• Mel Jones

Impeachment, a primer

The definition of impeachment is not the president is now out of office. According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

1. Call into question the integrity or validity of a practice.

2. (Brit.) charge (someone) with treason or another crime against the state.

3. (chiefly US) charge (the holder of a public office) with misconduct.


Merriam-Webster, an American publication, defines it this way:

1. a: to charge with a crime or misdemeanor; specifically: to charge a public official before a competent tribunal with misconduct in office.

b: to remove from office especially for misconduct

c: to bring an accusation against.

2. To cast doubt on; especially: to challenge the credibility or validity of.


The process is not complicated. A congressperson brings a resolution to the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives and that committee chooses (with the speaker of the house) what should happen next. After committee debate and a debate on the floor of the house, a decision is made to impeach or not. If impeached, the process then moves to the Senate and the official is acquitted, impeached, or censured.


Two US presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Johnson was acquitted during the adjudication process in the Senate. Clinton was censured. The Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon made it out of committee, but he resigned before the open debate began. Every president since 1980 has had articles of impeachment filed against him in the House of Representatives.


Impeachment resolutions have been brought against several sitting presidents; they simply have not made it out of committee. They are as follows:


· In 1842/43, John Tyler, a democratic-republican. The committee was headed by John Quincy Adams. The resolution was defeated.


· 1860, James Buchanan: a democrat (please note, the nature of political parties in the US have been reversed; democrats in the 1860s would be members of the republican party today). The Covode Committee chose not to pursue impeachment. However, it found that his administration was the most corrupt in US history up to that point. Ah, imagine the lazy hazy antebellum days…


· 1867, Andrew Johnson, a National Union member, articles of impeachment were brought against Johnson for a variety of things. The first vote in the House failed, the second vote was successful. The Senate acquitted him—by one vote.


· 1876, Ulysses Grant, a republican, had articles of impeachment resolutions brought to the House twice. In the first instance, his Secretary of War, William Belknap, was thought to be extorting money (he was later charged with safe burglary). The second instance had to do with Grant’s time absent from his presidential duties. Both resolutions failed before coming to debate.


· 1932, Herbert Hoover, twice. The resolutions were tabled both times.


· 1951, Harry Truman, modern democrat, for firing MacArthur. Twice resolutions were brought to the (democrat filled) judiciary committee, where they stalled.


· 1973, Richard Nixon, modern republican. Impeachment resolutions began as early as May 1972 and flurried in until October 1973 when the evidence against him was too much for Congress to ignore. And before formal debates, and definite removal by the Senate, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.


· 1987, Ronald Reagan, originally a democrat turned republican in 1962, articles of impeachment were introduced regard the Iran Contra affair. A special prosecutor was appointed. The whole Oliver North-scapegoat thing followed.


· 1991, George H. W. Bush, republican. The resolution to impeach in response to the beginning of the gulf war, it died in committee. Later, another resolution was brought, it too died in committee.


· 1997, Bill Clinton, democrat. Originally, this investigation centered around campaign money possibly coming from China…it was only when that case fell apart that Monica Lewinsky and her nasty dress came into public view. He was impeached and then censured by the Senate.


· George W. Bush, republican, articles of impeachment were brought several times regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. All failed to make it out of the hearing stage.


· 2012, Barack Obama, democrat. Articles of impeachment concerning the CIA Drone program. Again in 2013 suggesting he abused executive power. Neither attempt made it beyond committee.


· July 2017 Donald Trump, republican. One article of impeachment presented. This and later efforts to impeach based on the Emoluments Clause (I think 4) all failed to make it out of committee.

On September 24, 2019, Nancy Pelosi, rightfully, announced an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s presidency as a result of the Trump-Ukraine controversy. And Mr. Trump’s blatant efforts to involve yet another foreign government in American politics. Coupled with the Mueller Report, this could be legally damning to him and his administration. But it is early days. We must go through the often long and drawn-out process of investigation, debate, and then on to the senate for conviction.


Patriots remain hopeful that this will begin a healing process we so desperately need. To quote Theodore Roosevelt, “A patriot stands behind the nation, not the president.”

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