The Impeachment Process: A Primer

President Trump screams that the present impeachment process is unconstitutional.  The President’s enemies, along with respected commentators such as Chis Wallace, say the Presidents claims are balderdash. Why does the President continue to make the claim?  What is the truth?

Per the Constitution, the House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach the President, and the Constitution does not prescribe the procedures to be followed in performing that act.  In that sense, the President’s critics are correct.  The House of Representatives is free to act as it wishes in this matter.

But the President is also correct.  There are points on which the President wishes to challenge the House, points that have grounds in matters of precedent and fairness.

First, what are justifications for impeachment.  The Constitution identifies treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors as possible reasons for impeachment, with the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors not being firmly fixed.  Everyone agrees, however, that impeachment charges should be very serious.  Being thoroughly unlikable is not a sufficient justification for impeachment of the President.

So far, the House has not affirmed a specific charge or charges against Trump, but few would deny the right of the House to look into questionable conduct by the President as it searches for evidence of wrongdoing.  The House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees have been calling witnesses and looking into Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and, in another instance, improper contact with and pressure on a foreign head-of-state to have him investigate an American citizen, himself the son of a leading Democratic political opponent.

Thus far, the committee investigations have proceeded in an informal manner.  This means that the majority party controls the process.  Only Democrats may subpoena witnesses and determine what testimony is furnished to the media.  The Republicans are being shut-out.

President Trump and his supporters think that this process is grossly unfair and a violation of due process.  Republicans point out that the Nixon and Clinton impeachment investigations were handled in a bipartisan manner., and they insist that a matter of such importance calls for a formal House impeachment inquiry, meaning full rights for minority as well as majority representatives in the investigative process.

A formal impeachment proceeding begins with a resolution adopted by the full House of Representatives, which typically includes a referral to a House committee. If the committee finds sufficient reasons for impeachment, it will set forth specific allegations of misconduct in one or more articles of impeachment. The Impeachment resolution, or articles of Impeachment, are then reported to the full House with the committee’s recommendations. The House debates the resolution and may at the conclusion of the debate consider the resolution as a whole or vote on each article of impeachment individually. A simple majority of those present and voting is required for each article or the resolution as a whole to pass.

If impeachment is approved, the House will adopt a resolution in order to notify the Senate of its action. After receiving the notice, the Senate will adopt an order notifying the House that it is ready to receive the resolution. Select House members will then appear before the bar of the Senate and exhibit the articles of impeachment.

At that point the impeachment trial would begin.  The Chief Justice would preside, and Senators would serve as the jury. Conviction and removal of the President from office would require approval of two-thirds of the Senators present.


This ends my discussion of the impeachment process itself.  Now for a few more comments about the present situation.

Should President Trump be impeached?  Is it practical to go through the impeachment process this late into the  President’s term?

Thanks to Ed Kaplan, one of the leaders of our Howard County senior men’s discussion groups, we had a follow-up round-table in response to my rather fervid post “Impeach Him” (October 11) in which I had argued against impeachment.

Ed handled the discussion well.  Participants had the opportunity to express their feelings freely.  Based on the viewpoints expressed, I offer the following observations:

  • Most men objected to the word “hate” as describing their feelings about the President, but “intense dislike” would certainly be an accurate gauge of their attitude towards him. Those who spoke were generally negative in their opinions of Trump, and he had few defenders.
  • The principal criticism of the President is that he is a divider. The nation has rarely been so politically divided as it is today, and Trump is blamed for much of it.  I agree with critics that he has done almost nothing to calm the waters.  He is a thin-skinned, ugly talking, alley fighter, and he continually stirs up trouble by attacking his opponents. In my own opinion, the constant viturperative attacks on Trump by his political enemies and their media allies does as much or more to divide the nation, but the President is the one who should set the proper tone.  He has failed to do so.
  • At least two speakers charged the President with being anti-Black (or pro-White). I have seen no evidence of this, and I do not believe him a racist.  He is an equal-opportunity insulter when someone angers him, and he is non-discriminatory in his praise for supporters. He has enough obvious faults without laying on a spurious accusation.
  • The majority seemed to believe the President guilty of many serious offenses and that he deserves to be impeached, but there is somewhat less support for impeaching him at this particular time. Many  recognize that the process of impeachment and trial might not be completed before the 2020 elections. Also, chances of conviction in a Republican controlled Senate are somewhat slim.
  • For myself, I am yet to be convinced that Trump is guilty of “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” On the other hand, if he were to be tried for being an arrogant, mean-spirited, loud-mouthed braggart, conviction would be assured.  This does not mean, however, that Trump has been an ineffective President.  I believe that he has had a number of positive achievements while in office.  Nice guys don’t always make good Presidents, and the reverse is also true.
  • Several speakers expressed a growing hope that Trump will be defeated in 2020. In response, I offered my opinion that Trump’s greatest asset is his enemies. No one appears enthusiastic about potential Democratic nominees Biden, Warren, Sanders, or their fellows.  I might have added that House committee chairmen Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler have not distinguished themselves in their pursuit of the President.

Meanwhile, the fight goes on.  What interesting times


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