Impeachment of a US president and how it works

271

WASHINGTON, Jan 13, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – Donald Trump is on the brink
of becoming the first US president to have been impeached twice, with
the House of Representatives beginning a debate Wednesday on
accusations he incited an insurrection at the US Capitol last week.

No president has been ousted from office by impeachment, but even
the threat can bring one down — Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to
avoid certain removal in the Watergate scandal.

Three presidents have beaten the process: the House formally
impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, but in both
cases they were acquitted in the Senate.

Trump, of course, was the third: the House first voted to impeach
him in 2019 after a political scandal over his attempt to seek dirt
from Ukraine on his then-potential 2020 Democratic presidential rival
Joe Biden.

His trial in the Republican-controlled Senate began on January 16,
2020 — almost exactly one year ago — and he was acquitted.

– How does it work? –

If lawmakers believe a president is guilty of what the US
Constitution calls “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and
misdemeanors,” the process begins in the House of Representatives.

Any member can introduce an impeachment resolution which, like any
other bill, is sent to a committee. The process can also be started
without a resolution, as with the current impeachment inquiry.

The committee can review the evidence it receives, or carry out an
investigation itself.

If the evidence is strong enough, the committee crafts articles of
impeachment — the political equivalent of criminal charges — and
sends them to the full House.

The House can pass the articles by a simple majority vote,
“impeaching” the president.

The articles then go to the Senate, where a trial takes place, with
representatives from the House acting as prosecutors and the president
and his attorneys presenting his defense.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial in the Senate.

The 100-member Senate then votes on the charges, with a two-thirds
majority necessary to convict and remove the president.

If the president is convicted, the vice president then takes over
the White House.

– What kind of charges do presidents face? –

The accusations have to meet the constitutional standard of “high
crimes or misdemeanors.”

In the cases of Clinton and Nixon, independent prosecutors amassed
evidence to support criminal charges.

Nixon was accused of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt.

Clinton, in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, was accused of perjury and
obstruction.

Trump faced two articles of impeachment the first time around.

The first — abuse of power — said he wielded the authority of his
office to solicit the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine,
in the 2020 presidential election.

The second — obstruction of Congress — was based on his refusal to
abide by congressional subpoenas mandating testimony from his aides
and production of documents.

This time, Democrats have introduced a single article: incitement of
insurrection, after Trump encouraged supporters who stormed the US
Capitol on January 6 during the formal certification of Joe Biden’s
election victory in a riot which left five people dead.

Trump insists the election was stolen from him through fraud, and had
called on lawmakers to refuse to certify Biden’s victory.

– Is it about law or politics? –

The charge of high crimes and misdemeanors covers allegations of a
range of misconduct — not just violations of the criminal code.

Going on holiday for a year, for example, is not illegal but would
likely lead to a president’s impeachment for failing to discharge his
duties under the constitution.

And while strong evidence is required, the impeachment process is
political in nature, not criminal.
In past impeachments, support and opposition ran along party lines,
though in Nixon’s case the offenses were so egregious that Republican
backing for him disintegrated.

In Democrat Clinton’s case, Republicans controlled the entire
Congress. But when impeachment charges went to the Senate, the 45
Democratic Senators stayed united to block a two-thirds vote for
conviction.

The first time Trump was impeached the votes broke largely along party lines.

This time, Democrats are furious at Trump’s undermining of the
election process, his support for the rioters who rampaged through the
Capitol.

Crucially, this time, they are not alone.

Several Republicans have already stated they, too, will vote for
impeachment, and top House Republican Kevin McCarthy said members
would not be required to toe the party line on the vote — a
significant weakening of support for Trump.

If the House impeaches, Senate leader Mitch McConnell has made clear
that there is no time for a trial before the January 20 change in
presidency because the Senate is in recess until January 19.

However McConnell has reportedly signaled that he believes Trump did
commit impeachable offenses and welcomes the process.

This could shift in the ground under Trump’s feet. McConnell could
in theory call the Senate back for an emergency session or encourage
his senators to join Democrats in convicting Trump even after Biden
assumes office.