Everything you need to know about Trump's impeachment process: what's happened, who the players are, and what comes next

Everything you need to know about Trump's impeachment process: what's happened, who the players are, and what comes next

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Monroe, Louisiana, U.S., November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis - RC226D94OX2J

  • Donald Trump's presidency has been upended by an explosive whistleblower complaint that has since snowballed into a fast-moving impeachment inquiry.
  • The scandal has ensnared dozens of people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and poses the most immediate threat to Trump's presidency yet.
  • What is impeachment? How did we get here? And what could happen next?
  • We hope this guide will help to answer these questions. There's even a table of contents below so you can jump to a specific section.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Donald Trump's presidency has been upended by an explosive whistleblower complaint that has since snowballed into a fast-moving impeachment inquiry, ensnared dozens of people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and poses the most immediate threat to Trump's presidency yet.
What is impeachment? Contrary to popular belief, impeachment doesn't mean automatic removal from office. The impeachment process can be thought of as somewhat analogous to a criminal proceeding, even though impeachable offenses don't have to be criminal offenses. The House, like a grand jury, collects evidence, hears testimony, and drafts articles of impeachment, or charges, against the President.
If a majority of the House votes to charge the president, the US Senate holds a trial where both sides present their cases and senators act as jurors. If two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict the president on the charges passed by the House, the president is removed from office.

How did we get here? And what could happen next? We hope this guide will help to answer these questions. We highly recommend you read the entirety of this story so you can be as informed as possible, but we've also built a table of contents below so you can jump to a specific section.


The Players

The Stakes

The Possible Outcomes Timeline of Events (What's Happened So Far)

First, here's a 60-second explanation of what's going on:

First, here's a 60-second explanation of what's going on:

In early September, an anonymous whistleblower complaint lodged by a member of the intelligence community said that in a series of events culminating in a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump used "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."

The complaint detailed concerns how Trump used the call with Zelensky to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son days after withholding a nearly $400 million military-aid package.

Biden's son, Hunter, served on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian oil and gas company, from 2014 to 2019. Trump and his allies have falsely accused Biden of using his power as vice president to urge Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma in order to protect Hunter.

The whistleblower's complaint has been corroborated by the White House's summary notes of the July 25 call, White House officials themselves, and the sworn testimony of several career diplomatic and national-security officials.

Multiple diplomats have now testified under oath that the Trump administration explicitly conditioned lifting the hold of the military aid to Ukraine on Zelensky publicly announcing investigations into Burisma and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to benefit Hillary Clinton.

The Players

The Players

Here are the key players broken down by group. Click on their names to learn more about their role in the Trump-Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry:

  • White House officials:
    • President Donald Trump, who asked Zelensky to do him "a favor, though" by asking for an investigation into Burisma and the 2016 election.
    • Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump used as a conduit to further get the message across to Ukraine that they needed to investigate corruption to get US support.
    • Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who undermined Trump's entire impeachment defense by admitting the administration withheld the aid in exchange for investigations into the DNC server.
    • White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is the White House's first line of legal defense against the impeachment inquiry.
    • Army foreign area officer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Eastern European affairs expert on the NSC who listened to the the July 25 call and raised concerns about it to his superiors.
  • Current and former Trump administration officials:
    • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also on the July 25 call with Ukraine. In addition to misrepresenting his involvement in the matter, Pompeo is also accused of obstructing congressional investigations into it.
    • Former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who reportedly pushed back on the idea of conditioning assistance to Ukraine for investigations and could testify before Congress soon.
    • Attorney General William Barr, who Trump entangled in the impeachment inquiry by asking Ukraine to work with Barr on corruption investigations and requesting Barr hold a press conference clearing Trump of wrongdoing.
    • Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who Trump tried to blame for the Ukraine call after the fact. Perry will be leaving the administration at the end of this year.
  • Intelligence community officials:
    • Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who transmitted the whistleblower complaint to Congress and was the first witness to testify publicly about its contents.
    • Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who the whistleblower initially filed their complaint to.
    • The anonymous whistleblower.
  • Current and former diplomats:
    • Former US Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who gave critical testimony about the extent of Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's involvement in the Trump-Ukraine saga to Congress.
    • US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, a Trump appointee who testified that the pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was "insidious," and he believed to be at least improper, if not illegal.
    • Acting ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, a Vietnam veteran and career diplomat who gave explosive and damning testimony to Congress that it was his "clear understanding" that "security assistance money would not come until [Zelensky] committed to pursue the investigation"
    • Former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who testified that Trump and Giuliani pushed her out of her position for standing in the way of their efforts to compel Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
  • Ukrainians:
    • President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian and first-time president who was elected this April on a platform of cleaning up Ukraine's notorious culture of corruption.
    • Former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin and former Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko, who were involved in the investigations into Burisma Holdings.
  • Members of Congress:
    • House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff is the lead person taking charge of the impeachment inquiry, subpoenaing witnesses, and holding hearings.
    • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is guiding the trajectory of the impeachment inquiry in the House and recently called the vote for a resolution to formalize the terms of the inquiry's public phase.
    • Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who would set the agenda for an impeachment trial in the US Senate.
  • Others:
    • Former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who ran point on US-Ukraine relations while serving in President Barack Obama's administration.
    • Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's eldest son who served on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings from 2014 to 2019.
    • Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney who served as an unofficial envoy to Ukraine and roped various diplomats into his efforts to demand that Ukraine investigate the Bidens and 2016, and is now under federal investigation.
    • Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two business associates of Giuliani's who were recently charged with federal campaign finance regulations in connection with their Ukrainian lobbying work. Parnas is now cooperating with the impeachment inquiry.

