Ideasroom

Your A-Z guide to impeachment

This little guide is all you need to know about impeachment, at least the potential impeachment now progressing in Washington DC. Although these notes are oriented around the situation in the US, impeachment machinery is found in many jurisdictions, particularly those with elected chief executives. 

In Brazil, for example, President Dilma Rousseff was impeached, convicted and removed from office in 2016, while President Park Geun-hye was impeached and convicted and removed from office in South Korea in 2016-17.  

We can thank the political genius of the English for the constitutional evolution of impeachment, although it became redundant in the UK around the beginning of the 19th century, as ministerial responsibility and votes of no confidence proved to be more efficient.

These notes obviously arise out the current controversies involving the US President, and out of an abundance of caution, I might begin with full disclosure.

When Candidate Trump first began to be taken seriously as a potential Republican nominee in early 2016, I became more and more uncomfortable with him: his recidivist bankruptcies, tax secrecy, racist birtherism and illegal rental practices, cowardly draft dodging and purported bone spurs, crude sexual attitude, hush money for a porn star, non-stop compulsive prevarication, and most of all his negative campaign style.

Having found Candidate Trump completely lacking in the moral, intellectual and personal qualities necessary for high office, I was prepared for Candidate Trump to ‘pivot’ into presidential demeanour, as President Trump, once the dignity of the office descended on his shoulders. History will judge.

So, back to the ABC:

A is for Andrew Johnson, the vice-president who succeeded assassinated President Lincoln in 1865. He was impeached by the lower house but acquitted in the Senate. See also Clinton (Bill).

B is for Biden (Joe and son Hunter), identified by Trump as his most likely Democratic challenger. Biden became the target of dirty tricks by Trump and his campaign in an early gambit in the 2020 election. It is bizarre – and stupid – that Hunter joined the board of a Ukrainian gas company, (a position for which he had minimal qualifications) while his dad was Vice-President. Why didn’t someone stop him? To be fair, Hunter was a Yale law grad, an attorney with a major US law firm, aged 44, and had served a five-year term on the Board of Amtrak, appointed by President Bush.

C is for Clinton (Bill), the second President to be impeached (see Andrew Johnson above, and Nixon below). As with Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton was impeached and acquitted. 

D is for the Democratic National Committee; relevant here for the prior consistent behaviour of Candidate Trump, who invited the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails. The Russian GRU failed to gain access but did a lot of damage by hacking into the DNC and releasing hundreds of thousands of DNC emails about the Democratic candidates. The relevance here is that Trump has “form”.

E is for Extortion. See expanded definition under 'Quid Pro Quo', below.

F is for Fox TV. Overt pro-Trump propaganda channel, with the (very) occasional outbreak of journalistic integrity.

G is for Rudy Giuliani; once known as “America’s mayor”, for a few weeks’ heroic stance after 9/11 in New York City. Now a close Trump confidante and legal adviser, he is an unpredictable wild card and seems to be conducting a form of unofficial foreign “policy”, being the personal political interests of Donald Trump, re Campaign 2020, not the foreign policy interest of his country. He is one of the bearers of the ‘quid pro quo’ shakedown of the Ukrainian President.

H is for Fiona Hill; history will be kind to Fiona Hill – she was a professional civil servant, and the ranking Russian expert on the National Security Council. She identified Trump’s personal representatives as being on a “domestic political errand”, while State department professionals were pursuing national foreign policy interests of the country. She also said proven Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, in favour of Trump, was designed to “delegitimise the presidency”. 

I is for impeachment. The fundamentals evolved in the English/British Parliament in the 19th century were overtly adopted by drafters of the US constitution in 1787. To impeach means to indict. The most important feature is that articles of impeachment are drafted and approved in the House of Representatives, and those articles become the charges. The trial then takes place in the Senate, with the Chief Justice in the Chair (when the President is charged) and a 2/3 vote required. There have been eight convictions in the Senate in more than 230 years, all of them federal judges. At the time of writing, impeachment in the House seems very likely, and conviction in the Senate seems very unlikely. See also N below.

J is for Justice and the Department, whose professionals continue to prosecute Trump associates (his personal attorney, his campaign manager, his deputy campaign manager, the national security adviser, and other campaign workers such as Roger Stone), while at the same time, the attorney-general at the top seems to be covering for the man in the White House.

K is for John Kasich; the former governor of Ohio is an endangered species, a prominent Republican who believes Trump is subject to the rule of law, and the Constitution, and his behaviours should be subject to impeachment charges. Senator Romney may also be in this camp.

L is for “lynching”; in one of Trump’s most outrageous tweets, he compared the constitutional process of considering impeachment charges against him as a “lynching”. Not a happy metaphor.

