Only four US presidents have even faced an impeachment inquiry: Andrew Johnson in the 1800s, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton in the 1900s, and Donald Trump in 2019.
Three of them, Republican Johnson and Democrat Clinton, were like Republican President Trump today, impeached. Johnson and Clinton chose not to resign, and were not convicted or removed from office. Republican Nixon -- accused of defying subpoenas, obstructing justice and misusing presidential power for personal gain precisely as President Trump now is -- was warned by ranking House and Senate Republicans that even they were about to vote for his impeachment and conviction and that he would certainly be removed from office. Nixon resigned before that could happen.
Therefore, should President Trump who was just impeached. choose not to resign, and subsequently be convicted and removed from office, he would be the first in US history. It's unlikely. It's not impossible.
When Donald J Trump called Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, 2019, was Trump unveiling corrupt acts by a US senator and his family or was Trump himself committing a corrupt act and endangering an ally for personal gain, or both? Was he abusing power? If the answer is yes, is that part of a pattern? If so, is the pattern worthy of removal from office? Was his refusal to let anyone in his administration answer Congressional subpoenas both illegal and both as an obstruction of justice and a violation of the separation of powers unconstitutional? Is it an impeachable offense? [Nixon was impeached on this charge.] How will that be decided? What could happen next?
Only Congress and the Supreme Court, the two branches of government Constitutionally equal to the US Presidency, can officially answer those questions. Yet the US public, especially Independent voters, will play a huge part -- and it better be an informed one.
What look like tricks to Trump supporters are often simply the Constitutional process; but what passes for the process can sometimes be a trick. There are four stages of this, each misunderstood.The truth about those stages heads a short but surprising list of confusions that need to be cleared up if the public is to make sense of this. The stages of impeachment and removal are:
1) House of Representatives inquiry, which has concluded. in this phase, a House committee examined witnesses and evidence. The inquiry was authorized by a House vote that split precisely along party lines, but the US House then formed the bipartisan committee of both Democrats and Republicans.
This impeachment inquiry was not a trial. Exactly like a grand jury, after hearing the initial evidence, the full House will decide whether the statements of the witnesses and material evidence are sufficient to merit a trial.
Witnesses for Trump were not there for two reasons. First, they never are. Like a grand jury, the House was simply trying to determine if there was enough evidence that a trial should be held. Secondly, Republicans complained so much about the process that President Trump was invited to provide witnesses in his behalf, and/or to attend. He refused to do either.
Like a grand jury, an House impeachment committee may legally operate behind closed doors. Grand juries always do. However, after a concerted protest by those Republicans who were not on the bipartisan committee, the committee began publishing transcripts of previous witness testimony and went into world-televised hearings, for two weeks until Thanksgiving.
Then the full House voted, again, entirely along partisan lines. On December 18, 2019, President Donald Trump was impeached....
2) By itself, impeachment carries no penalties. An impeachment by the House is like a grand jury's indictment. However, impeachment, like a grand jury indictment, triggers a trial, in this case,
3) a Senate trial. Even the staggeringly powerful Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) cannot block or slow a trial from happening once an impeachment has been handed down. Although McConnell, who is about to take an oath to be an impartial juror, says that he'll do everything the president tells him to do, McConnell will not preside.
Chief Justice John Roberts of the US Supreme Court will run the Senate trial. President Trump will appear and his lawyers will examine all witnesses. New witnesses and pieces of evidence in addition to those surfacing in the inquiry could be called by either side. If the Senate votes to exonerate President Trump, the process will end there. If the trial results in a conviction, that would trigger....
4) removal from office, handing the US presidency from Republican Donald Trump to Republican Vice President Mike Pence.
The US media believed that President Trump would be impeached by the House [he has been] but would not resign because Trump believes that the Senate will not remove him from office. The media believes this too because the House is dominated by the Democratic Party (82% of their voters are in favor of impeachment) and the Senate is dominated by the Republican Party (89.3% of their voters are against impeachment). Actually it's not that simple. As you'll see, there are many other forces at work....
