What is UkraineGate?
A new scandal involving US President Donald Trump has emerged, with allegations that Trump pressured the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky over a phone call to open a corruption investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and his son. The conversation occurred just days after Trump had ordered his staff to freeze more than $391 million in aid to Ukraine, and was first reported by a whistleblower to the White House intelligence committee. The Trump administration, however, withheld the complaint from Congress. This has triggered widespread suspicions of Trump abusing the power of his office to organise a quid pro quo with Zelensky to further his own political future. Ultimately, on 24 September, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump’s conduct.
What does this mean for Trump?
A formal impeachment inquiry is the first step towards actual impeachment, but does not necessarily mean the process will end with impeachment. If the inquiry does produce a motion to impeach, the House of Representatives would need a simple majority to send it to the Senate which would essentially put Trump on trial. Currently, the 435-member House is controlled by the Democrats, with at least 224 representatives publicly supporting impeachment inquiry. However, impeachment requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, an unlikely scenario given that the Republican Party controls it. If successful, Trump would then be removed from office, an unprecedented event in US history.
Since the announcement, Trump has reacted by launching a series of tweets condemning the Democrats and the impeachment inquiry. He called it ‘a total witch hunt’ and ‘presidential hunt’, asserting the legitimacy of the phone call. Trump also claimed he withheld aid to Ukraine because he wanted Europe to do more for Ukraine, with the White House releasing a transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. With the 2020 Presidential Election coming up, time will tell whether this risky political gambit of pursuing impeachment by the Democrats will influence Trump’s chances of winning a second term.