Impeachment inquiry still early in process, Speaker will have lots of control of how it plays out, says KU Law professor

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this week that her chamber would launch an official inquiry regarding potentially impeachable offenses by President Donald Trump. It’s important to note that impeachment does not equal guilt.

“Impeachment is similar to the idea of indictment,” said Lumen “Lou” Mulligan. Mulligan is the Director of the Shook, Hardy & Bacon Center for Excellence in Advocacy at the University of Kansas. “That is to say, one can be indicted for a crime. That doesn’t mean one is convicted of a crime. Similarly, impeachment means that the House of Representatives impeaches a President or a different officer of the United States, then that triggers the Senate to have a trial to remove the person from office.”

An apt comparison, then, would be to say that the House is functionally like a grand jury.

“Different committees in the House will engage in an investigation, if those committees decide they should go forward with an impeachment process, then the House would write what are called Articles of Impeachment. Those would list what the House believes are the sanctionable conduct. Then the House of Representatives would vote by simple majority whether to pass these Articles of Impeachment.”

Since no single committee holds sole jurisdiction over impeachment proceedings, the role of Speaker Pelosi in the process cannot be overstated.

“Whatever product the House produces is going to be one that Speaker Pelosi controls to a large degree, as any speaker of any party would do in a situation like this,” said Mulligan. “Whatever the
different committees do, before Articles of Impeachment would come to the floor, we could strongly assume that the Speaker had a strong hand in how they were worded.”

If the President were impeached, then the Senate would hold a trial and it would take a two-thirds majority of that body to remove the President from office.