PARTIES ARE NOT AS TOUGH AS THEY LOOK
Impeachment and conviction were intended by the founding fathers to be a political not a court process, with voters' opinions weighing in the balance. Most members of the House and Senate are facing re-election in 2020, so one deciding factor will be public opinion -- as the founding fathers intended.
Political parties, which are not part of the Constitution, have intruded. The parties are private political clubs which US president George Washington warned should never be allowed to take on permanent structure, but in fact have gotten a stranglehold on the US electoral process.
US voters are quite unhappy with that stranglehold. As voters have left both the Democratic and Republican parties, those "majority" parties have dwindled to minority status, each having about 25% of registered voters. Almost 50% of US voters are now registered Independent, which is not a party but a declaration of nonpartisan status. Because parties have grabbed the right to decide whom we choose between, Independents do sometimes briefly register Democratic or Republican for primaries, but only to support specific candidates -- not because they support the party.
Full disclosure, I am an Independent.
As almost half the population, Independents are important in the question of impeachment and removal precisely because they're not partyliners. Republicans are 90% against impeachment, Democrats are 82% for it (another 10% want to get rid of Trump but through the 2020 elections). Independents are watching. In mid-November, 2019, according to 538 Blog's aggregate of polls, 51% of Independents were in favor of having an impeachment inquiry, 47.5% were in favor of impeachment (indictment) and 47.2% favored trial, conviction and removal. One clue to what's happening will therefore be how those usually overlooked Independent numbers change in future polls. Right now, 12/19/2019, with impeachment already in play, Independent support for removal is falling slightly.
Protests also affect politicians who face election. As the full house impeachment debate began, the streets of every big US city and many rural towns filled with pro-impeachment rallies. (Duluth Minnesota held big pro-Trump rallies.) That night the streets filled with proTrump protests.
WHAT IS PRESIDENT TRUMP ACCUSED OF DOING?
In the late 1700s, when the Constitutional guidelines were set down, the founding fathers were quite worried that a US president might secretly use his official power for personal advantage, especially in making deals with foreign powers. The US was a weak, developing nation. Modern US presidents wield the money, military might and political power of the most toweringly dominant nation in human history.Therefore the concern about US presidents using their power for personal gain, against the best interests of the United States, in dealings with foreign powers not only persists; it has increased.
Ukraine is a US ally, a developing country with the largest landmass in Europe, under violent attack. The vastly larger and more powerful Russia, which straddles Europe and Asia, has already seized part of the Ukraine and is trying to conquer the rest. Ukraine, its society destabilized, has a huge corruption problem, arguably the worst in the world. President Volodymyr Zelensky was recently elected to end the war and clean up the corruption.
A very sympathetic US Congress, on a bipartisan basis voted to send military aid to Ukraine and funded it. Unquestionably, President Trump blocked the military aid to Ukraine which had been ordered and funded by Congress, and Trump did so secretly, without telling Congress. Although his office officially released the military aid on the day the blockage was discovered by Congress, as of 12/18/2019, the day of his impeachment, that military aid has still not reached Ukraine.
President Donald Trump is thus accused not only of using US might for personal ends, but of in the process of withholding military aid -- voted by the US Congress for Ukraine, which is being invaded by Russia -- in order to force a foreign president to help him in his 2020 political campaign. That would be a violation of the emoluments clause and would also be a violation of the separation of powers.
Then, the accusation goes, he used his presidential power to obstruct investigation of his deeds by telling his administration members to ignore Congressional subpoenas -- and thus both obstructed justice and again overrode the separation of powers, giving himself dictatorial power.
What justified secretly giving Russia an additional advantage in the already lopsided war and endangering a US ally? The Trump argument is that Ukraine was corrupt, but Congress knew that going in. Reportedly, President Trump, in early 2919 insisted through private channels (led by his lawyer, ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani who was in Ukraine) and more recently through more official channels (like US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland) that Ukraine had to investigate former Vice President Joseph Biden's son Hunter.
Hunter was earning an exceptionally high salary as a board member of a Ukrainian corporation, without any skill in the industry involved. Making hay out of a relative's high political office, as Hunter unquestionably does, is a glaring problem in the US, not only with congressional offspring making world business deals but with presidential relatives holding high security clearances and offices without previously earning such positions. It is not illegal.
