helpfully, this guy — Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — basically just admitted it.
On Thursday, during a press briefing, Mulvaney said that the Ukraine aid was “absolutely no question” withheld in part because Trump wanted Ukraine to look into “corruption that related to the DNC server”.
At the very centre of the Trump impeachment saga is a series of very serious, fundamental questions about how and why the president came to be asking a foreign leader to intrude in domestic US politics, and whether everyone should be ok with that.
Next, another important cog in the impeachment wheel involves all of Donald Trump’s men — yeah, they’re nearly all men — and what terrible things, or possible crimes, they did in an effort to help the president.
First up, former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani. He currently works for Trump as a “lawyer” but also has another really important function: He goes on TV to cheerlead for the president.
Giuliani is the Trump goon right at the centre of impeachment drama — the “goon-zero” if you will — because he’s been working in and around Ukraine for years.
After hitching his wagon to Trump in 2016, Giuliani went on doing the dirty work for the president outside the White House.
One of the main things Giuliani focused on was scurrying around trying to dredge up dirt that would undermine investigations into Trump or that would hurt Joe Biden.
Bringing us to the next two goons you should know about: Lev Parnas (pictured left) and Igor Fruman. You can probably think of these guys as Giuliani’s minions.
When they weren’t dining in 5-star restaurants and racking up eye-watering strip club receipts, Parnas and Fruman were working to assist Giuliani in his ambitious quest to undermine the big Robert Mueller investigation into Trump and get dirt on Joe Biden
Unbelievably, Parnas’s company was called — and we cannot stress enough how wild this — “Fraud Guarantee”.
Again…it was called Fraud Guarantee.
Last week, Parnas and Fruman were arrested as they were trying to get out of Washington, DC. Both were picked up as they were boarding a plane, with one-way tickets. They’ve been charged with conspiring to break laws that stop foreigners from contributing to election campaigns.
And here are their mugshots.
While the arrests aren’t tied directly to the impeachment inquiry, Parnas and Fruman’s work “investigating” the Biden family is central to the ongoing investigation.
Finally, this is Attorney General Bill Barr. Along with being the top law enforcement official in America, Barr is being slowly yanked into Trump’s growing impeachment mess by the president himself.
You’ll remember that during the key Ukraine call, Trump asked Zelensky to speak to two people — Giuliani and Barr — to get going on the plan to look into the Biden corruption theory.
Well, Barr has also been asked by Trump to go around looking for help in finding out how the big Trump–Russia investigation started in the first place. He’s already tapped up intelligence officials in Australia, the UK, and Italy.
Barr has been super loyal to Trump since being appointed attorney general in 2019, but now there are increasing questions about what the president has asked his attorney general to do to protect him and undermine his political foes.
There’s a frankly dizzying number of extras in the ensemble cast — former Ukraine ambassadors, security officials et al. — who’ll each play an important role in revealing who knew what and when.
We’ve already helpfully profiled them here.
Now, to impeachment!
Alrighty then, impeachment is how the US can get rid of the president, outside of holding an election.
Written into the US Constitution are the rules for impeaching a president. It states that a president can be booted out of office for committing “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours”.
What you need to know is that impeachment is done by America's politicians in Congress, not judges in courts — so it’s seen as a very political, spicy act. We’ve gone a lot deeper, breaking down the process here.
But firstly, the lower chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives, brings forward “articles of impeachment” against the president. Think of it like filing charges in a criminal case.
Right now they’re holding investigations into Trump, and eventually they can impeach him by a simple majority vote.
In the House, the Democrats — Trump’s opposition — are in the majority, which is why everyone expects the vote to eventually succeed.
At this point Trump would be “impeached", but that doesn’t mean he’d be removed from office. The impeachment bus then drives over into Congress’s other chamber, the Senate, where Trump will go on “trial”.
The trial would be like a Royal Rumble of political and legal drama. Trump’s fiercest critics would be entering the ring to act as prosecutors, there’d be senators sitting as the jury and the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding over the entire thing.
In the Senate, the Republicans — Trump’s party — are in the majority. For Trump to be found guilty, two-thirds of senators would need to vote against him.
The Republicans currently have 53 seats, a majority of three. But it takes two-thirds of the Senate to actually remove a president — which has never happened before (Nixon resigned in 1974 before he could be impeached). That means everyone is closely watching which senators are wavering in support for Trump, who might eventually to flip to remove him from power.
So as it stands, even if Trump is impeached in the House, most people think he’s safe in the Senate…for now.
One of the most important people in Trump’s impeachment saga will be this woman: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi leads the Democrats in the House, wielding this oversized hammer like she just stepped onto the set of the world’s worst Thor reboot.
She will be the one who leads the impeachment proceedings in the House, updating everyone on where the investigations are at, and also getting into highly charged, hilarious fights with Trump…like this.
You might be thinking, “wait, aren’t all these people already running against Trump?” Yes! They’re currently holding interminably long TV debates to argue about who should be chosen by the Democrats to run against Trump in next year’s presidential election.
They’ll pop up now and again to give their thoughts on impeachment and about half of them will be involved in the Senate trial.
What’s happening now? A bunch of different committees in the House have split off to hold impeachment investigations to find out if Trump committed those “high crimes and misdemeanours”.
They’re taking testimony from all the people connected to the Trump–Ukraine call behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, Trump is just going to tweet through it.
As the investigations go on, with new information leaking out all the time, public support for impeachment is slowly starting to increase. He’s responded by having almost daily meltdowns at Pelosi and the Democrats.
Eventually, it’ll be up to Nancy Pelosi when the House will hold the vote to impeach. Many close-watchers think it’ll happen somewhere around Thanksgiving. Then it’ll be over to the Republican-controlled Senate who want this over by Christmas.