Unless you’re an outer space alien just landing on planet earth, you’ve been subjected to references of Trump impeachment several times over the past week. The term “impeach” is highly provocative, but refers to an act that would be futile at this point with virtually no chance of happening. Few people really understand it, but all citizens need to. Let’s look at just what it is and what it is not.
Many view impeachment to mean the removal of a president. However, it is just like an indictment in the court system. A president has to be convicted of the articles of impeachment to be removed. The whole process is codified into law by Article 1 of the Constitution which basically follows the 14th Century British process. It is not a criminal trial process, but rather a determination of fitness for office.
Very serious charges have to be considered by the Congress in order begin an impeachment process. Article 1 specifies “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors” as justification for impeachment. Such infractions of the law would have to be compiled into Articles of Impeachment by the House of Representatives. The House would select certain members as prosecutors to make the case before their full body. Then, they would need a simple majority of those voting to impeach (238 out of 435 including 25 Republicans if all Democrats voted in favor). Should they impeach, it would be only an indictment that then would go to the Senate for a conviction decision.
The whole body of the Senate would consider the evidence in a court-like trial with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, as presiding judge. Again, a Senate committee of prosecutors would bring the charges. The Senate would then require a two-thirds super-majority vote to convict (67 out of 100 including 15 Republicans if all Democrats voted in favor).
In the history of America, no president has ever been removed from office following impeachment. In 1842, an attempt to impeach John Tyler for vetoing a string of tariff bills failed to get a House majority vote. In 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached for replacing the Secretary of the Navy without Congressional consent, but the Senate fell short of the two-thirds vote for conviction. In 1999, Bill Clinton was impeached in the Monica Lewinsky debacle, but the Senate couldn’t muster even a majority of votes for conviction. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 over the Watergate cover-up before an impending impeachment.
If a president would ever be ousted by impeachment and conviction, the vice president would assume the presidency and would select a new vice president. If the vice president were also removed or declined the position, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, would become president.
There is no provision for a president to appeal an impeachment or conviction. Removal by impeachment and conviction for a crime is not subject to sentencing. If criminal activity is involved, the president would be subject to entering the criminal justice system afterward for possible arrest, indictment, trial, conviction, and sentencing.
So, what does all the hoopla about impeaching Trump bode for his future? Almost assuredly nothing. Incivility, miscalculations, collusion, even lying and sharing of classified information are not impeachable offenses. Even impeachable offenses such as Clinton’s obstruction of justice would not likely result in conviction and removal. Treason, bribery, and high crimes are very high bars to clear. Personally, I don’t believe any attempt to impeach President Trump will ever get past the threat stage, and probably shouldn’t. Unless or until the special counsel, Robert Mueller, digs up something tantamount to treason or murder, the storm winds of impeachment will have no more effect than a light breeze.
I invite your comments and shares.