Posts Tagged ‘impeachment’

Impeachment

February 17, 2020

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.

Over the Edge

December 26, 2019

While I was writing on how close we, as a country are, to stepping off the edge of a cliff into the abyss of political confusion, the Democrats in the House of Representatives took us a step closer by voting to impeach Donald Trump. This attempt at removing the president from office is foolish because there is no conceivable way that the Democrats will get the sixty-seven votes needed to convict the president and remove him from office. Given that at present there are fifty-three Republican Senators, it is unlikely that even a majority of the Senate will vote to convict. The most likely outcome of this farce is that the Senate will vote to acquit Trump with at least one or two Democratic Senators defecting. Trump and his supporters will announce that he has been vindicated of any wrongdoing, and Trump will campaign on the basis that the impeachment was nothing less than a coup by the swamp he had been trying to drain. Trump will make the 2020 election between himself as the tribune of the people fighting against the deep state elite which tried to unseat a duly elected president on specious charges and he will win, if not by a landslide, then by a comfortable margin. Already, the Republicans are setting records in fundraising.

If the only outcome of the Democrats’ attempt to impeach the president was to reelect the president they are trying so desperately to get rid of, it would not be a serious matter, more amusing than anything else. This impeachment is a serious matter, however, because of the dangerous precedent, the Democrats are setting. This attempt at impeaching the president is not motivated by any particular wrongdoing discovered. The Democrats have been stating their intention to impeach Trump even before his inauguration. The telephone call between President Trump and President Zelensky is only a pretext. This impeachment, unlike previous presidential impeachments, was done solely for political purposes, to undo the results of the 2016 election. Politics did play a role in the impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, to be sure, but these two men actually did commit violations of the law. Donald Trump is a victim of a witch hunt, an unceasing pursuit to impeach him for anything. The impeachment of Donald Trump could best be described as an attempted coup.

Since this impeachment is being done simply to remove a president the Democrats do not like, what is there to stop the Republicans from retaliating by impeaching the next Democratic president? Some Republicans are already threatening to do so. Why shouldn’t they, since those are the new rules? And, what is to stop the Democrats from replying in kind against the next Republican president? Do we really want to have a situation in which every president from here on out is impeached the instant the opposition party takes control of Congress? What happens if a president really does commit a serious crime or abuse of power? Would anyone take an attempt to impeach him seriously? Why should they, if the last five times the president was impeached were simply politics? What happens if a president impeached on specious grounds in convicted, and simply refuses to leave the White House? Half the country might back him in the ensuing constitutional crisis.

There is a way to remove a president you don’t like. It is called an election. The Democrats would have done better to have prepared to make their case to the voters that Trump should be removed from office next November. Instead, they chose to take that decision away from us and to take the country a few steps closer to the edge. We really don’t want to go over that cliff.

 

Impeach President Obama

November 24, 2013

M. Northrop Buecher at Forbes.com has written an article arguing for impeaching Barack Obama. Put simply, a president with his sort of contempt for the constitution and the rule of law ought not to be permitted to serve out two terms without some sort of consequence lest a precedent be set for future presidents. He makes a very good case. A president who can simply ignore Congress and the Courts is not a president of a democratic republic but a dictator, even if political realities do not yet allow him to wield dictatorial power.

Here are a few excerpts. Read the whole thing. It is worth it.

Since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, he has changed it five times. Most notably, he suspended the employer mandate last summer. This is widely known, but almost no one seems to have grasped its significance.

The Constitution authorizes the President to propose and veto legislation. It does not authorize him to change existing laws. The changes Mr. Obama ordered in Obamacare, therefore, are unconstitutional. This means that he does not accept some of the limitations that the Constitution places on his actions. We cannot know at this point what limitations, if any, he does accept.

By changing the law based solely on his wish, Mr. Obama acted on the principle that the President can rewrite laws and—since this is a principle—not just this law, but any law. After the crash of Obamacare, many Congressmen have implored the President to change the individual mandate the same way he had changed the employer mandate, that is, to violate the Constitution again.

