Arlington VA May 27, 2013
Introduction: What is Impeachment?
There seem to be a lot of questions emanating from the press, the blogs, the TV and Radio media, and others, about the potential for Barack Obama being impeached over the next year to 18 months. We have heard those messages to the public before, and, as in the past, one has to question well the potential act of impeaching and removing a President of the United. States.
Only two men in history have been impeached by the US House of Representatives, and the charges forward to the US Senate for trial. Both of these men, Andrew Johnson, the 17th President, and William Clinton, the 42nd President, were retained in office until the end of their term; in neither case could the overwhelming majority of the Senate agree to their removal. A third President, Richard M. Nixon, was charged by the House of Representatives, but resigned before the charges were brought to the Senate for trial.
Impeachment of a president is a momentous task; the Constitution of the United States, in Article 2, Section 4, says simply: 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. Article 1, Section 2, prescribes that the House of Representatives has the sole right to bring impreachment proceedings, and Article 1, Section 3 prescribes trial in the US Senate, and the penalties for conviction. That article states:
"The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present."
"Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law."
So, the process seems relatively simple. The House decides that something President has done (We will limit our discussion to the President only, although you can see it also applies to other 'civil officers of the United States' as well), given the list of impeachable offenses detailed in Article 2, merits impeachment and removal from office. The House creates a set of charges, much like a grand jury indictment, and vote to send those charges to the Senate for trial. The Senate acts like a court, with the Chief Justice of the United States as presiding judge; hearing testimony from both the representatives of the House, and the President, and decides on guilt of innocence. If two-thirds of the members present in the Senate agree with the charges, the President is removed from office, and, presumably, the Vice-President then becomes president, as was the case when Richard Nixon resigned, and Gerald Ford assumed the office.
Removal from office is just that; the Senate can remove the President, and he is then barred from future Federal office, but cannot exact any further punishment. However, local, state or Federal trials could exact punishment in addition to the removal, or even if the President is not removed.In Clinton and Nixon's cases, courts determined to bar then from paractice as an attorney, although neither were conviced by the Senate. In both of those cases, the men voluntarily turned in their licenses, to avoid more formal bar action.
That all sounds so easy, doesn't it?
In actuality, unless a President has been caught red-handed committing treason, or some other 'High Crime or Misdemeanor' which any citizen would find so repugnant that impeachment is a logical result, finding a President guilty is, in reality, a case of what most would call high political drama. A number of presidents have been subjected to calls for their impeachment, and for a lot of supposed' crimes' that are, in more real sense, acts of political retribution for disagreements on the direction of the country, than for 'high crimes or misdemeanors', whatever those terms really mean.
Impeachment is generally a political act, and should be considered in that perspective, since, almost universally, that is the perspective of those who are making the charges to begin with, in the greatest of American political dramas.
Over the next several articles, we will look at the major complaints against Barack Obama, and try to make a reasoned assessment of whether or not his 'political crimes' rise to the level of these so-called 'High Crimes and Misdemeaners', as they were understood by the framers of the Constitution.
There are no preconceptions here; as far as I am concerned, Barack Obama is my President, and, while I have often criticized both he and his administration for some of the actions they have taken, I have not tried to determine if my views could rise to a personal feeling that the President should be impeached. Rather, I want to take the journey to look at what is known of the facts, and apply them as best I can to see if there are, at least in my mind, impeachable offenses, or whether they are simply political disagreements.