Impeachment

Now that the Donald Trump impeachment saga has come to an ignominious end, I thought it might be interesting and informative to take a look at the previous presidential impeachments and compare them to the present effort. So far, there have been three presidents impeached by the House of Representatives, Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump in 2020. While the precise circumstances of each case have been dissimilar, with various specific accusations being made against each president in diverse historical and political contexts, there have been similarities in the three presidential impeachments, as we shall see. In no case, so far, has the president actually been convicted and removed from office. In each case, the charges made against the president, the conduct of the trial in the Senate and the ultimate outcome has been a matter of politics rather than the law. Impeachment, then, is more of a political matter than a strictly legal one.

The constitution mentions impeachment in several clauses. Article I Section 2 Clause 5 states:

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

The House of Representatives impeaches a government official, including the president. Impeachment is simply bringing charges of misconduct against the officeholder, rather like a prosecutor bringing charges against a person accused of committing a crime. Contrary to what many of Donald Trump’s critics seem to believe, impeaching an official does not mean that that official is actually guilty of any crime, nor is he automatically removed from office. The Senate tries impeachments, acting as a sort of jury, as stated in Article I Section 3 Clauses 6 and 7 of the constitution.

6: 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.

7: 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.

According to Article II Section 4 of the constitution:

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.

Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868, as a result of the conflict between Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction. It is not necessary to get into the details of that conflict here.

Andrew Johnson

Simply put, President Johnson favored a more lenient treatment of the defeated south than the Republicans who controlled Congress. Johnson was a Southern Democrat who had been added to Lincoln’s ticket in the election of 1864 as a gesture of national unity. After Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson found himself opposed by both Congress and his own Cabinet, particularly his Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. To prevent Johnson from replacing Lincoln’s cabinet with his own men, Congress enacted the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 which prevented the president from dismissing cabinet officials without the consent of the Senate. Johnson demanded Stanton’s resignation anyway, Stanton barricaded himself in his office, and Congress proceeded to impeach President Johnson.

Edwin Stanton in his office.

On February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives voted 126 to 47 to impeach the president. The following week, the House presented eleven articles of impeachment, accusing President Johnson of violating the Tenure of Office Act by firing Edwin Stanton and appointing a new Secretary of War without the consent of the Senate, challenging the authority of Congress to legislate reconstruction, and using  “with a loud voice, certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues, and did therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces … against Congress [and] the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers, and laughter of the multitudes then assembled and within bearing”.

The case then went to the Senate on March 4. The trial began on March 23 and the voting took place on May 16 and 26. This was not really the case of a somber Senate carefully considering each article. There were reports of political pressure and even outright bribery to persuade the Senators to vote to acquit or convict. In each case, the Senate voted 35 to 19 for conviction, just one vote short of the two-thirds necessary to convict.

President Johnson remained in office but was a lame duck for the rest of his term and did not run for reelection. He was, however, vindicated in the end. The Tenure of Office Act was repealed in 1887 and the Supreme Court declared a similar act unconstitutional in 1920, noting that the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 was also likely to be unconstitutional. Andrew Johnson was not a very good president, but he should not have been impeached. His impeachment was little more than a partisan attempt to remove a president that the Republicans saw as standing in the way of Reconstruction and divided a country that needed to be united in the wake of the most destructive war in its history.

I think that it is fair to say that the Republicans hated President Bill Clinton more than they had any previous Democratic president. Part of this hatred was personal, a sort of moral outrage against a president seen to be immoral. As his nickname, Slick Willie might suggest, Bill Clinton had a reputation for sleaze and corruption, and for escaping the consequences for his actions. Part of the dislike stemmed from thwarted political hopes. When the Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in forty years, after the 1994 midterms, the Republican congressional leaders, particularly Newt Gingrich, believed that they would be setting the national agenda, with President Clinton reduced to irrelevance. Clinton was more politically adroit than the Republicans expected, however, and was able to portray the Republicans as obstructionist extremists, by triangulating to the center, infuriating the Republicans, and easily winning reelection against the uninspiring Bob Dole.