M is for Mitch McConnell; as Senate Majority leader, he took the lead in opposing President Obama’s policies and nominees. He has distinguished himself (as a future manager of the Senate process) by saying Trump will be acquitted, regardless of the charges and evidence.

N is for Nixon; this is a trick question: was Nixon impeached and convicted?  The answer is ‘yes’, if you mean Federal District Court Judge Walter Nixon, in 1993.  He is no relation to President Richard M Nixon, who resigned from the office of the Presidency when Republican Senators advised him that the votes were against him in both the House and the Senate.  President Nixon was not impeached.

O is for obstruction, being Trump’s approach to legal inquiries, such as the Mueller investigation and House committee investigation. Obstruction means ignoring subpoenas and non-participation generally, as well as instructing subordinates to refuse to participate. 

P is for Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House and its leader. History will be kind to her as well. She was in no rush to open impeachment committee hearings but Trump eventually left her no choice. She continues to conduct herself with dignity in spite of Trump’s tweets.

Q is for Quid pro quo; the term of bilateral exchange. In a simple two-way exchange, it could be bribery (“Do us a favour though ...”).  In a more unilateral expression, expressed negatively, it is extortion: “Unless you do us a favour.....”  Trump is correct to say he never overtly said, “Unless you publicly throw mud on my Democratic rival and his son, you won’t get the hundreds of millions you so desperately need, and which Congress has already voted for you.”  Several witnesses to Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee have said the implication was there and the Ukrainians knew it.

R is for Roger Stone; known for his precocious dirty tricking in the Nixon campaign of 1972 when he was only 20, he is seen as the link between WikiLeaks and the anti-Clinton dump of emails – which Trump clearly knew was coming. He is now awaiting sentencing on perjury and related charges. Look for a presidential pardon. 

S is for Adam Schiff. He has professionally persisted, in the face of incessant ad hominem attack by tweet, in conducting the House Intelligence Committee hearings and collecting evidence in the form of testimony from credible witnesses. This Committee report goes to the Judiciary Committee for the drafting of charges. S is also for Gordon Sondland, (the big-time Republican donor, rewarded with an ambassadorship), the Ambassador to the European Union. He surprisingly said, quite simply, yes, of course there was a quid pro quo.

T is for tweeting, which seems to have replaced press conferences and reassuring fireside chats as Presidential leadership. 

U is for Ukraine. It seems bizarre that a former Soviet republic is now central to an impeachment inquiry in the US, but perhaps not so strange when it is remembered that Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort (now resting in federal pen), earned millions of dollars, sourced in Moscow, for dirty-tricking Ukrainian elections on behalf of pro-Russian candidates. Giuliani seems to have picked up the network and connections in the Ukraine. Two Ukrainian/American businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Giuliani, are now in federal custody. Just as Candidate Trump involved Russia in the campaign of 2016 to throw dirt on his opponent, President Trump has sought to implicate the Ukraine in throwing mud on his most feared Democratic opponent in anticipation of the election of 2020.

V is for Vindman, or Lt Col Alexander Vindman, a much-decorated, still-serving infantry officer (purple heart in combat in Iraq in 2004), who was seconded to the National Security Council. Fluent in Ukrainian, he confirmed the original whistleblower’s account of the July 25 phone call. 

W is for whistleblowing: the original definition is best expressed by Lauren Bacall in a movie with Humphrey Bogart: “You know how to whistle don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow:” To Have and Have Not, a film produced in 1944. A technical definition, more relevant here, would be a protected disclosure, filed by a senior official alarmed by what he knew of the Trump/Zelensky phone call of July 25. The original whistleblower’s identity remains unknown, but he/she is now irrelevant, given the ten-fold corroboration of the shake-down phone call.

X is for extortion, a more legalistic view of a quid pro quo shakedown, the negative side of bribery. 

Y is for Marie Yovanovich, the former ambassador to the Ukraine. A State Department professional (not a political appointee), she was undermined by Trump’s personal operatives, like Rudy Giuliani. In her testimony, she quickly put the lie to the incredible Republican conspiracy theory that it was the Ukraine, not Russia, who meddled in the 2016 election. In a world first, Trump attacked her by tweet in real time, as she was speaking to the House Intelligence Committee.

Z is for President Volodymyr Zelensky, elected to office in the Ukraine in May 2019. Trained as a lawyer, his primary qualification for office was role-playing the president in a long-running Ukrainian TV comedy series. He is best known in the US as being on the other end of the phone call on July 25, where Trump expressly said, “... do us a favour ...”   To be fair, Zelensky himself denies there was an overt quid pro quo. Trump didn’t care much about a substantive investigation, he just wanted Zelenski to announce publicly that such an investigation (into the Bidens) was commencing. What is my view?  

I will reserve judgment for now, but my ancestor’s impeachment of Charles I is a useful legal model. (The author’s middle name is Cromwell.)

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