Trump's forces however allege that Hunter's father Joe Biden, while US vice president under President Obama, had used his office to oust Victor Shokin, whom Trump calls a "a tough-on-crime Ukrainian attorney general" in order "to protect Hunter". Vice president Biden indeed used the might of the US government to force out Shokin-- but because Shokin was not prosecuting political corruption. That prosecutor general was in fact so crooked that the international business community was up in arms.
Still, Joe Biden is a US senator and as noted was at the time US vice president. Had he done anything politically for that corporation, the amount that it paid Hunter could be construed as an attempted bribe. Yet there is so far no known evidence that Biden did anything in return.
[Rumors do abound. The same sort of questions are raised when Saudi sheikhs rent two floors of a Trump hotel but don't stay in them. There's an article out right now alleging that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner in a phone call with the head of Saudi Arabia, greenlighted the arrest of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered, and that Turkey has the recording -- which Turkey's President Erdogan used to blackmail Trump into withdrawing from Syria. All such rumors are just air until there's proof. Giuliani has so far come up dry.]
Even if the evidence somewhere exists, should Trump have withheld military aid from an ally in order to get to that information on his at the time most probable opponent in 2020?
In whose interest? President Trump's allies point out that the US strong-arms other countries all the time. (Democrats profess to be horrorstruck at the statement but of course they know it's true.) To get rid of the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor, for example, Biden withheld US aid money. That however was because the international business community was clamoring for it. The cutting edge here was thus not whether Trump was twisting arms but whether he was twisting arms with all the might of the US government in pursuit of US interests or in pursuit of his own personal interests.
In the part of the call made public, President Trump repeatedly praises Shokin, the flagrantly corrupt prosecutor general whom Biden forced out of office, says that's "the kind of guy we want", and at length Trump dissed the former US Ambassador Masha Yovanovitch, who had helped Biden depose the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor general.
Trump in the call also mentions "Cloudstrike", which refers to President Trump's contention that Ukraine not Russia hacked the 2016 US election and hacked the Clinton/Podesta/ DNC computers. The president is convinced that Ukraine "still has the computer" though some argue that the computer is arguably not needed forensically.Above all Trump though focuses on the Bidens. When the Ukrainian president asks about the missing military aid, President Trump says that he wants a favor and then launches into his argument about the Bidens and the need for an investigation. On September 1, 2019, six days later, a message came reportedly from Trump through channels, stating that in order to get a public meeting in Washington with President Trump and to receive the withheld military aid, Ukrainian president Zelensky would have to make a declaration in public that the Bidens were corrupt
A cover up? On July 25, 2019, US President Trump called Ukrainian President Zelensky. Immediately after the call, the full transcript and recording of Trump's call to Zelensky were moved by the Trump administration to a safe normally for only the most highly classified documents. The transcript of the call reluctantly released by the White House on September 25 is not a full transcript.The call ran 30 minutes. The transcript even when read slowly runs eight minutes. Then Trump forbid administration members who had knowledge of it to answer Congressional subpoenas. Yet at no pint has anyone suggested that the call should from a national security perspective have been highly classified.
Was there a pattern of President Trump's getting foreign nations to do opposition research in his elections? In the 2016 campaign Trump publicly asked Russia to "find Hillary's missing emails". However coincidentally, Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton's emails began the next day. President Trump, even as he denied pressuring Ukraine's president to dig up and broadcast something on the Bidens, publicly asked China, with which he was in crucial treaty negotiations, to investigate the Bidens.
Asking other countries to help him with a US election is iffy to start with. IF Trump's tried to force Zelensky, the head of a foreign government, to help Trump's political campaign, in the process secretly withholding aid from an ally in time of war, that would be quid pro quo (which is Latin for "unless you give me that, I won't give you this") in other words bribery and extortion in using US might for private gain. President Trump's allies accurately that few testifying have direct evidence of quid pro quo. Yet President Trump has in fact commanded all those in his administration not to answer subpoenas from US Congress.
If his commanding underlings to refuse subpoenas is held by the courts to be an obstruction of justice, that's another felony, and one endangering the separation of powers -- which is what brought Richard Nixon down.
