Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution provides for the impeachment of the president among other public officials. “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.”
Like many other phrases in the Constitution, high crimes and misdemeanors is vague and subjective.
According to the Archives of the House of Representatives, impeachment proceedings have occurred about 60 times, though less than a third have resulted in full impeachment hearings. Fiften federal judges have been impeached, but only eight have been convicted by the U.S. Senate.
For the office of the presidency, only three presidents including President Trump have had formal Impeachment proceedings. Likely the House of Representatives would have impeached President Richard Nixon had he not resigned. Prior to his resignation, the House of Representatives had initiated an impeachment inquiry.
Unsurprisingly, the process of impeachment for Presidents Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have been mired in partisan politics. With only a simple majority required to initiate impeachment hearings, whichever party controls the House while likely be able to vote for impeachment.
After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln a mere 42 days into his second term, his Vice President Andrew Johnson assumed the office. However, with the Civil War fresh in the minds of both parties, Johnson clashed with the Republican leaders who favored harsh treatment for former Confederate leaders and the enfranchisement of freed slaves.
After Johnson fired his secretary of war in defiance of legislation barring such actions without Senate approval, these so-called Radical Republicans initiated impeachment proceedings. Johnson narrowly escaped a conviction by one vote in the Senate.
130 years later, another Southern president found himself facing impeachment. In January 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Robert B. Fiske Jr. as a special counsel to investigate the Clintons’ dealings with the Whitewater Development Corp. in Arkansas. When Fiske is denied reappointment by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Kenneth W. Starr is appointed to replace him. After four years of investigation, no charges of impeachment were brought because of Whitewater, though two trials did take place. In January 1998, Starr learned about an alleged affair between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
In November 1998, formal impeachment proceedings begin for President Clinton. In December 1998, the House Judiciary Committee approves four articles of impeachment including perjury and obstruction of justice. In February 1999, the Senate votes to not convict President Clinton on either obstruction of justice or perjury though the votes were split down the middle on obstruction of justice and a majority of senators did vote for perjury (but not by a two-thirds majority).
From the beginning of his term, President Trump has met with resistance from the leaders in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. As someone who did not vote for President Trump, I understand some of this opposition. However, as a teacher of AP US Government and Politics, I try to keep an open mind regarding his performance.
I feel the issues with the emolument clause have better Constitutional grounds than the current investigation of the Ukraine. Whether these alleged offenses meet the requirement of “high crimes and misdemeanors” remains to be seen.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.