The Stakes

The Stakes

Asking a foreign government for material campaign aid is not only unprecedented from a US president, but it could even violate campaign finance laws against soliciting campaign contributions or help from foreign nationals.

If Trump did, in fact, use military aid as a bargaining chip, as many officials have testified under oath, he could also be impeached on charges of extortion, bribery, and misappropriation of taxpayer funds.

Trump's White House and administration have also refused to comply with many aspects of the inquiry and have attempted to block multiple administration officials from testifying, meaning Trump could also face an impeachment charge for obstructing Congress.

Beyond the immediate threat to Trump and those in his inner orbit, the Trump-Ukraine scandal could have lasting geopolitical consequences that reverberate for years to come.

Ukraine is highly dependent on American military aid to defend itself from incursions from Russia. Ukraine has been engaged in a hot war with Russia — a US adversary — since 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed the peninsula of Crimea, a contested territory.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top expert for Eastern European affairs on the National Security Council, expressed concern about the military and political implications of the administration withholding the aid in his testimony to Congress.

Acting ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor also testified that the US withholding aid and signaling less support for Ukraine could further embolden Russia to take more aggressive military action and contribute to the further destabilization of the region.

The Possible Outcomes

The Possible Outcomes

On October 31, the House voted to approve a formal resolution outlying the terms and parameters of its inquiry, but is still in the fact-finding stage of the process, hearing witness testimony and reviewing documents related to the inquiry.

The impeachment process begins in the House Judiciary Committee, which draws up articles of impeachment based on the results of the inquiry.

The House hasn't yet determined whether they'll limit the scope of the inquiry to the allegations raised in the whistleblower complaint and corroborated by administration officials, or if they'll include articles related to obstruction of congressional investigations.

If the committee passes the articles of impeachment by a majority, they go to the full floor of the House of Representatives and require a simple majority vote of 218 members to pass. Members vote on each article individually, meaning Trump could be impeached on some articles but not others.

Former President Bill Clinton, for example, was impeached on articles of perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, but he was cleared on a separate perjury-related article and a charge of abusing his office. In January of 1999, the US Senate acquitted Clinton on both charges.

In order for Trump to be removed from office, two-thirds of the US Senate — 67 members — have to vote to convict him of those articles of impeachment. Currently, the Senate consists of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with Democrats.

If Trump is not impeached at all or impeached but not convicted in the Senate, he stays in office and it'll be left up to the American people to either re-elect him, or vote him out of office in 2020.


Now here's a timeline of events from our past coverage:

Now here's a timeline of events from our past coverage:

November 8:

Trump's former top Russia adviser Fiona Hill's impeachment testimony paints damning picture of pressure put on Ukraine

Here are the biggest takeaways from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's blockbuster testimony against Trump

November 7:

Ukraine was about to cave to Trump's demands. Then the public found out about the whistleblower.

