Impeachment: a word that is on everybody’s minds these days, both Republican and Democrat.
“Whispers about impeachment, the most familiar constitutional procedure for removing a president, began to circulate even before Trump had taken the oath of office. But two months into Trump’s presidency, those whispers – and the search for any other possible emergency exit – have grown into an open conversation …” – The Guardian, 22 March 2017
Dan Rather on the Trump-Russian connections: “We may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.”
On August 9, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon became the only U.S. president to resign from office, in the wake of the Watergate scandal. After two years of investigations and scandal, it was time. Nixon said, “By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.” Nixon was guilty of a number of things, however I thought then, and I still think today, that he made a tough decision, the right decision, in the best interest of the nation. Okay, granted, he had lost the support he needed in Congress, had lost the confidence of the nation, and would have likely been removed from office within a year, but still, I respect that he had the dignity to resign when he did. Had he not resigned, impeachment would have been the next step … a step that would have been costly and would have further divided the nation. The House Judiciary Committee had already charged him with “high crimes and misdemeanors” in its bill of impeachment in July. There is no doubt that Nixon would have been impeached, but he might have, like Andrew Johnson before him and William Jefferson Clinton after, remained in office.
Nixon denied any wrongdoing, despite mounting evidence, until the bitter end. Based on what we have seen thus far, I would expect no less from Trump when the investigations into his ties to the Russian government are eventually laid bare. I suspect, however, that unlike Nixon, Trump will not have the grace to resign, but rather will force a full impeachment process, further dividing a nation that is already about as far divided as a nation can be without engaging in armed combat.
Article II, Section IV 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 last of these, ‘high crimes and misdemeanors, is subjective and much would depend on how the 115th Congress decided to define it. The process for impeachment is fairly simple, but by no means speedy:
- Impeachment proceedings begin in the House of Representatives, once the Justice Department or an independent council investigates charges & presents them to the House Judiciary Committee.
- The House Judiciary Committee then reviews the evidence, drafts the Articles of Impeachment, and debates the Articles, deciding whether to pass them to the full House.
- The full House debates the Articles, then votes on whether to impeach. Only a simple majority (51%) is required for impeachment. If 51% vote to impeach, the president is considered impeached, but is not yet out of office.
- The Senate holds a trial to decide whether the president should remain in office. The House Judiciary Committee presents the evidence, acting as prosecutor, and the accused will have attorneys present to present his defense. The Chief Justice of Supreme Court acts as Judge and rules on admissibility of evidence, and the full Senate is the jury.
- The Senate votes, and a two-thirds majority is required to remove the president from office.
Simple, right? Well … yes … and no. Think about the current composition of the 115th Congress and what, by their actions, they have indicated thus far. We have 100 Senators, 52 of whom are Republicans, and 430 Representatives (there are currently 5 vacant seats), 237 of whom are Republicans. Thus far, all bills have been voted on along almost strict party lines, with the Republicans throwing all their support to Trump. What this means is that the Justice Department will need to have solid evidence of criminal acts committed by Trump in order to get the House to consider impeachment. And the Justice Department is currently under the leadership of one Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III, a blatant racist who should never have been even considered, but who was hand-picked by Trump and then confirmed by the Republican-led Senate. See the conundrum?
The evidence is mounting that there will be, after the FBI finishes its investigation, and an independent commission (hopefully) conducts an investigation, incontrovertible grounds for impeachment. If it turns out, as I believe, that Trump had direct connections to the Russian government and was aware of their efforts to alter the results of the 2016 election, or if certain of Trump’s campaign staff had connections and Trump was aware of those connections, that would be grounds for impeachment on the grounds of treason. Another, though less likely possibility is that charges may stem from Trump allegedly violating constitutional bans on receiving certain gifts – a problem rooted in his failure to divest from his real estate, hotel and branding businesses.
I think that whether or not the Department of Justice is willing to bring charges and then whether the House of Representatives and later the Senate are willing to follow through with the impeachment process is a matter of timing. There are signs that some Republicans in Congress are already tiring of Trump’s shenanigans, such as his baseless claim that Obama had wiretapped his phones during the presidential campaign, his bald-faced lies, his tirades, and the blame game he is so fond of playing. While there are undoubtedly some who will ride his coattails regardless of his actions, I firmly believe there are men and women of good conscience in the Republican party in Congress, and when push comes to shove, I believe they will opt to do the right thing. But as of today, they are still supporting Trump, no matter what. So, maybe in a month, maybe in two months, impeachment charges would move forward, but if they were handed down today, I am skeptical. It is rather a matter of giving him enough rope, enough time to figure out how to tie the knot in the rope, to hang himself.
The other option is that, under the 25th Amendment, Trump could be declared ‘unfit to serve’, but in my opinion, that is even more of a long-shot than impeachment. In order for this option to be enacted, the Vice-President and a majority of the top 15 members of the cabinet must find the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. Those people all owe their jobs to Trump, and I find it highly unlikely they would go against him, especially if there were a possibility they would lose the battle and then have to live with the consequences.
In the long run, it boils down to We The People. We must make our voices heard … our Senators and Representatives must be made to hear our voices and realize that we are the ones who have the power to decide whether they return to Congress after the next round of elections in 2018. We need to remember that they work for us, not the other way around. While having the president impeached and removed from office may be divisive and disruptive, it is rather like having a cancerous growth removed … it is painful, but life-saving. I believe having Trump removed will be painful for some in the short-term, but life-saving for our democratic principles in the long-term.