I have this commentary about impeachment because it is a valid option for removing Trump from office. But by design the process of impeachment is not to be taken lightly. Depending on the seriousness of the accusations that prompt an impeachment process, it can be a divisive and gut-wrenching public display. It consumes the news and stalls the normal conduct of running the country for two out of the three branches of government. It’s not to be exercised frivolously.
As I write this there is a populist movement pressing impeachment for the current president, from print, to broadcast, to the internet. This has yet to take hold in Congress and for now that’s likely a good thing. Elsewhere on my site here I’ve proclaimed my dislike for President Trump primarily because of his inexperience and character issues. Fortunately it’s very difficult to begin impeachment proceedings based on a person’s character alone and I am surely not calling for that. The current popular accusation is that of his alleged violation of the foreign-emoluments clause of the Constitution, which means the issue is Trump’s business dealings seem to extend to many countries thus suggesting a possibility of conflict of interest; a risk of Trump’s profiting in some manner in his role as president.
According to Article I, Section 9, Clause number 8 of the Constitution, stating in pertinent part that “… no person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office or Title of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.”
According to a TIME article by retired Montana state Supreme Court justice, John C. Nelson, and John Bonifaz,
“The Trump Organization does or has done business in Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Panama, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, St. Martin, St. Vincent, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Uruguay. And, while serving as President, Trump, through his interest in the Trump Organization, will continue to receive monetary and other benefits from these foreign powers and their agents.”.
The Impeachment Process
This is how the Constitution says it in… ARTICLE II, SECTION 4 …
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.
Pursuant to the Constitution, the House of Representatives has the sole power to “impeach”, which is another way to say “make formal charges against”. The House debates and then votes on the formal charges. The U.S. Senate has sole power to try such articles of impeachment from the House. Depending on the result from the trial in the Senate, the charges are either dismissed or the President is removed from office. It’s important to note… the Judicial Branch, the Supreme Court, has NO role in impeachment proceedings and it does not hold an appellate role regarding decisions rendered in the Senate. BUT… during the Senate trial of impeachment the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the proceedings. This does not mean the president, or any other elected official covered under this Constitutional clause, is immune under the law for any legal impropriety down the line. This is just the process for removal from office.
A simple majority of the U.S. House of Representatives (at least 218 votes) is required to impeach a U.S. President (current party split is D: 194 R: 241), followed by a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate (at least 67 votes required; current party split, D: 46 R: 52). You can do your own math if a vote falls along party lines. The number of votes required make impeachment pretty difficult. The mid-term election cycle could sway those party splits.
The tricky part is trying to define “…other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It’s going to be tough to sell the idea of impeachment simply on traditionally ambiguous things like “conduct unbecoming” or “maladministration”. But the point to remember is that the impeachment process is a kind of employment review board and not a court of justice.
I should point out that the last impeachment proceeding was with President Bill Clinton. His “crime” was no Constitutional violation, no criminal misdeed, not even some mismanagement of his office. Essentially it was his lying under oath about having had an affair with an intern, and even at that, there was no attempt at coercion or misuse of his power to try and talk her into it. Hence, the Senate never impeached him. By comparison, President Trump has far more elements to support an impeachment, from his overall poor performance in the office, to questions about violating the emoluments clause, to questions about his mental stability, and whatever the current investigation from the special prosecutor may reveal about any Russian connections. Given special prosecutor Ken Starr, investigating President Clinton, started out investigating both the Clintons about some real estate deal that went bad ten years earlier and ended up feeding the impeachment over an affair with an intern, anything can arise from the current investigation on Trump.
I mentioned in another post that I would favor Trump’s removal only if it were peacefully done and legally done according to the Constitution. I’m not in favor of removing him under some “trumped” up ambiguous interpretation. The man will likely violate these precepts in due course given his ambivalence in understanding the office of the presidency anyway. Public opinion will determine the direction.. and he should likely remember who won the popular vote.