By: David M. Higgins II
Washington, D.C.- On Wednesday, December 18, 2019, President Donald J. Trump became the third President to be impeached by the U.S House of Representatives by a vote of 230-197 on the Abuse of Power charge, and 229-198 on the Obstruction of Justice charge. Presidents Andrew Johnson and William J. Clinton were both impeached, but later acquitted by the Senate. President Nixon would have been impeached for his role in the Watergate Scandal but resigned before the impeachment vote was taken.
The US House; led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, has accused President Trump of Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Justice.
The House Judiciary Committee released its full report early Monday morning, which you can read here.
During this whole ordeal, a lot of misinformation got spread from the extreme right and left on what impeachment is and what the process is. We will try to explain it here. This is about whether the President is right or wrong, or the Democrat Party is right or wrong, but the process in which the Impeachment takes place.
Impeachment in the United Statesis the process by which a legislature (usually in the form of thelower house) brings charges against acivilofficer of government for crimes alleged to have been committed, analogous to the bringing of anindictmentby agrand jury.
At the federal level, this is at the discretion of theHouse of Representatives. Mostimpeachmentshave concerned alleged crimes committed while in office, though there have been a few cases in which officials have been impeached and subsequently convicted for crimes committed prior to taking office.The impeached official remains in office until atrialis held.
That trial, and their removal from office ifconvicted, is separate from the act of impeachment itself. Analogous to a trial before ajudgeandjury, these proceedings are (where the legislature isbicameral) conducted by theupper houseof the legislature, which at the federal level is theSenate.
However, impeachment is not a criminal proceeding, as the defendant does not risk forfeiture of life, liberty or property; the only penalty is removal from office upon conviction by two-thirds of the senators present. Upon conviction (no president or vice-president has ever been convicted), a second vote is held to determine, by a majority vote of the senators present, if the convicted office holder shall be barred from holding further federal office.
Impeachment may occur at thefederal levelor thestate level. The federal House can impeach federal officials, including the president, and eachstate‘slegislaturecan impeach state officials, including thegovernor, in accordance with their respectivefederalorstate constitution.(via Wikipedia)
There are several provisions in theUnited States Constitutionrelating to impeachment:
Article I, Section 2, Clause 5provides The House of Representatives… shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Article I, Section 3, Clauses 6 and 7provide: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment, and Punishment, according to Law.
Article II, Section 2provides:[The President]… shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.
Article II, Section 4provides: ThePresident,Vice Presidentand 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 Constitution limits grounds of impeachment to “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”.The precise meaning of the phrase “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” is not defined in the Constitution itself.
The notion that only criminal conduct can constitute sufficient grounds for impeachment does not comport with either the views of the founders or with historical practice.Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 65, described impeachable offenses as arising from “the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”Such offenses were “political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
According to this reasoning, impeachable conduct could include behavior that violates an official’s duty to the country, even if such conduct is not necessarily a prosecutable offense. Indeed, in the past both houses of Congress have given the phrase “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” a broad reading, finding that impeachable offenses need not be limited to criminal conduct.
The purposes underlying the impeachment process also indicate that non-criminal activity may constitute sufficient grounds for impeachment.
The purpose of impeachment is not to inflict personal punishment for criminal activity. Instead, impeachment is a “remedial” tool; it serves to effectively “maintain constitutional government” by removing individuals unfit for office. Grounds for impeachment include abuse of the particular powers of government office or a violation of the “public trust”—conduct that is unlikely to be barred via statute.
In drawing up articles of impeachment, the House has placed little emphasis on criminal conduct.Less than one-third of the articles that the House has adopted have explicitly charged the violation of a criminal statute or used the word “criminal” or “crime” to describe the conduct alleged.
Officials have been impeached and removed for drunkenness, biased decision-making, or inducing parties to enter financial transactions, none of which is specifically criminal.Two of the articles against PresidentAndrew Johnsonwere based on rude speech that reflected badly on the office: President Johnson had made “harangues” criticizing the Congress and questioning its legislative authority, refusing to follow laws, and diverting funds allocated in an army appropriations act, each of which brought the presidency “into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace”.
A number of individuals have been impeached for behavior incompatible with the nature of the office they hold. Some impeachments have addressed, at least in part, conduct before the individuals assumed their positions: for example, Article IV against JudgeThomas Porteousrelated to false statements to theFBIand Senate in connection with his nomination and confirmation to the court.
On the other hand, the Constitutional Convention rejected language that would have permitted impeachment for “maladministration,” with Madison arguing that “[s]o vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.”
Congressional materials have cautioned that the grounds for impeachment “do not all fit neatly and logically into categories” because the remedy of impeachment is intended to “reach a broad variety of conduct by officers that is both serious and incompatible with the duties of the office”. Congress has identified three general types of conduct that constitute grounds for impeachment, although these categories should not be understood as exhaustive:
(1) improperly exceeding or abusing the powers of the office;
(2) behavior incompatible with the function and purpose of the office; and
(3) misusing the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain.
Conversely, not all criminal conduct is impeachable: in 1974, the Judiciary Committee rejected an article of impeachment against President Nixon alleging that he committed tax fraud, primarily because that “related to the President’s private conduct, not to an abuse of his authority as President.”
This is the basic format of the IMpeachment proceedings. There are formalities that will need to be addressed before the Senate Trial takes place.
At the federal level, the impeachment process is a three-step procedure.
- First, the Congress investigates. This investigation typically begins in theHouse Judiciary Committee but may begin elsewhere. For example, theNixon impeachment inquirybegan in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The facts that led tothe impeachment of Bill Clintonwere first discovered in the course of an investigation byIndependent CounselKenneth Starr.
- Second, theHouse of Representativesmust pass, by a simple majority of those present and voting, articles of impeachment, which constitute the formal allegation or allegations. Upon passage, the defendant has been “impeached”.
- Third, theSenatetries the accused. In the case of the impeachment of a president, theChief Justice of the United Statespresides over the proceedings. For the impeachment of any other official, the Constitution is silent on who shall preside, suggesting that this role falls to the Senate’s usual presiding officer, thePresident of the Senatewho is also theVice President of the United States. Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirdssupermajorityvote of those present. The result of conviction is removal from office.
The Southern Maryland Chronicle will continue to cover the IMpeachment of President Donald J. Trump as it unfolds. Information compiled via Wikipedia and various other news sources.
Read more on the history of the Trump Impeachment proceedings: