Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: What Is Impeachment

The impeachment trial by Senate of President Bill Clinton, 1998
Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Lately, the word impeachment has been tossed around like a ball.  The ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign, the attendant  firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey, and the whiff of obstruction of justice accusations have raised the specter of hearings in the House of Representatives and trial by Senate.  What does it mean to impeach a sitting President of The United States?  What is the process?  How long does it take?  What are the options?  Why is Blogger devoted today's installment to the process?  Yours truly is motivated by the comments on the social media that seem to think that impeaching President Donald Trump is a sure and quick thing.  Would a President Pence be any better?  Thus, in an effort to clarify matters, yours truly would like to offer a summary of the impeachment process. Shall we begin.

Impeachment hearing of the 17th President Andrew Johnson, 1868
Let us start with a definition and quick history of the impeachment process.  The United States Constitution, Article II, section 4 states:

The President, Vice President and all Civil Service Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. (; date accessed May 24, 2017)

The Constitution give the House the power to impeach a federal official, including the president and grants the Senate the power to conduct impeachment trials.  Impeachment is restricted to removal from office but also allows for the officer to be disqualified from ever holding office again.  Fines and possible jail terms for crimes perpetrated during office are left to the civil courts. (Ibid)

Rendering of the Impeachment trial by Senate of President Johnson, 1868
Chief Justice Salmon presiding

Impeachment dates back to British constitutional history, evolving from the 14th century process that allowed parliament to hold the monarch's ministers accountable for their public actions.  Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 65, that impeachment "varies from civil to criminal courts in that it strictly involve the 'misconduct of public men, or in other words from abuse or violation of some public trust.'" (Ibid)  The individual state constitutions had some provision for impeachment for "maladministration" or "corruption" before the U.S. Constitution was written.  The Founding Fathers were fearful of potential abuse of executive power, considered impeachment so important that it was embedded into the document before the parameters of the presidency were set.

The House of Representatives initiated proceedings 60 times but less than a third of these cases ended in full impeachment.  Only eight-all federal judges- have been removed from office by the Senate.  Two presidents Andrew Johnson (in 1868) and Bill Clinton (in 1998); one cabinet secretary (William Belknap in 1876) and one senator (William Blount of North Carolina in 1797)  have been impeached by the House.  (Ibid)

President Trump at a rally in Florida
How does this apply to the current situation?  Hard to say because the President, members (former and current), and his advisors walked into the office with the taint of collusion and alleged ties to Russian agents which leads to the question, if Special Counsel Robert Mueller concludes that there is sufficient verifiable evidence to warrant charges, would it lead to impeachment?  The reason Blogger asks this question is that the alleged acts of collusion took place between private citizens, not civil officers.  Where actual impeachment could occur is a charge of obstruction of an ongoing investigation, meaning the sudden dismissal of FBI director James Comey.

Former FBI director James Comey
 The abrupt dismissal of FBI director James Comey was the most stunning development of POTUS's administration, raising the possibility of political interference into the Russia investigation.  How does this apply to impeachment?  Allan Lichtman, American University history professor, explained in a recent Newsweek article,

He arguably could be impeached now...Arguably he's already obstructed justice and already violated the emoluments clause ["regarding receiving gifts from foreign government"].... (; date accessed May 24, 2017)  

Fueling this is the Comey memo which alleges President Trump to end his investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's possible ties to Russia.  If the evidence proves that if Mr. Comey's firing was a way to get the FBI to end its investigation of Mr. Flynn, then we possibly have grounds for high crimes and misdemeanors thus, impeachment.

Another option floated is invoking section four of the 25th amendment.  The 25th amendment set up the line of succession and establishes the procedures for filling the role of Vice President.  Section 4 states,

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office...  (; date accessed May 24, 2017)

This has never been invoked and does not apply because President Donald Trump is physically and mentally able to carry out his duties as president, really.

Vice President Mike Pence

Hypothetically speaking, if President Trump is impeached, found guilty by the Senate, and removed from office, what would a Pence presidency look like.  Vice President Mike Pence's hypothetical presidency would be reduced to caretaker status.  Whatever he accomplishes would be forever tainted by a disgraced administration.  If a President Pence when as far as to pardon President Trump that would doom any (re-)election chances, regardless if he ran on a moderate or staunch Republican platform.  This all hypothetical for now.

The impeachment procedure is not a quick one and it should not be.  Removing a sitting president from office is an extremely serious business and should not be rushed.  In the coming months we shall see what evidence emerges from the Russia investigation.  The process is a political one and should the investigation lead to impeachment proceedings, it will be interesting to see what the members of Congress value more, their seat or the Constitution.


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