By Valerie Reich/ Photo Credit Lee Chapman
IMPEACHMENT: A word that has been plastered all over American media in the months since the election of current President Donald Trump.
Online petitions, rallies, marches, debates, public speeches and private rumblings have been echoing across America in both the private and public sectors. Pro and against, the need or lack there of is a hot topic. Yet, for all of the discussion, there is a blatant lack of knowledge about the impeachment process.
The layman will use the term impeachment as a synonymous term for the removal of the president from office - yet the process is more complicated than a simple vote. Only two former United States Presidents in recent history, have been impeached, yet neither of these presidents were removed from office. William J. Clinton was impeached for his highly publicized affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Richard Nixon was impeached for his involvement in Watergate and for his obstruction of the investigation of the break in. Impeachment is a long and arduous process that has a multitude of steps that must be debated and completed before impeachment can occur.
Now is the time to learn about our political system, to vote, protest, write, create, and strive to create the America that we want to live in. We cannot sit idly by.
The ability to impeach a President was a core tenant for the founding Americans. Our founding fathers derived their version of political impeachment from the 14th century English Parliamentary rules that aimed to hold the king’s advisers accountable for their actions.
Impeachment was and is designed to ensure a check on the powers of the president. In fact, the entirety of the US government was designed to be a series of checks and balances to ensure that no branch of the government ever had too much power.
The balance of power is highlighted throughout the Constitution.
“The House of Representatives ... shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” - Art. I, Sec. II, Cl. V:
“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.” - Article II Sec. IV
Mr. Hamilton’s Take
The importance of an Impeachment Process - greatly solidifying the limit on presidential power - had its need further demonstrated in the relentless and long-winded arguments of Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper 65.
Hamilton writes that impeachment is “a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men.” It is the ability to hold those in the public service responsible for their actions.
He then pushes the conversation away from the idea of impeachment, which has at presently been accepted as a necessary check on power for the governing populous, and focuses largely on which party should be responsible for trying the American leader.
Hamilton reasoned, “Where else than in the Senate
could have been found a tribunal sufficiently
dignified, or sufficiently independent?
What other body would likely to feel confidence
enough in its own situation, to preserve, unawed and
uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality
between an individual accused and the
representatives of the people, his accusers?
It is important to remember that impeachment is not just for Presidents, but can be used against “all Civil Officers.” If any public officer is found guilty of charges leading to impeachment, he or she can further more be indicted on the correlating criminal charges by the Federal Government as a private citizen. All of those charges are separate from the potential civil court cases that could arise.
With the understanding of the layering of charges that can arise from an impeachment, it is clear why the Founding Fathers took the process so seriously. As the Presidency is considered the most prestigious public office in the entirety of the United States of America, and the one most associated with impeachment by the layperson, the dissolution of its status cannot be taken lightly.
But this does not explain the process of impeachment, merely the why. The process itself combines the power of all of the government branches to ensure that the individual being subjected to the public scrutiny of impeachment fully and rightfully deserves it.
First and foremost, charges must be laid against the individual.
This all starts in the House of Representatives.
There are three ways impeachment can be brought up in the house:
- An individual Member of the House of Representatives can charge impeachment on their own initiative.
- An individual Member of the House of Representatives can charge impeachment, on their own, by presenting a memorial list denoting the charges while under oath.
- A Member can deposit a resolution which is referred to the appropriate committee in the House.
From the initial - for lack of a better word - “suggestion” of impeachment two things can happen; the charge can be turned over to the House Committee on Judiciary and the investigation begins or the charge is turned over to the House Committee on Rules who debates the need for an investigation.
Let’s use the infamous 37th President Richard Nixon as an example. In his case, the House was able to bypass the need for further discussion (House Committee on Rules) and the inquiry to impeach when directly to the House Committee on Judiciary.
The charges, or Articles of Impeachment, were established after a thorough investigation of President Nixon and his counterparts, and resulted in the following “high crimes and misdemeanors”:
- making false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;
- withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;
- approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counseling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings;
- interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and Congressional Committees;
A full list can be found here.
After the House Justice Committee has completed its investigation, the House must vote on the charges. The charges will pass if the House approves the charge with a majority vote. After this vote, the charges will be moved to the Senate to be tried.
Article I Sec. 2 of the Constitution states that the Senate “shall have the sole power of Impeachment” and that further more in Article I Sec. 3 stating “the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments….no person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.”
The trial takes place in the Senate Chambers and a committee of representatives known as “managers” act as prosecutors. In Presidential Impeachments, the trial is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. To convict, ⅔, or a supermajority, of the Senate must vote in favor of the impeachment. The only outcome from a conviction: Removal from office with no appeal.
What Does This Mean for 45
Opinion: With a Republican House Majority, in a polarized system that seems more content with voting by party than by individual policy, it seems highly unlikely that any impeachment raised against President Donald Trump would even make it out of the House of Representatives. With the President’s high popularity amongst GOP voters, it is more than unlikely that any Representatives would vote against their constituency, not out of loyalty but out of fear for loosing their position.
This does not mean that Impeachment is impossible. What is needed is an information catalyst. If new evidence comes out showcasing serious presidential crime, it could turn a significant amount of the GOP against the President.
Yet there is a secrecy and lack of truthful information circulating throughout the media. We, as a reading populace, don’t know what to believe is true. It is more important than ever to perfect our skills in media literacy and to stop disseminating untrue stories that distract from what is actually happening within the government.
The White House has banned cameras in Press Room Briefings. Now more than ever is time for political scrutiny. Now is the time to learn about our political system, to vote, protest, write, create, and strive to create the America that we want to live in. We cannot sit idly by.