Matthew T. Mangino: Down the rabbit hole with impeachment
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would begin an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The inquiry will focus on the president seeking to enlist a foreign power to investigate a political opponent aiding his reelection campaign, while dangling foreign aid to entice cooperation.
“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution ... no one is above the law,” said Pelosi during a press conference.
Impeachment refers to the process specified in the Constitution for trial and removal from office any federal official accused of misconduct. Impeachment comes in two parts. The House of Representatives charges the official, here the President of the United States, with articles of impeachment. Once charged by the House, the case goes before the Senate for a trial. House members serve as prosecutors and must prove an impeachable offense defined as, “Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Essentially, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial, the House prosecutes and the Senate serves as the jury.
America has been down this road before.
In spring 1868, President Andrew Johnson, who assumed office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, became the first president to be impeached.
A year earlier, the Republican lead Congress passed the Reconstruction Act. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, was responsible for enforcing the Act. Johnson, a Democrat, opposed the Act and tried to remove Stanton. The House formally adopted 11 articles of impeachment.
In May 1868, after a trial in the Senate, presided over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, 35 Senators voted to convict, one vote short of the required two-thirds majority. A single profile in courage, a Republican senator from Iowa voted against his party’s leadership saying, “I cannot agree to destroy the harmonious working of the Constitution for the sake of getting rid of an unacceptable president.” Johnson remained in office and served out his term.
It would be 130 years before another president was impeached. However, impeachment is not just for presidents. In the last 100 years, five federal judges have been impeached and removed from office. The most recent, Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of Federal District Court in Louisiana.
Judge Porteous, was accused of receiving cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, using a false name to elude creditors and intentionally misleading the Senate during his confirmation hearing. According to the New York Times, the articles of impeachment alleged a “pattern of conduct incompatible with the trust and confidence placed in him.”
The U.S. Senate found Porteous guilty on four articles of impeachment and removed him from office. All 96 senators present voted “guilty” on the first article.
The 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton is a little fresher in the American psyche. The GOP-lead House initiated impeachment proceedings on Oct. 8, 1998. The specific charges against the president were lying under oath and obstruction of justice - charges that stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit chronicled by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr in a report to the House Judiciary Committee. In December 1998, the House adopted two articles of impeachment against Clinton.
The trial in the Senate began in January 1999, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding. On Feb. 12, Clinton was acquitted by the Democrat-lead Senate when it failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed for conviction.
In 1998, America had a Democrat president, a Republican majority in the House and a Democrat majority in the Senate. Today, we have exactly the opposite. If history is any indication, this latest push to impeach will end the same way the other two presidential impeachments did - acquittal.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.