The President's Corner
Before you read this column, define the word “impeachment.” If you are like most, you may have answered something along the lines of, “to remove an official from office.” However, if that were the definition, then why did Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – the only presidents to have been impeached - remain in office following their respective impeachments? The answer is that the word impeach means to accuse of wrongdoing. It is the equivalent of a criminal indictment, when a defendant is accused of a crime by a grand jury. Both Presidents were accused of breaking the law, but neither were found guilty of the crimes, nor, subsequently, removed from office.
This month I decided to write about impeachment due to the fact that many folks have been asking me about it in recent weeks. Many of the people who ask me about impeachment – including Democrats, Republicans and Independents - want to know whether or not it is possible that President Trump could be removed from office. The civics teacher in me could not resist the temptation to write about one of my favorite government topics.
Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution states, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The process begins in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee. The committee investigates and decides whether or not to approve articles (charges) of impeachment. For instance, in the case of President Richard Nixon, the Judiciary Committee approved three articles, including obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress stemming from the Watergate scandal, while President Clinton faced obstruction of justice and perjury charges from the committee as a result of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Once the House Judiciary Committee approves articles of impeachment, they are sent before the full House, which consists of 435 members. It takes a simple majority (50% + 1) to formally impeach – 218 votes, if all are present. President Nixon resigned prior to this occurring, therefore was never impeached. President Clinton, on the other hand, was subsequently impeached by the full House on both counts by the Republican majority at the time. In short, the majority party has the power to define what a “high crime or misdemeanor” is and to impeach the President. Thus, the incoming Democratic majority will have it within its power to impeach the President in 2019.
Next, the process moves to the United States Senate, which holds an impeachment trial. The 100 Senators (2 from each state) act as the jurors in the trial, which is presided over by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, currently John Roberts. Following arguments by the defense and prosecution, the Senators vote. At this point the Constitution requires a two-thirds threshold or 67 Senators to find guilty, if all are present. If found guilty on any charge, the defendant is removed from office. In the case of President Johnson, he stayed in office due to a single vote. President Clinton was also acquitted on both charges. In fact, even some Republicans crossed the aisle and voted to not remove Clinton.
Although it is too early to know what the future will bring, personally, I believe that, all things being equal (as of today – December 27, 2018 – as I write this column), impeachment of President Trump would not be a wise use of time and resources. Although the Democrats have the votes in the U.S. House, it is highly unlikely there would be enough Republicans to cross the aisle and join the Democrats in removing him from office. However, like in the case of the Nixon Watergate scandal, should some overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing come to light, things could change. Under current conditions Congress’ time would be better spent seeking bipartisan support of a comprehensive immigration policy, infrastructure spending, and job creation, among many other pressing issues. Best wishes for a blessed, healthy and happy 2019 to you and yours.
Parma City Council President Sean Brennan