Slick Willie

The Republicans spent most of Clinton’s term investigating Clinton’s various scandals, without making much headway with the public. The country was prosperous and at peace and Clinton was slick, so the people did not much care about his misdeeds. By 1998, however, the Republicans believed they had their chance with Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton. I would rather not get into the sordid details about Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as well as the exhaustive report by Ken Starr on Clinton’s numerous transgressions. It is sufficient to point out that Clinton made false statements to a grand jury and in a deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

He did not have sex with that woman.

On December 19.1998, the House of Representatives voted, largely along party lines to send two articles of impeachment, perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, to the Senate. The Senate trial lasted from January 7. 1999 to February 9. The Senate then considered the charges in a closed session until February 12 when they emerged ready to vote on the verdict. On the first charge, perjury, the Senate voted not guilty 45 to 55 and on the second charge, obstruction of justice, they voted not guilty 50 to 50, well short of the 67 guilty votes needed to convict. In each case, the 45 Democratic Senators voted not guilty with five Republicans defecting on the second charge.

Should the Republicans have impeached Bill Clinton? From a legal viewpoint, yes. Clinton was unquestionably guilty of the charges made against him, and more. He was a sleazy, corrupt man who was guilty of serial sexual assault. From a political viewpoint, no. Impeaching the president was a foolish act, considering that the Republicans did not have the sixty-seven votes needed to convict and there was no chance of convincing ten Democratic Senators to break ranks with their party. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was not popular with the American people. Neither were the investigations leading up to Clinton’s impeachment. This public dislike of Ken Starr’s investigations was certainly a factor in the Republican loss of five Congressional seats in the election of 1998 when the opposition party usually gains seats in midterm elections. Clinton’s impeachment may well have a cause for the closeness of the 2000 presidential election. Normally, it is not easy for one party to hold onto the White House and Al Gore wasn’t a particularly appealing candidate. If the Republicans had not impeached Clinton, George W. Bush might have won the election by a decent margin. A great deal of subsequent partisan acrimony would likely have been avoided.

Karl Marx once wrote, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” I do not know how that statement might apply generally, but it certainly applies to the history of impeachment in the United States. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was a high tragedy, based on fundamental constitutional questions on the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was tragi-comic, based as it was in the titillating details of Clinton’s sexual exploits and deceptions. The impeachment of Donald Trump has been simply a farce.

The Democrats have hated Donald Trump, probably even more than the Republicans hated Bill Clinton. Part of this is undoubtedly Trump’s brash and uncouth personality. Part of this might be due to dashed hopes. Most observers, including myself, expected Hilary Clinton to win the 2016 election, and the Democrats were looking forward to sweeping Congress and forming a permanent Democratic majority. Donald Trump’s unexpected victory enraged the Democrats.

Donald Trump

Whatever the reason, the Democrats began seeking causes for impeaching Trump even before he took office, but it was only after they gained control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections that they had any chance of impeaching him. A July 2019 telephone call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky gave the democrats their pretext. In this conversation, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate corruption charges against Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, allegedly threatening to withhold military aid to Ukraine if Zelensky did not comply. The Democrats seized on this story to begin an impeachment inquiry in October.

Donald Trump talking to Zelensky?

On December 17. 2019 the House of Representatives voted, along partisan lines, to send two articles of impeachment to the Senate, Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed actually presenting the articles of impeachment until January 15, 2020, and the Senate trial began on January 22 and on February 5, the Senate voted to acquit Trump 48 to 52 on the first charge and 47 to 53 on the second charge, along partisan lines with Senator Mitt Romney the only Republican voting guilty on the first charge.

