Above the Fold: The impeachment of Trump

Misnomers about impeachment are rampant. Let’s clear that up.

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Articles of impeachment have been drawn up and passed the House of Representatives. The next step is the United States Senate. The step after that will not be, I repeat, will not be, removing President Donald J. Trump from office.
From the outset it should be clear that there is no way that Trump will be removed from office. Either the Senate will dismiss the charges or it will conduct a trial. It is extremely unlikely in both cases, in fact practically impossible, that a Republican Senate will convict their president. And that’s where it will end.
From all indications it seems clear that President Trump will want to clear his name. And the way to accomplish that is through a public trial. There are always risks in trials. But as we all know, Donald J. Trump is a risk-taker, a game-changer, a take-charge kind of guy. While probably the best and most prudent course of action would be an immediate vote in the Senate to dismiss the charges and move on, it is highly unlikely to be the course of action the president pursues.
Misnomers about impeachment are rampant. Let’s clear that up. The United States Constitution lays out the principle of impeachment and explains the procedure. It is the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” which throws people off and allows for conjecture at best, and more often, confusion and pure misinformation. The term originates in English common law. The framers of the Constitution adopted the term and placed it in the US Constitution. It makes perfect sense that they chose to do that. English common law was what they knew, what they were familiar with and comfortable with.
Article II Section 4 of the US Constitution reads: “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.”
Bottom line: “High crimes and misdemeanors” is an expression, it is not a definition. It is a reflection of the higher standard that many elected officials – such as the “President, Vice President and all civil officers” should be held to. In other words, these officials need to conduct themselves better than the average person. Why? Because they are elected officials. So, while treason and bribery are certainly serious crimes, high crimes or misdemeanors need not actually be crimes at all.
PUBLIC OFFICIALS take an oath to uphold the law and defend the Constitution. Regular citizens do not. Regular citizens must obey the law, and when they violate the law, they can be charged and tried. After a public official is sworn in they are no longer regular citizens, no longer private citizens, they are different. That is why the framers of the Constitution incorporated the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors in the document.
Over time, the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” has come to mean misuse or abuse of power. And that’s where politics comes in and usurps the conversation. The two sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, often look at each other with suspicion. That explains why votes, certainly this impeachment vote, split almost exactly down the political middle. There are always a couple of party renegades, but they are a very small minority.
Andrew Johnson was the first US president to face impeachment. The year was 1868. In order to oust him, just as it would have been for any other official, the US Senate needed to conduct a trial presided over by the chief justice of the US Supreme Court. The jury in these trials is composed of the 100 members of the Senate. Johnson’s crime was firing Edwin Stanton, his secretary of war. Johnson was an ineffectual president. He was Abraham Lincoln’s vice president and took over the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination. Congress tied Johnson’s hands. They passed a law that prohibited the president from firing anyone who had already passed Senate approval without first gaining Senate approval. Johnson inherited Stanton from Lincoln.
According to the Constitution, a two-thirds vote is required to oust on official. In the end, Andrew Johnson was not removed from office. Even though he was not popular in the Senate, the vote to impeach fell one vote shy of the necessary two-thirds required.
In 1974, The House Judiciary Committee recommended that the entire House of Representatives draw up articles of impeachment against then-president Richard Milhouse Nixon. The committee’s recommendation did not cite a single impeachable offense. And in the end, the articles were never drawn up because Nixon resigned.
In more recent history, in 1998, the Judiciary Committee sent a recommendation to the entire House of Representative to vote on four articles of impeachment against president Bill Clinton. Two were rejected, two were accepted and Clinton easily won his trial in the Senate.
It’s not easy to impeach a US president. It’s even harder when the majority of the Senate is of the same party as the president. The proceedings that are capturing the attention of the country and of large parts of the world, that are dominating media coverage and taking over the news cycle, are nothing more than a partisan exercise in futility and frustration.
The crime here is wasting everyone’s time and energy when there is so much more true governmental work that needs to be done,
The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.