Setting the Record Straight

Even for those who choose not to follow politics, it’s been almost impossible to ignore the topic of impeachment, which has dominated headlines and the public discourse over the past few weeks.

Even for those who choose not to follow politics, it’s been almost impossible to ignore the topic of impeachment, which has dominated headlines and the public discourse over the past few weeks. With conversation centered so heavily around President Trump, the impeachment process has taken a backseat to discussion and debate over the validity of the allegations brought against the president. Considering the rarity and complexity of impeachment, most Americans lacking intimate knowledge of the U.S. Constitution only have a broad idea of the impeachment process and its implications. However, amidst the partisan fervor surrounding these new charges, many have been quick to conclude an early end to this administration. Instead, it’s important to understand the constitutional process of removing an elected official from office and to recognize its inherent uncertainty.

Stepping back to the present, as of publication, the impeachment of Donald Trump is only in its infancy. On September 24, under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives opened an impeachment inquiry into the president based on a series of allegations stemming from a phone call with the president of Ukraine in July 2019. While many have misconstrued this first step as a formal decision to impeach the president, an inquiry serves only as the first step in a series of processes which may or may not result in the removal of a president from office. The purpose of an inquiry is merely to allow members of the house to gather the necessary information to make an informed decision as to whether or not to proceed with the impeachment process. Within this inquiry stage, representatives are able to obtain pertinent evidence in the form of documents and sworn testimony. While under ideal circumstances this evidence would be provided willingly, the open hostility of the White House towards the current investigation has forced the house to subpoena the necessary documents, essentially ordering involved parties to provide the requested evidence or face serious legal consequences.

Upon conclusion of this stage, the House will weigh the evidence it has collected and vote either to impeach the president or to conclude the impeachment inquiry without taking further action. While the Constitution provides a firm outline governing the process for impeachment, the vagueness of the grounds for which an official shall be impeached makes it a far less explicit and clear-cut process than many Americans consider it to be. The Constitution dictates that an individual should be impeached if they have committed ”Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” While treason and bribery are clearly defined legal terms, the framers failed to define the last term, “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” leaving the nature of this final kind of offense open to interpretation. Given that President Trump’s current alleged offenses are not being considered under the first two categories, in all likelihood, the impeachment of the president will come down to whether or not his actions fell under this third category of impeachable offenses.

Perhaps the most common misconception surrounding the impeachment process is its potential outcomes. While impeachment is a necessary step in removing the president from office, this will not necessarily occur, even if the House votes to impeach the president in the coming weeks. As mentioned previously, two U.S. presidents have been impeached, but no president has been removed from office. While these two men were impeached in the House, they were acquitted in their trials conducted by the Senate, the final step in removing a president from office. While the framers of the Constitution hoped to avoid partisan bias influencing impeachment, with current support for the process split along party lines, in all likelihood, the Democratic majority in the House will vote to impeach the president; on the other hand, the Republican majority in the Senate will vote to acquit him of all alleged wrongdoings, ensuring he remains in office for the rest of his term. However, as new evidence in the investigation comes to light every day, only time will tell if Donald Trump’s days in office are numbered in proceedings that will serve as an ultimate test of the Constitution and have a resounding impact on the future of U.S. politics.


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