By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution provides for the impeachment and removal from office of the president, vice president and all officers of the United States for treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. This powerful tool has only been exercised twice against presidents in the nearly 230-year history of the republic. Never before has there been so much talk of impeachment so early in a presidential term as there is now.
Movements to impeach Trump began shortly after Inauguration Day and an impeachment resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives already last July. In October, a wealthy individual launched a nationwide campaign advocating Trump’s impeachment and seeking signatories to an “Impeach Trump” petition. More than 4.5 million have signed on so far.
Charges include violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits members of the government from receiving gifts, payments, offices or titles from foreign countries without consent of Congress; collusion with the Russian government in manipulating the 2016 election; and, obstruction of justice for firing FBI director James Comey.
But all of that amounts to so much smoke because history shows us that the primary factor in impeachment is not what the president does but whether the Congress is controlled by his party or that of the opposition.
In 1864, the country was embroiled in the Civil War and the outcome was still unclear. In an effort to bind the nation’s wounds, Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat, was selected as Abraham Lincoln’s running mate. When the war began Johnson was a U.S senator from Tennessee. He was the only senator who did not resign his seat when his state seceded from the union.
Upon Lincoln’s death, Johnson ascended to the presidency, something no one foresaw or intended.
While Johnson was a staunch unionist, he also harbored many of the southern beliefs regarding race and had a far more lenient view on how reconstruction of the South should be carried out than the Congress. The Democrat president and the Republican Congress battled over Reconstruction and it finally led to his impeachment by the House in 1868. He was acquitted in the Senate by just one vote and finished out the remainder of his term quietly.
More recently, Democrat President Bill Clinton was impeached by a Republican Congress after six years of investigations. In 1994, Clinton asked Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special prosecutor in hopes of putting the Whitewater controversy — a failed real estate development that the Clintons had been involved in — to rest. Whitewater was indeed put to rest, but that didn’t prevent special prosecutor Ken Starr from launching investigations into the Paula Jones affair and the dismissal of White House travel office personnel and the Vince Foster suicide, and on and on until he was finally able to catch him lying under oath regarding a sexual encounter he had with a White House intern. The Republican House impeached him but with only five Democrat votes. Clearly, if the Democrats would have controlled Congress, none of this would have seen the light of day.
Similarly, if Richard Nixon had had a Republican Congress, would he have been forced to resign? Probably not. The Washington Post and New York Times could have written whatever they wanted but a Republican Congress never would have opened the Watergate hearings and a Watergate prosecutor would not have been appointed.
Efforts to impeach George W. Bush started in June of 2005 but went nowhere. Democrats charged that Bush had fabricated the case for going to war in Iraq, but the Republican-controlled Congress would have none of it. By the time the Dems took control in 2017, Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed efforts of those in her caucus, concluding that the party would be better served to focus on the election of 2008.
And so, I think all this talk of impeaching Donald Trump is just that. His base of support, which is about 35 percent of the electorate, appears to be unshakable. He said while campaigning that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose voters. I think he’s right. So, regardless of what Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller comes up with, I don’t believe the Republican Congress will take any action regarding impeachment this year. On the contrary, they will — as they already have — work to protect him.
So, in my estimation, the November election will come down to a referendum on the impeachment of the President. Vote Republican if you oppose it. Vote Democrat if you’re for it. History often points the way to the future and tells us that, when it comes to impeaching a president, it’s not the crime he committed but who makes up the judge and jury.