"The impeachment procedure will divide the country a little bit more"

Tuesday, September 24, the Democratic representatives officially launched a procedure of impeachment of the American president. According to the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump has "Violated the Constitution" by asking the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

On Wednesday, the White House released the report of the telephone conversation between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25. He confirms that the US President has asked for a "Favor" to his counterpart. In New York for the UN General Assembly, the president swiftly swept those accusations.

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To understand these twists and their impacts on American politics, the researcher Marie-Cécile Naves, specialist of the United States for the IRIS, answered your questions in a chat.

Ukrainian and US Presidents Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump on September 25 at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Ukrainian and US Presidents Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump on September 25 at the UN General Assembly in New York. SAUL LOEB / AFP

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Anne: I understand that Donald Trump has made a serious political mistake: ask for an investigation of a political opponent, moreover to a leader of a foreign country. But how did he violate the American Constitution?

There is a triple suspicion: firstly, that of an abuse of presidential power as part of the campaign (to investigate an opponent); secondly, that of endangering the security of the state (since Donald Trump would have asked Ukraine to conduct this investigation); thirdly, that of obstructing the smooth running of the state since the Trump administration seems to have prevented congressional access to these elements relating to national security (an intelligence whistleblower has alerted his superiors).

A: Until then, Mr. Trump has been involved in some very serious scandals, without any major consequences or his base seems to be affected. Are these recent revelations a real threat to him?

Indeed, he has always done well so far, especially following the publication of the report of Prosecutor Mueller investigating the interference of Russia in the campaign of 2016 (proven), and on the possible collusion of the Trump campaign team and the Trump candidate himself with Russia. This is very similar to the current case since this interference was actually an investigation into candidate Clinton.

The difference with today is twofold: the Minister of Justice, William Barr, had the Mueller report in hand first and made a summary of it let's say very " staff ", drawing very favorable conclusions to Trump. Second difference: temporality. The Trump administration has had time to prepare its communication ("No collusion", "I am whitewashed"). There is an ongoing inquiry in the House about the findings of the Mueller report, but that will take time. With the Ukraine-Biden case, Pelosi wants to go fast, to destabilize the Trump camp. For now, it works.

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A curious one: Suppose the procedure of impeachment passes the House of Representatives, what would be the modalities of the trial in the Senate? Will it be public? Beyond the probable outcome, would the necessity of having to explain oneself to the elected representatives in the formation of judgment would not be in itself catastrophic for Trump?

If the House votes the impeachment, the Senate then turns into a court to conduct a criminal trial. The president of the Supreme Court takes over the presidency and Trump has the right to a lawyer, he comes to explain himself, witnesses can be solicited, and so on. Like in a real court. (…)

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US President Donald Trump on September 25 in New York.
US President Donald Trump on September 25 in New York. JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

My impression is that the chances that this impeachment procedure will succeed are quite mixed. Are the opponents of Trump not shooting themselves in the foot by allowing him to capitalize on a witch hunt against him, very enticing? Or should we see the good health of the American parliamentary system?

Like you, I see it as a sign of the good health of American democratic institutions, which, as we see in other files (such as diplomacy), resist attempts by the president to abuse his power. The message from Nancy Pelosi (speaker, Speaker of the House) is also this one, because she knows that the procedure, at this stage, is unlikely to end in the Senate: to put an end to the feeling of impunity of Trump, put an end to his frequent attempts to obstruct parliamentary work, guarantee the balance of power, and thus weaken it politically.

This is the culmination of the clash between the White House and House Democrats. Both sides play big in the middle of the campaign (presidential and legislative), but I believe that Nancy Pelosi felt that she had no choice, whereas she was so far reluctant to initiate the procedure.

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42: What influence on the primary Democratic? Do voters stand up to Joe Biden? Is the democratic left reinforced by the launching of the impeachment procedure?

These are excellent questions that probably the Democratic camp has been asking for several days. Joe Biden will leave weakened of this story, it is obvious (in this Trump wins a victory). Indeed, it is difficult to see him answering questions that will not fail to come to light on his son's past ties with Ukraine, when he himself was vice-president. Biden is considered for the time being the most credible candidate against Trump, but who knows what will happen in the coming days and weeks?

Joe Biden will go out weakened from this story. It is difficult not to answer questions about his son's past ties with Ukraine, when he was vice-president.
Joe Biden will go out weakened from this story. It is difficult not to answer questions about his son's past ties with Ukraine, when he was vice-president. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

What is certain is that the impeachment procedure will divide the country a bit more (if it were possible), between pro and anti-trump. The two electorates will be galvanized, and thus it can serve both candidates, in November 2020. It is recalled that voter turnout was exceptional for mid-terms of November 2018 (mid-term elections), particularly among democrats, who wanted to punish the president at the polls. The suspense is only bigger!

Edouard: Are there indignations in D. Trump's own camp? Does this procedure cause tensions within the political family?

For the moment, there are few. They are waiting to see what is going to be revealed, but also to see how the polls will evolve in the population as to the unpopularity of this impeachment procedure (example: if Republican voters start to drop Trump, they will drop him too, because we do not forget that many play their re-election in the House or Senate in 2020). (…)

E. Snowden: Do we know more about the whistleblower behind this procedure? Will he testify? Has an open face?

The general public and the press do not know his identity (he is an intelligence agent, so by definition it's a bit like the "Legends Office"). I read, this afternoon, in the US press that his entourage feared that Trump, cornered, does not reveal his identity in broad day, or even launching a campaign of harassment on Twitter. He said he was ready to testify before the Congress. We must see what the law allows in this area. The impeachment process may facilitate the organization of his testimony in the House, for example.

Chaxis: How are France, Germany and the European Union reacting, which have been questioned by Donald Trump and President Zelensky for their supposed inaction in Ukraine?

To my knowledge, no official reaction yet, but it is clear that heads of state will now be extremely cautious in their possible telephone conversations with Donald Trump. This has very direct and immediate effects: American diplomacy is weakened, whatever the outcome of the impeachment procedure.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Trump met yesterday at the UN General Assembly, is very uncomfortable and tries to minimize his remarks and the case. He understood that he was doubly trapped by Trump: basically with the demands that he made on him, on the form by blackmail him on the phone about US military financial aid to his country .


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