The main responsibility the Constitution assigns to the President is to faithfully execute the Laws. If the President rejects this job, if instead he decides he can change or ignore laws he does not like, then what?

The time will come when Congress passes a law and the President ignores it. Or he may choose to enforce some parts and ignore others (as Mr. Obama is doing now). Or he may not wait for Congress and issue a decree (something Mr. Obama has done and has threatened to do again).

If the President can ignore the laws passed by Congress, of what use is Congress? The President can do whatever he chooses. Congress can stand by and observe. Perhaps they might applaud or jeer. But in terms of political power, Congress will be irrelevant. Probably, it will become a kind of rubber-stamp or debating society. There are many such faux congresses in tyrannies throughout history and around the globe.

Mr. Obama has equal contempt for the Supreme Court. In an act of overbearing hubris, he excoriated Supreme Court Justices sitting helplessly before him during the 2010 State of the Union address—Justices who had not expected to be denounced and who were prevented by the occasion from defending themselves. Mr. Obama condemned them for restoring freedom of speech to corporations and unions.

The most important point is that Mr. Obama does not consider himself bound by the Constitution. He could not have made that more clear. He has drawn a line in the concrete and we cannot ignore it.

Those who currently hold political office, and who want to keep our system of government, need to act now. Surely, rejection of the Constitution is grounds for impeachment and charges should be filed. In addition, there are many other actions that Congressmen can and should take—actions that will tell Mr. Obama that we have seen where he is going and we will not let our country go without a fight.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government had been created. “A republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”

We are losing it. If Mr. Obama’s reach for unprecedented power is not stopped, that will be the end. Everyone who values his life and liberty should find some way to say “No!” “Not now!” “Not yet!” “Not ever!”

The problem is that the Democrats in the Senate will not vote to impeach a Democratic president under any conceivable circumstances, no matter what crimes he may commit, especially a president who is as committed to expanding the role of government as much as the present one is. Party loyalty and statist ideology trump honor and integrity every time for the Progressives. In any case, this is not entirely Obama’s doing. Obama is the culmination of trends that have been growing in influence in our politics for almost a century. Presidents of both parties have tended to exalt the Presidency at the expense of the other two branches of government. Congress has been increasingly lazy about defending its prerogatives. Probably the best chance we have had to rein in the imperial presidency was in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. But, the Democrats, at least, were not really interested in reining in the power of the presidency. They only wanted to destroy a Republican president

It may not do much good to impeach Obama, even if the effort is successful. It is  obvious that there is a large number of people who don’t have a problem with a dictatorial president, as long as the president is on their side. Democrats are worse about this, but if the tables were turned a large number of Republicans wouldn’t have a problem with a Republican president who followed the exact same policies as Mr. Obama. There seem to be too many people who believe that the proper role of Congress is to rubber stamp whatever the President wants and if Congress actually has different ideas they believe members of Congress should be punished for daring to obstruct the President’s sacred will. There is one idiot who is actually demanding that leading Republican members of Congress should be arrested for sedition for opposing the President.

Our future?

Our future?

 

It may be,then, that we are already too far on the road to Caesarism and an American Principate is only a matter of time. I hope not. Maybe Obama’s current troubles and unpopularity will cut him down to size. But, what will we do with the precedents he has set?

Impeach Obama?

October 28, 2012

Roger Simon at PJ Media believes that if President Obama wins re-election, he should be impeached over his role in covering up details over the terrorist attack on the US diplomatic mission at Benghazi.

If Barack Obama is reelected, will he face impeachment over Benghazi — a yet more unpleasant and far more wrenching result than to lose an election?

It could happen — and in my estimation should happen — the way revelations are playing out over the bloody terror attack that took four American lives and has led to weeks of prevarication and obfuscation.

