What is the Point of Impeachment?
What has the impeachment cost us, the taxpayer? We will likely never really know, but estimates range from $32,000,000 to $40,000,000 so far. The word “impeachment” is derived from the Latin word “impetire” as in impede (pedis) to catch by the foot. It requires that the government official so accused has committed crimes. These are restricted to very serious crimes, including “Treason or Bribery”, but also less defined so-called “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Keep in mind impeachment does not remove POTUS. It means formally accusing him of wrongdoing, as only the House is empowered to do. If the House votes to impeach the president, it sends the whole matter to the Senate for a trial to be decided by that body with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. It requires a two-thirds vote by the Senate to find him guilty of the accusations. As an aside… our Founding Fathers, knowing human foibles, were indeed clever and brilliant to ensure the separation of powers.
Andrew Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton are the only presidents that have undergone this process to date, and neither of them has been found guilty. Johnson had removed Edwin Stanton and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant as Secretary of War. This was deemed “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” by the House because it violated the Tenure of Office Act which they passed over Johnson’s veto to protect Stanton from that very act of firing him. The final conclusion of Congress was that the legislative branch did not have the right or authority to interfere with the executive branch’s power over the makeup of its own cabinet.
Clinton’s impeachment was much more sanguine. He was accused of High Crimes and Misdemeanors for lying under oath and obstruction of justice, over the Paula Jones sexual harassment trial and the testimony regarding Monica Lewinsky with his now-famous words, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!” and the other line, “It depends on what the definition of is, is!” Clinton received 45 votes to convict and 55 votes for acquittal on the lying charge and an even 50/ 50 split on the obstruction of justice charge. Neither of which reached the two-thirds threshold.
The Trump impeachment which has been months of jockeying, is now history with the vote in and counted on the abuse of power charge, 230 voted yes and 197 voted no. On the obstruction charge, it was 229 yes and 198 no. This was right down the Republican Democratic party-line split, except for two democrats that voted against impeachment and one, the democratic representative from Hawaii (also a presidential candidate in 2020), who did not vote except to say she was present. Trump’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors charges stem from his conversation with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, where Trump is charged with pressuring him to investigate Biden for corruption. The ugly truth is Zelensky did not investigate Biden and furthermore denied being pressured. Presidential conversations are deemed constitutionally protected by executive privilege and not subject to outside scrutiny. This comes down to the same issue as the Andrew Johnson indictment. Does the executive branch have the authority to execute its duties, such as deciding what the composition of its cabinet is or conferring with other heads of state under the protection of executive privilege and safeguarding national security? It is a fight of the legislative branch vs. the executive branch powers, who trumps and who doesn’t (pun intended).
The fact that not one Republican in the House voted for impeachment gives you a subtle clue as to how the Senate will vote. There are two senators from each of our fifty states. The 116th United States Congress currently has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 2 independents. I am willing to wager all my chips and go out on a limb that Trump will not be convicted of High Crimes and Misdemeanors by a two-thirds majority. Jimmy the Greek would take my bet if he were not dead.
Looking at the question purely from a pragmatic point of view, why is our Congress wasting our money, our time, and not doing the people’s work instead? Is it to make a point, a very expensive point? Or is there a deeper-seated motive like influencing the 2020 election, also costly and not exactly the way we usually decide, nor arguably should be influencing elections? Besides, it is not clear in which direction the voter will be influenced. The anti-Trump voter will remain anti-Trump. The pro-Trump voter will still be pro. The independent might get tired of the whole thing. The question that comes to mind is which is more repulsive to the democratic process: to discredit a candidate for office by questioning his integrity (did Biden or his son engage in corrupt acts – wouldn’t you like to know?) or conversely have it done for you by a partisan vote of Congress (did Trump abuse his powers – and like Clinton, obstruct justice?) Logic would suggest that letting the 2020 election decide would be more democratic, egalitarian, and cheaper.