Here's every way Republicans have tried and failed to defend Trump as the impeachment inquiry snowballs

November 6:

Rudy Giuliani lawyers up as federal prosecutors investigate and the impeachment inquiry ramps up

Transcript of Bill Taylor's testimony underscores extreme lengths Trump went to in urging Ukraine to investigate Bidens

Adam Schiff announces public hearings in impeachment probe will begin next Wednesday

November 5:

Former diplomat Kurt Volker says Rudy Giuliani was a 'direct conduit' to Ukraine and demanded they publicly announce an investigation into the Bidens

Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU, is the latest witness to confirm a quid pro quo between Trump and Ukraine

November 4:

An indicted businessman with ties to Rudy Giuliani is willing to comply with Trump impeachment inquiry

It looks like Trump and Giuliani's efforts to intimidate and bully the former Ukrainian ambassador went much further than publicly known

Ukraine is firing the prosecutor who discussed a probe of the Bidens with Giuliani

Trump's ex-Ukraine envoy said she felt 'shocked' and threatened when Trump told Ukraine's president she was 'going to go through some things'

November 3:

The whistleblower at the heart of the impeachment inquiry has offered to answer written questions from House Republicans, lawyer says

October 31:

Former White House official testified that military aid to Ukraine was held up by Trump's demand to investigate Joe Biden

House passes resolution formalizing impeachment inquiry into Trump as GOP continues to slam process

Former national security adviser John Bolton asked to testify in House impeachment inquiry

October 29:

House Democrats took an important step in the impeachment inquiry, throwing a wrench into the GOP's biggest defense

A top White House official is about to blow a hole through Trump's main defense about the Ukraine call

October 24:

It looks like the Trump administration's pressure campaign against Ukraine may have gone further than freezing military aid

Intelligence veterans say Republicans storming a secure congressional facility was a 'thuggish' and 'offensive' stunt that risked national security

October 23:

House Republicans stormed a closed-door impeachment hearing and refused to leave — and Trump approved of it

Ukraine just threw a huge wrench into Trump's key defense denying a quid pro quo

October 22:

Trump's Ukraine envoy gave 'damning' testimony to Congress that prompted 'sighs and gasps' from people in the room

Putin and Hungary reportedly 'poisoned' Trump's view on Ukraine and reinforced his belief that the country was 'hopelessly corrupt''

October 19:

8 Trump officials made stunning revelations about how the president and Giuliani weaponized the State Department

October 17:

Mick Mulvaney publicly confirms Trump held up Ukraine aid for political gain

Gordon Sondland, a central figure in the Ukraine scandal, threw Trump and Giuliani under the bus in his opening statement to Congress

October 15:

Trump's White House counsel Pat Cipollone is the first line of defense when it comes to batting back House Democrats' impeachment inquiry

The floodgates are opening as Trump officials publicly defy his orders and more whistleblowers come out of the shadows

October 14:

FBI officials were 'rattled' and 'blindsided' by Trump's call for Ukraine to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden

Prosecutors are scouring Rudy Giuliani's bank records and business dealings in Ukraine as part of a widening criminal investigation

October 11:

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Rudy Giuliani violated foreign lobbying laws in Ukraine

Ex-Ukraine envoy says she was fired on 'unfounded' and 'false' grounds after standing up to Trump and Giuliani

A federal court ordered Trump's accounting firm to turn over 8 years of his taxes to Congress

October 10:

2 of Rudy Giuliani's associates who prosecutors say helped him dig up dirt on Joe Biden have been charged with campaign finance violations

A White House adviser is flip-flopping on whether China gave him information on Joe Biden's son after Trump asked Beijing to investigate the Bidens

October 8:

White House says Trump 'cannot permit his administration' to cooperate with the 'partisan and unconstitutional' impeachment inquiry

A White House official who listened in on Trump's Ukraine call described it as 'crazy' and 'frightening'

The State Department blocked Ambassador Gordon Sondland from testifying to Congress about the Ukraine scandal

October 5:

Trump is reportedly blaming Rick Perry for his infamous call with the Ukrainian president

House Democrats subpoena the White House and Mike Pence as part of impeachment inquiry

October 4:

A second intelligence official is considering filing a whistleblower complaint about Trump and Ukraine

Trump brought up Joe Biden during a June phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping

Trump reportedly personally ordered the removal of ambassador to Ukraine after people said she was impeding Biden investigations

Newly revealed text messages show Trump diplomats' internal turmoil over his pressure on Ukraine

October 3:

Trump's conspiracies are reaching a fever pitch amid revelations that the whistleblower went to Congress before filing their complaint