The impeachment of Donald Trump was a supreme act of folly by the Democrats. Not only did the Democrats not have the sixty-seven votes needed to convict President Trump, but they also did not even have a majority in the Senate, so they had no control over how the Senate trial was to be arranged. Under the circumstances, Trump’s acquittal was a foregone conclusion, and the whole impeachment was a waste of time and money. The Democrats in the House of Representatives were so eager to appease their base by impeaching Trump that they didn’t bother to make much of a case against him. The impeachment investigation was hasty and partisan, without much of an attempt to include Republicans in the process. The Senate trial was a joke since the Republicans didn’t take the charges seriously. The whole affair was a trivialization of the impeachment process. I expect that the Republicans will take revenge by impeaching the next Democratic president over similarly trivial charges until impeachment becomes a regular part of politics and presidents are being impeached for jaywalking or tearing the tags off mattresses.

Camelot

The Camelot mythology regarding John F. Kennedy has to be one of the greatest humbugs ever foisted on the American people by the mainstream media and the liberals. The more we learn about John Kennedy, the more deplorable his actions seem to be. He and his father lied about his war record. He took sole credit for his book Profiles in Courage, even though Theodore Sorensen did the actual writing. His personal life was far sleazier than Bill Clinton’s worst fantasies. He was not as healthy and vigorous as claimed but may well have suffered from addison’s disease, which could have affected his judgement. And yet, according to the left, he was one of our greatest presidents since Obama.

In case you’re wondering, it was this article I read in Big Journalism that brought on that rant. Here are a few excerpts, but you have to read it all.

With the recent news of a 19 year old White House intern having her virginity taken by the 45 year old JFK, the apologists were lined up on NBC’s Rock Center (the show has now moved to Wednesday’s because the Monday ratings were horrible—perhaps they should bring Leno back to do it.)

John Fitzgerald Kennedy remains a mythic figure in American public life and in the memories of so many of us,” said host Brian Williams. Mythic? Is that the word you use after broadcasting an hour of Mimi Alford’s account of the trysts in the White House that included oral sex with at least one member of Kennedy’s Cabinet while JFK watched? “Mythic”? Perverted might be a better word (Alford also claims JFK wanted her to “service” little brother Teddy, but she said no to that; so at there was some decency here).

Say what you will about Clinton, but he never tried to share Monica Lewinsky with any members of his cabinet, or with his brother. And, I am positive that none of the women Clinton slept with was actually a spy.

The news that before the embargo of Cuban products JFK asked Pierre Salinger to buy him as many Cuban cigars as he could. Salinger got 1,200 of them and when they were brought into the Oval Office, Kennedy immediately signed the embargo that is still in place today. Quite the leader there, once he had his Cuban cigars, he was good to go. Regardless of what you think of the embargo, this is a classic abuse of power that is not surprising now that we know the real JFK. Maybe the Rushmore likeness can have him smoking one of those cigars.

Also, while we’re talking legacy here, did you know JFK was the guy who, with his brother Bobby, illegally wiretapped Martin Luther King and that both sat in the White House during the famous “I Have A Dream” speech because they were worried about the political ramifications had they gone to it? Probably didn’t know that, did ya? Hard to see through the aura of Camelot.

“He did what he wanted to do regardless of other people’s feelings and I think that made him strong,” added Matthews. Amazing, ignoring others feelings is now a sign of strength in a President. We’ll expect you to use that same standard on the Republican candidates during this campaign cycle when you spew your venom towards them on MSNBC. Ignoring others feelings is now a sign of strength (when it’s JFK.)  Brilliant. Love to see you mention that when you accuse Mitt Romney of being out of touch. Also—help me out here—were the Kennedy’s wealthy? I forget. Oh ya, that’s right, pops made money as an illegal bootlegger and passed it on to his boys. Camelot.

Yes, at least Romney made his money legally. By the way, why do we still have an embargo against Cuba? If we can trade with Communist China, why not with Communist Cuba?

In a way, being assassinated was the best thing that could have happened to Kennedy, in that it made him a martyr of sorts and beyond criticism for at least two decades. If he had survived, he almost certainly would have been re-elected to a second term and I have a feeling that some of the sordidness of Camelot would have leaked out despite the efforts of the media to protect him, not to mention the troubles that our increasing involvement in Vietnam would have brought.

Not Mitt Romney

John Hawkins at Right Wing News helped start a  blog called Not Mitt Romney, largely because he doesn’t like Mitt Romney.