The scandal thus far has at least tarnished and quite possibly implicated everyone from the CIA director, to the secretaries of State and Defense, to the UN ambassador and, of course, the president himself — with no end in sight, because Obama, normally loath to expose himself and even less so in an election season, refuses to answer questions on the subject.

It’s not the crime, but the cover-up, we learned in an earlier impeachment, only in this case the crime may be just as bad or worse.

 

In fact, under this scenario — a Romney popular victory mitigating (no pun intended) an Obama Electoral College triumph – I think impeachment proceedings will almost certainly begin in the House. Moreover, the ramifications of such an impeachment would be greater than Watergate and Monicagate — relatively minor internal events in comparison, the former concerning the break-in of a political office during an election that was already won and the latter, well, adultery in the White House… or more precisely lying under oath about adultery in the White House.

Neither was about anything nearly as important as the seemingly negligent deaths of American personnel, the evolution (actually diminution) of American foreign policy and its possible implications thereof for the health, even the survival, of Western civilization and its values.

We live in a time when the hopelessly inept producer of an unwatchable film is asked to take the fall for an ongoing, indeed centuries old, ideological conflict pitting democracy against religious fascism, with our current administration promulgating the absurd self-aggrandizing delusion that the assassination of a leader of that fascism (bin Laden) and a few of his henchmen (al-Awlaki, etc.) would be an end to their cause. As if.

All those factors hover around Benghazigate like flies around a fetid lamb carcass in a Middle Eastern bazaar. They are fair game for the next Bob Woodward and we may have already found one in Jennifer Griffin of Fox News. She has done a yeoman job investigating the horrifying events on the ground in Libya the evening of September 11 with our noble warriors left to die by some or all of their superiors. But does she have it right or was she too misled?

Well, maybe. Time will tell — or it won’t. Most recently we have learned that we may have had support gunships over Libya when the massacre was occurring, one — with a laser beam trained on the enemy — begging to provide support. As the poet would say — an unholy mess!

So who’s to blame in all this? Fingers will point in every direction, but as we all know the fish rots at the proverbial top or, more politely, the buck stops with the president. Obama admitted as much. Only he hasn’t taken the buck. Not even a penny. He hasn’t said a word, at least one that makes any sense. He’s trying desperately to fly through to November 6 on the wings of the mainstream media, aka the Cricket Club. But a few of those crickets, in and outside the MSM, are starting to chirp. Soon it may be a cacophony.

Still does this all rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors,” that term of legal art that constitutes the hurdle for impeachment? If this were a Republican administration, we all know the answers to that.

But I say, if this doesn’t, what does?

Or look at it this way — which is the worse, lying to cover up a party office break-in, lying under oath about extra-marital sex with an intern, or lying to the American public about a terror attack that resulted in the deaths of four of our worthiest citizens while covering up the continued power and presence of al-Qaeda and its allies throughout the Islamic world and maybe beyond?

This would probably be the right thing to do, but not the smart thing. I haven’t been following the details of this emerging scandal as I ought to have dove, but at the very least it would seem that the Obama administration is guilty of serious negligence in the safety of our diplomatic facilities in a most dangerous part of the world. It gets even more serious because Obama didn’t want to admit that this was a preplanned terrorist attack and instead blamed a video that no one has seen.

The problem is that impeaching Obama would be difficult unless some new revelations turn the great majority of the people against him. If the Republican controlled House of Representatives begins impeachment proceedings, the Republicans will be seen as sore losers intent on reversing the outcome of the 2012 election. The Democrats will surely close ranks to defend Obama, as will the mainstream media. Even if the Republicans capture the Senate, there is no way that they get get the two-thirds majority needed to convict. I think that it will take a long time for the Republicans to recover from the mess impeachment would make.

On the other hand, the scenario of Obama losing the popular vote but winning the electoral vote is a distinct possibility and that would make a mess too. The best thing to do is make sure he doesn’t get a second term.

 


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