On September 24, 2019, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially announced that the House of Representatives would be launching an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s recent telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he allegedly called for the Ukrainian government to investigate Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden. In light of current events, the Elk Grove Tribune wants to advise our readers what it means to have an impeachment inquiry opened against a United States President.
The Common Misconception
Although it is a common misconception, impeachment does not mean the removal of office. Rather, impeachment is the process by which the integrity or validity of a government official is called into question. The U.S. Constitution states that a President, Vice President, federal judge, or other federal officer can be removed from their term following the impeachment process if it is found that the official committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.
What Constitutes As “High Crimes And Misdemeanors”?
This phrase has left many wondering for years. In fact, this particular phrase baffled even the earliest of Americans as they worked to craft the U.S. Constitution and the official basis for impeachment. The Founding Fathers considered various possibilities but the Constitutional Convention eventually agreed upon “high crimes and misdemeanors” as the “catch-all” term that the other offenses of treason or bribery missed.
Some might wonder why this phrase was accepted so quickly. The answer is simple. This phrase was familiar to our Founding Fathers as it had been used for centuries, dating back to 1386 when the English Parliament used the very phrase of “high crimes and misdemeanors” to impeach officials of the crown. This accusation could relate to a wide range of offenses such as using finances allocated for Parliament for personal use, appointing officials that were not qualified or hindering qualified candidates from becoming officials, disobeying Parliament orders, and more. “High crimes and misdemeanors” could mean virtually anything so long as it was proven that the official had abused his power in some way while in his official capacity.
The Impeachment Process
Now that we are facing an impeachment inquiry into the Trump Administration – the first presidential impeachment in over twenty years – let’s review from start to finish the impeachment process as it specifically relates to the Office of the President. We must look to the U.S. Constitution for all of the answers. According to the U.S. Constitution, an impeachment inquiry is a three-step process:
- Firstly, the responsibility resides with Congress to investigate the allegations brought forward.
- Secondly, the House of Representatives must then pass the articles of impeachment by a majority. Only if the articles receive a majority vote has the president been officially “impeached”.
- Finally, the president is placed on trial before the Senate with the Chief Justice of the United States presiding. Much like any other trial, the president will have his defense attorneys and the United States will have its prosecutors. The Senate must reach a two-thirds vote. Only if this two-thirds vote is met will the president be removed from office.
So What Happens Next?
If the President is found guilty by the Senate, he will be removed from office and the Vice President becomes the next President of the United States. There is no appeals process.
This has never happened in American History. Only two former Presidents of the United States have been impeached. They are Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. However, in both the case of Johnson and Clinton, they were acquitted by the Senate when the two-thirds vote could not be met. After they were acquitted, they each respectively completed their terms in office. Contrary to popular belief, former President Richard Nixon was never impeached. Rather, Mr. Nixon resigned from the Office of the President as a means of avoiding impeachment.
Keep in mind that the impeachment trial is a political one; not a criminal one. Even if President Trump is removed from office, it is not definite that he will also be served with fines, jail time, or other civil or criminal repercussions.
Mr. Trump’s presidential term is set to end January 20, 2021. Only time will tell where the House’s impeachment inquiry will lead.