I don’t like Mitt Romney.

I never have and I probably never will.

You see, politicians like Mitt Romney have a history of screwing over movement conservatives.

You know the type.

Lincoln Chafee. Arlen Specter. Charlie Crist.

You might say, “No way! Romney’s more conservative than those guys!”

Is he really? What gives you that impression? Is it because he’s telling you what you want to hear right now, when he needs your vote?

Well, if Romney gets elected, which Romney will be President?

Romney 1.0: The left-of-center Republican who was adamantly pro-choice and wasn’t a fan of Reagan or the Contract with America during his run at Ted Kennedy’s seat?

Romney 2.0: The moderate, center-right governor of Massachusetts who left after one term because he would have lost if he ran again in 2006?

Romney 3.0: The fire breathing “conservative alternative” to John McCain who pretended like he was the reincarnation of Reagan?

Romney 4.0: The guy who’s running now, who believes whatever you believe, no matter what you believe?

 

Well, I don’t much care for him either and for about the same reasons.

The thing that I am afraid of is that the 2012 election will be a repeat of the 1996 election. Going into that election, we had an unpopular Democratic President. The Democrats had received a shellacking in the mid-term elections and lost control of Congress for the first time in over 40 years. It seemed likely that Bill Clinton would be a one-term President. And then the Republicans nominated Bob Dole.

As soon as Bob Dole gained the nomination, I knew that Clinton would win. Dole simply didn’t inspire the Republican base. He had made too many compromises with the Democrats and didn’t really seem to believe in anything.

I know that the Republicans have some advantages they didn’t enjoy back in 1996. Back then, the Internet was still in its infancy and new media hardly existed at all. There was no equivalent to the Tea Party movement. Obama isn’t nearly as good a politician as Clinton was and unlike Clinton, he seems to have no interest in triangulating or trying to portray himself as a moderate. In fact, if his recent actions are any indication, it seems that Obama will try to win re-election by energizing his base rather than reach out to independents. Still, I think that if Mitt Romney is the nominee a lot of Republicans will vote for him, just to defeat Obama, but they won’t like it. They won’t like spending the next 4-8 years defending Romney as he tries to govern in the center and betrays Conservative principles.

And also, in these tough times, the last thing America needs is a president without any firm guiding principles, someone who wants to be all things to all people. We need someone who is willing to make the tough decisions and stick by them. I don’t think that is Romney.

I think we can do better than Mitt Romney. I don’t just want to vote against Obama. I want to vote for someone.

Contempt for the President

From CBS. Barak Obama implied that Social Security checks might not be sent out on time if a deal on increasing the debt ceiling is not made by August 2.

“I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven’t resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, according to excerpts released by CBS News.

He is lying and he knows it. I don’t think that I have ever felt such contempt for a President before. Between his feckless appeasing foreign policy and his demagoguery as the country nears the abyss, he has to be the worst president of my lifetime.

I didn’t care for Bill Clinton. He was a sleaze, and I am not just referring to his affairs. He was a pathological liar. But, he did seem to have the best interests of the country in some small corner of his mind. He could also be pragmatic.

Jimmy Carter was bad, but mercifully, I was too young to remember much of his presidency. He was a weakling who mistook his weakness for moral virtue.

George Bush I had no strong core beliefs of his own. He seemed to want to be president simply to cap off a career in public service. He seems to be a good man but he tended to react to events rather than cause events to happen.

His son also seems to be a good man and stronger than his father, but frightfully inarticulate. He never seemed to be able to explain what he was doing or what he hoped to accomplish. This seems to be a Bush family trait.

But again, of all these, Obama is the worst.

Nancy Pelosi Shows Some Class

I don’t much care for former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. I don’t like her radical left-wing politics and I don’t think she was a particularly good Speaker. Never the less, we must give credit where it is deserved. According to this article in The Hill, Nancy Pelosi called former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to thank them for their role in taking down Osama bin Laden. Good for you Ms. Pelosi! Maybe if more politicians acted this way, American politics would be less of a cesspool.