If Donald Trump’s impeachment and whatever followed is still a fuzzy mass of facts, read on to get the complete low-down on impeachment. Find out what impeachment is, how impeachment trials unfolded in the past, what it meant for Trump, who else can be impeached other than the President, and much more.
In December 2019, the House of Representatives impeached Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Notwithstanding Trump’s blizzard of defensive tweets and re-tweets, the impeachment votes branded him as the third president in the history of the United States to face removal by the Senate. Both liberal and conservative media reacted vociferously. While most sections of the former celebrated it as the moment of Trump’s executive comeuppance, overwhelming sections of the latter denounced the whole affair as hogwash. Some even elucidated why this was actually going to benefit Trump.
The impeachment votes branded Trump as the third president in the history of the United States to face removal by the Senate.
Exactly six tumultuous months later, the talk of the media was a bellicose Trump threatening to send protestors who pulled down statues of historical figures (perceived as racist) to jail. Did Trump’s acquittal really exonerate him of all charges? Did his impeachment mean nothing at all? Well, if Donald Trump’s impeachment and whatever followed is still a fuzzy mass of facts, read on to get the complete low-down on impeachment. Find out what impeachment is, how impeachment trials unfolded in the past, what it meant for Trump, who else can be impeached other than the President, and much more.
Impeachment – What, Why & How
An impeachment is the formal political process by which an incumbent president of the United States may be indicted for wrongdoing.
The U.S. constitution specifies that a president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanours”. The articles of impeachment are the charges formulated against the president.
The process begins in the House of Representatives, where any member may put forward a suggestion to introduce an impeachment resolution. Alternately, the entire House can vote to launch an investigation into whether there are sufficient grounds for impeachment. As leader of the majority party, the speaker of the House subsequently determines whether or not to proceed with an inquiry. Investigation is conducted by The House Judiciary Committee or a special committee. Impeachment must be approved with a simple majority in the 435-member House. If the House votes to impeach, the process heads to the Senate, where a trial is held. After the trial, Senators vote on whether to convict the President. If two-thirds of the Senate vote in favour of conviction, the president is removed from office and the vice-president moves into the Oval Office.
What Happens When a President is Impeached
A president continues being in office even after he/she has been impeached by the House of Representatives. The president is removed from office only if convicted by the Senate. If the Senate does not convict a president, he/she is considered impeached but does not have to relinquish office. Even if convicted in the Senate trial, a president can only be ousted from office and banned from running for future office. Impeachment is not a criminal trial that sends a president to jail.
Donald Trump’s Impeachment
On September 24 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the opening of an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. The full House voted on October 31 to authorize the inquiry. Subsequently, the House Intelligence Committee was tasked with the investigation and the matter was then taken over by the Judiciary Committee, which drafted two articles of impeachment – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. On December 18 2019, the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives impeached President Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Two Democrats opposed the article on abuse of power, while a third Democrat joined Republicans in opposing the second charge i.e. obstruction of Congress.
Accusations against Trump
Democrats accuse Trump of putting pressure on Ukraine to dig up damaging information on his political rival and now main Democratic challenger for the 2020 presidency, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden. This, according to the Democrats, is tantamount to using the presidential office for personal political gain and endangering national security, leading to an abuse of presidential power. Further, Trump was charged with obstructing Congress by refusing to co-operate with the congressional inquiry and instructing officials of his administration to do the same.
Evidence against Trump
The impeachment inquiry was initiated following a complaint from a whistle-blower who wrote a letter about a July 25 phone call. During this phone call, Donald Trump reportedly urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company when Biden was vice-president. The call came shortly after Trump had withheld $400 million of military aid to Ukraine – that had already been approved by Congress. Citing testimony by officials, Democrats also accuse Trump of using a White House meeting for Ukraine’s president as a bargaining chip.
Trump denied all allegations of a quid pro quo with Ukraine. He described the impeachment as a “witch hunt” carried out by Democrats and sections of the media. He also said there was nothing wrong in asking Ukraine to investigate “corruption”, referring to the company in which Hunter Biden worked. The Republican arguments in defence of Trump were as follows:
- The Ukrainians were not aware that aid was held back.
- Ukraine eventually received U.S. military aid.
- The Ukrainian president said he felt no pressure.
The Democrats have been talking about impeaching Trump ever since he assumed office in 2017. The latest inquiry, the Republicans noted, was the result of a concerted effort to malign the president.
On 5 February 2020, Donald Trump’s impeachment trial ended with his acquittal in the Senate, enabling him to re-immerse himself in his re-election campaign. Fifty-two Senators concluded that the House’s allegations of abuse of power did not warrant his removal of office, and 53 Senators arrived at the same conclusion on the accusation of obstructing Congress. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a strident Trump critic, was the only Republican who voted to remove Trump from office by convicting him on abuse of power. Senator Romney became the first senator in the history of the United States to deviate from the party line and convict a fellow party member in an impeachment trial.
Impeachment Trials in the Past
Donald Trump is the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. In 1998, Bill Clinton was impeached on grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice after he purportedly lied about his sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky. However, the Senate failed to convict him.
The House also impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 for dismissing his secretary of war against the will of Congress. Andrew Johnson barely made it – the two-thirds majority in the Senate was missed by just one vote.
In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend impeachment of 37th U.S. president Richard Nixon, accusing him of planning to obstruct an investigation in the Watergate scandal. But Nixon resigned before the vote on the articles of impeachment could take place in the House. Richard Nixon was the only U.S president to resign.
The U.S. Constitution expressly provides that the President, Vice-President and all civil officers may be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” So far, the House has impeached 20 people, mostly federal judges. Further, the Constitution vests the House of Representatives with “the sole power of impeachment,” and the Senate with “the sole power to try all impeachments.”
Broader Implications of Impeachment
In some ways, nothing seems to have changed. Trump is running for president, exactly as he would have if he hadn’t been impeached. But the outcome of the trial has broader implications. First of all, the balance of power seems to have shifted in favour of the executive. As House impeachment prosecutors warned, acquitting Trump of obstructing Congress would lead to an “imperial presidency” in which Congress may be undermined. The acquittal may even embolden future presidents, making them feel that mixing personal ambition with national security goals isn’t a problem. Further, there is a section of analysts that feels that impeachment is an enduring stain that Trump will have to bear, especially as Democrats turn his impeachment into an election issue. But there is also a section that is convinced of the merits of impeachment for Trump. Impeachment, they argue, energized his base while painting the Democrats as vindictive political opponents who tried and failed to take down the president.
Trump’s acquittal may even embolden future presidents, making them feel that mixing personal ambition with national security goals isn’t a problem.
It’s been barely six months since President Trump was acquitted. But a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, particularly in the light of the COVID-19 cataclysm and anti-racism protests. Even if Trump does not win the re-election, his loss won’t be attributed entirely to his impeachment. His mismanagement of the pandemic and protests would be regarded as crucial factors that resulted in his defeat. If he wins, on the other hand, he’ll probably go down in history as one of 21st century’s most invincible strongmen.