Fact-checking claims about the impeachment inquiry

President Trump
President Trump Alex Brandon/Associated Press/Associated Press

Defenders of President Trump have employed a number of arguments to back up their assertion that the impeachment inquiry begun by House Democrats last month amounts to a “kangaroo court.” They have cited historical precedent, the Constitution, and public polling among other arguments against the inquiry. Here’s a fact-check of some of their most-invoked claims.

What was said:

“In the 240-plus years of our history, those rare times where we have had impeachment process, it’s always gone through the House Judiciary Committee, because the House Judiciary Committee is the committee of jurisdiction over the Constitution and over impeachment. It’s not the Intelligence Committee.”


Representative John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas


In her announcement last month initiating formal impeachment proceedings against Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had directed six committees — including the Intelligence Committee, whose chairman, Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, has drawn Trump’s ire — to proceed with investigations under “that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.” Behind closed doors, she said the committees should forward their cases on potentially impeachable offenses by Trump to the Judiciary Committee.

This arrangement, according to Ratcliffe, amounts to a jurisdictional violation. But while impeachment inquiries have been typically conducted by the House Judiciary Committee since its formation in 1813, there is no rule mandating it and there is precedent for other committees taking the lead.

Special committees began impeachment inquiries against federal judges in 1804, 1808 and 1839. And in 1867, after the Judiciary Committee voted to not send articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson to the full House, a second attempt to impeach him succeeded after an inquiry by the Committee on Reconstruction.

“There is certainly no constitutional requirement that any specific committee take it up,” said Frank Bowman, a law professor at the University of Missouri and expert on impeachment. “The Johnson case really illustrates the basic principle: The House can run an impeachment any way they darn well please.”


What was said:

“In the history of our nation, the House of Representatives has never attempted to launch an impeachment inquiry against the President without a majority of the House taking political accountability for that decision by voting to authorize such a dramatic constitutional step.”

Pat Cipollone, White House counsel, in a letter Tuesday to House Democratic leaders

This is misleading.

Although the full chamber voted to start impeachment inquiries against Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, nothing in the Constitution or House rules requires it. And outside of presidents, there are several cases of judicial impeachments that began without a vote.

“In the past, House committees, under their general investigatory authority, have sometimes sought information and researched charges against officers prior to the adoption of a resolution to authorize an impeachment investigation,” according to an October report from the Congressional Research Service.

For example, impeachment inquiries into three federal judges in the 1980s began without explicit authorization by the full House, according to the report.

While the whole House voted to start impeachment investigations into Clinton and Nixon, whether such a vote was taken in Johnson’s is more ambiguous. In the second attempt to impeach the 17th president, the full House voted on and approved resolutions authorizing the Committee on Reconstruction to begin a general investigation and to obtain the evidence gathered previously by the Judiciary Committee. But those resolutions did not explicitly authorize a second impeachment inquiry.


“There’s no requirement in the Constitution that the House do anything specific, in any order, prior to voting to approve articles of impeachment,” said Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas.

Bowman, who called the White House letter “a parade of absurdities,” noted that impeachment is just one of the powers granted to Congress so “if you took the White House argument seriously, it would mean that there has to be a vote” before any House committee could begin hearings on legislation related to interstate commerce, budgets or even establishing post offices.

What was said:

“The House of Representatives is now essentially running an impeachment process without following precedent, without allowing the president to have counsel, without allowing the president to call witnesses or have subpoena power.”

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee

“If they have a vote to do a formal impeachment inquiry, historically, precedent is such that, yes, then everyone gets the right, the minority party gets rights. Certainly, the White House gets rights. The president gets rights that aren’t there now.”

Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio

This is misleading.

This argument misrepresents the separation of duties in Congress in regard to the impeachment process: The House investigates and charges, and the Senate holds trial.

Allowing the subject of an impeachment inquiry to call witnesses or present counterevidence is not required in either the Constitution or House rules. The House Judiciary Committee did hear testimony from White House counsel at the request of the Clinton administration in 1998 and allowed Nixon’s defense lawyers to present rebutting evidence in 1974. But no such accommodation was made in the case of Andrew Johnson, who was impeached by the House before it even drew up articles of impeachment.


“It’s perfectly reasonable for folks to suggest that the House should follow these more conciliatory precedents,” Vladeck said. “It’s completely false to argue that it’s under any constitutional or legal obligation to do so.”

After a successful impeachment vote, the House then appoints lawmakers known as managers who essentially act as prosecutors in a Senate trial. The impeachment rules in the upper chamber do offer the impeached person some rights. Witnesses, for example, may be cross-examined, and each side — the House managers and the impeached person — can make closing arguments before the Senate.

What was said:

“Remember when Pelosi said that the transcript would show a quid pro quo? It doesn’t.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina


“No quid pro quo” has become a rallying cry among those opposed to an impeachment inquiry, particularly since the reconstituted transcript of the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president was released Sept. 25. (The phrase appears in talking points the White House pushed to its surrogates).

A spokesman for Graham cited remarks Pelosi made to House Democrats in a closed-door meeting Sept. 24, the day before the call transcript was released. But in those remarks, she focused less on the need to prove an exchange of favors, arguing that simply asking for foreign intervention into an election was inappropriate enough.


“Don’t get caught in the trap of, oh, there is no quid pro quo. No, he asked for assistance from the foreign government. That’s wrong,” she said.

“It’s really important to know this: There is no requirement that there be a quid pro quo in the conversation,” Pelosi said in public remarks that day. “We don’t ask foreign governments to help us in our elections; that’s what we tried to stop with Russia. It’s wrong.”

Other Democratic leaders in the House also echoed that sentiment.

“It’s not necessary for us to find evidence of a quid pro quo,” Schiff said Sept. 22. “You don’t need an explicit quid pro quo to betray your country.”

What was said:

“Only 25% want the President Impeached, which is pretty low considering the volume of Fake News coverage, but pretty high considering the fact that I did NOTHING wrong. It is all just a continuation of the greatest Scam and Witch Hunt in the history of our Country!.”

Trump on Twitter on Oct. 9, 2019


Trump appears to be referring to a Washington Post-Schar School poll released Tuesday. But that poll shows 58% of Americans support an impeachment inquiry, and 49% support removing Trump from office. The 25% refers to the proportion of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents — not the electorate at large — who support an inquiry.

According to the polling average calculated by FiveThirtyEight, 49.3% support impeachment, as of Oct. 1, an increase from 40.1% who supported it as of Sept. 19.