September 30, 2019

Let's talk about impeachment

All right, today let’s talk about impeachment.

The situation has been a popular subject in the news these past few days, so I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the matter.

Things began popping when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Sept. 24, 2019 that an impeachment inquiry was being launched concerning President Donald Trump.

One thing of note: It’s an inquiry at this point, nothing more. It merely means the House is considering evidence to determine if a recommendation for impeachment be sent to the U.S. Senate.

According to certain reports, it is alleged that Trump engaged in abuse of his presidential authority by attempting to pressure the Ukrainian government to conduct an investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Former Vice-President Joe Biden is considered a front-runner to be the Democratic candidate for the 2020 Presidential election.

Although nothing has been stated specifically, the implication is that Trump, a Republican, is seeking ways to undermine Biden, weakening the possibility of him challenging the President when he seeks re-election.

OK, before we continue, let’s take a look at the impeachment process in U.S. History.

When they set up the Constitution, the Founding Fathers included a method which would allow – under certain circumstances – the removal of the Chief Executive. There was resistance from certain quarters, until it was pointed out that without impeachment, the only way to remove a bad president was to assassinate him.

According to the U.S. Constitution, the impeachment process begins in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House examines the evidence, after which a vote is taken. If enough House members agree, the matter is sent to the U.S. Senate. The Senate conducts a trial, where existing evidence as well a new testimony is presented. A vote is then taken, and if two thirds of the Senate – plus one – vote for impeachment, the president is removed from office.

Through the years there have been calls from various quarters to impeach a majority of presidents – usually from the opposition who insist that the then-president has illegally exceeded his authority.

Most of the time these have been political rhetoric from the other side, and nothing further occurs.

However, there have been three times in U.S. history in which the impeachment process was implemented.

The first – and most serious – occurred in May 1869, when the Senate failed – by a single vote – to impeach President Andrew Johnson. Congress had previously passed a law – known as the Tenure of Office Act – which prohibited Johnson from removing any member of his cabinet without Congressional authorization. Johnson, contending the law to be unconstitutional, disobeyed it, firing a member of his cabinet and replacing him.

Historical note: Several years later – while still alive – Johnson saw himself vindicated when the Supreme Court ruled that the Tenure of Office Act was indeed unconstitutional.

The second time impeachment proceedings came to a head was during President Richard Nixon’s administration. Those who were around then – like myself – distinctly remember the scandal when it was discovered that members of Nixon’s re-election committee had broken into the Watergate Hotel in an attempt to plant listening devices in the Democratic headquarters. Things got so bad during the attempted cover-up afterward, that the House overwhelmingly recommended impeachment to the Senate. Nixon avoided the distinct possibility of being the first president to be removed from office by resigning before the trial started.

Then we have “Slick Willy” Bill Clinton, and his scandal with Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky was an intern in the White House when Clinton was president. The two had an affair, but the president later denied under oath that it had occurred. It was only later, when the evidence was mounting, that Clinton admitted that he had lied under oath about the affair. Although impeachment proceedings were implemented, Clinton was acquitted in February 1999 when the Senate failed to muster even a majority of votes.

And now we have the current president on the line – although at this point the House is merely investigating into the possibility. No formal action has been taken at this time.

There have been previous calls for Trump’s impeachment, but the president has managed to shrug them all off. In one instance, Pelosi herself stopped the proceedings, on the grounds there was insufficient evidence to justify call for such an action.

But this time, things are more serious. The information of presidential abuse of authority came from a White House insider. This person’s identity has not yet been revealed to the public. However, Pelosi and a majority of other House members are taking very seriously the information provided by the whistle blower.

Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have countered, saying that the allegations made by the whistle blower is based on hearsay evidence – “he said this, and he said that.” They have pointed out that such evidence is considered inadmissible in a court of law.

That is correct, but such situations often do not lend themselves to clear cut statements. How, for example, could you call in a Ukraine official before Congress and have said person give testimony. A very muddled and difficult situation.

Trump has denied the allegations, of course. Trouble is, he’s doing himself no favors by some of his more extreme statements. On Sept. 29, according to a story in the New York Times, the president suggested that one of the investigators, Representative Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, be arrested for treason. In another story reported by the Associated Press, Trump implied that removing him from office would result in “a second Civil War.”

In one of this tweets, Trump said he wanted to meet the whistle blower who had portrayed him in a “totally inaccurate and fraudulent way,” and that the individual illegally gave the information and potentially spying on the United States and would face big consequences.

Obviously, folks, there’s going to be a lot of finger pointing and accusations and counter-accusations on this one. Those against Trump are going to demand that he be impeached, while those who support him are going to insist that this is all a massive conspiracy on the part of his enemies.

Through it all, I can’t help but get a sense of deja vu. Remember, I was there when the Watergate hearings were broadcast on television. It’s the same thing, all over again.

But that’s our system, and one in which I’m actually proud of. In many other systems of government, the chief executive can pretty much do as he wants without fear of consequences. The only time said person is removed from office is either via assignation or revolution.

But here, we have no problem with conducting such investigations – on the grounds that we hold everyone accountable for their actions. And at the same token, we also carefully investigate such allegations – making certain that the accused has a fair and impartial hearing before any decisions are made.

That is the American Way.

Oops, I got so wrapped up in this, I almost forgot today’s bad joke! Well, here it is.

If con is the opposite of pro, then is Congress the opposite of progress?

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