There's a 2nd whistleblower complaint no one's talking about, and it could be as damaging to Trump as the Ukraine scandal

Trump's top diplomat in Ukraine said in a text message that it was 'crazy' to withhold aid in exchange 'for help with a political campaign'

2 top Trump deputies drafted a statement for Ukraine's president committing him to pursuing political investigations for Trump

October 2:

The Trump whistleblower told the House Intelligence Committee about their concerns before filing an official complaint

The State Department's watchdog will tell Congress about efforts to intimidate officials from cooperating with the Trump impeachment inquiry

Mike Pompeo made at least 4 significantly misleading statements about his role in the Trump-Ukraine phone call

Trump used Mike Pence to tell Ukraine the US would withhold military aid while demanding that it investigate corruption

Pompeo confirms he was on Trump's Ukraine call after previously dodging questions about it

October 1:

Trump's false theory that whistleblower requirements changed just before the complaint over his Ukraine call got shut down by the intelligence watchdog

The White House is 'paralyzed' and 'teetering on the edge of a cliff' as it grapples with Ukraine fallout and 'Hurricane Rudy'

'Pure insanity': Intelligence veterans are floored by Barr's 'off the books' overtures to foreign officials about the Russia probe

September 30:

Mike Pompeo reportedly took part in Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president

Trump pressed Australia's prime minister to help AG Barr investigate the origins of the Russia probe

Former Ukrainian prosecutor says Giuliani repeatedly pushed him to investigate the Bidens

September 27:

A top State Department official at the center of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint just resigned

Justice Department veterans say Trump could be accused of breaking 4 laws in the Ukraine whistleblower scandal

Rudy Giuliani claims he's 'the real whistleblower' and that no one will know the real story on Trump and Ukraine 'if I get killed'

'Lawyer up': DOJ veterans have one piece of advice for Trump and Giuliani amid the Ukraine whistleblower scandal

September 26:

Read the full declassified whistleblower complaint about a phone call between Trump and Ukraine's president

Here are the biggest moments from acting DNI Joseph Maguire's testimony to Congress about an explosive whistleblower complaint against Trump

Whistleblower says White House officials were 'deeply disturbed' by Trump's call with Ukraine's president and worried they 'had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain'

Acting DNI Joseph Maguire undermined the GOP's entire argument against the whistleblower in one sentence

The White House has a complete transcript of Ukraine call but hid it in a possible abuse of power, whistleblower complaint says

Trump suggested the whistleblower who filed a complaint against him is guilty of treason, which is punishable by death

The whistleblower who filed an explosive complaint against Trump is reportedly a CIA officer once assigned to the White House

The US's top intelligence watchdog found Trump's conduct so alarming it could expose him to blackmail

September 25:

The Trump whistleblower raised concerns that the White House handled records of the call with Ukraine's president in an 'unusual' way

Trump mentioned a wild conspiracy theory about the DNC and the Russia probe in his phone call with Ukraine's president

Ukrainian officials say Trump would only talk to Zelensky 'if they would discuss the Biden case' in their July phone call

Nancy Pelosi brought a combative attitude to a phone call with Trump before launching an impeachment inquiry

The notes on Trump's call with Ukraine's president hint at a quid pro quo over investigating Joe Biden's son

The US's top spy agency referred the Trump whistleblower complaint to the DOJ for criminal investigation. The DOJ decided not to investigate.

September 24:

Trump aides were so afraid he'd pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden that they tried to derail his call with the Ukrainian president

Trump tried to negotiate with Pelosi on the whistleblower complaint after she announced an impeachment inquiry. Pelosi told him to take a hike.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just announced the House will launch a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump amid whistleblower scandal

Trump confirms he withheld military aid from Ukraine before pressing Zelensky to probe Biden

September 23:

Trump reportedly slammed the brakes on a $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine days before he asked its president to investigate Joe Biden

September 19:

'DEFCON 1': US officials are rocked by a whistleblower complaint involving Trump's talks with a foreign leader

September 18:

The US's top spy agency just dropped a big hint that an 'urgent' whistleblower complaint involves Trump or someone close to him

A major whistleblower complaint at the US's top spy agency involves a Trump phone call with a 'promise' to a foreign leader

September 14:

The acting director of national intelligence is withholding a mysterious whistleblower complaint of 'urgent concern' that may involve Trump