Impeachment triggers a Senate trial. Conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts, presiding, would clap anyone in jail who didn't show up after a subpoena. Besides, in a trial, people in the Trump administration would have to answer subpoenas in order for Trump to put on a defense, freeing others, if any, who wish to testify against him. Whatever's there, it's likely to come out.
There is no question that within Congress to this point, this has been a partisan fight between Democrats and Republicans. Although 50% of US voters are Independents, there is only one Independent member of Congress.
House Republicans, either genuine supporters of President Trump or afraid of the highly active pro-Trump part of their base, reliably voted against having impeachment inquiry, impeachment and removal. The Democrats however were split. Throughout 2019, calls for impeachment and removal of President Trump built within the Democratic Party, pushed by Progressives, the Clean Government wing of the Democrats.
The Neoliberal Democratic House Speaker, Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi held out against even an inquiry for eight months. Like her Republican counterpart, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Majority Leader Pelosi is famous for waiting until "the votes are there", not bringing an issue before the full House until it's certain to pass the House.
Moreover Pelosi needed to know before starting an inquiry that there were Republican Senators who were afraid to speak out but agreed with the Democrats about President Trump's actions.
Elected Democrats in the House are more numerous than Republicans. They could from the start have swung it alone if they voted together, as a bloc. The Democrats however split between those who had actually read the 438-page Mueller Report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and Democratic representatives who had instead depended upon Attorney General William Barr's summary of it.
Barr, a Trump appointee, is thus a pivotal character in this piece of history.
Each of our US presidents has a lawyer, a "personal counsel" whom taxpayer's pay to represent the president.That is not Barr's job. The US attorney general is the people's top lawyer, representing the nation. In 2018, amid persistent allegations that Russia had interfered in the 2018 election in Trump's favor, Congress in 2018 authorized an independent counsel investigation. "Independent" counsels are actually appointed by whomever is in power.
Republican Attorney General Barr selected Republican Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, to head the team investigating Russia and Republican President Trump. Barr got bipartisan applause for choosing Mueller. Yet far from leaving Mueller independent, Barr gave him two crucial orders.
1. Attorney General Barr ordered "Independent" Counsel Mueller, no matter what evidence his team found, not to bring criminal charges against President Trump. Instead, if Mueller's team discovered felonies, he was to pass that evidence on to Congress and let Congress judge it
2. Mueller however was not to give any evidence directly to Congress. He was to give it to Barr, who would himself pass the evidence onto Congress.
DID BARR DO SO?
Months later, when Mueller handed the completed Report to Barr, Barr immediately gave it to President Trump. However, Barr withheld it from Congress and the public.
Under public pressure, Barr did give Congress and the public a "summary" of it. Barr's summary misrepresented what the Report said, on many major points, but that did not become clear until much later when under even heavier public pressure, Barr released the 438-page Mueller Report, with 129 of its pages partially or completely "redacted", crossed out. Virtually no one in or out of Congress by that point read it, though all immediately formed opinions.
When some in Congress did read, with the real Mueller Report in hand, they began pushing back against the Barr narrative.
For example, Barr told Congress and the nation that the Mueller Report said that the evidence had "exonerated" Trump, proven him innocent. The Mueller Report in fact stated that Trump had not been exonerated by the evidence. Barr, having himself ordered Mueller not to bring criminal charges against Trump, announced to Congress and the nation that Mueller "had not brought charges" as though that meant there was no reason to. In fact, there was evidence that in an ordinary court would have brought charges.
Throughout the Mueller investigation, Trump had openly used the power of his office to try to block it and to pressure witnesses. The Mueller Report noted 10 instances of that, each arguably an obstruction of justice. Barr glancingly noted that, not mentioning that Richard Nixon had lost his office because of one such act.
Barr then announced that there was "no evidence of collusion". Collusion is not a legal word. That was like saying that "there was no evidence of aardvark". In fact the Mueller report did show some evidence of a conspiracy.Among Democrats in Congress, pressure for an impeachment inquiry therefore steadily built. The whistleblower allegation swung six conservative Democrats, the holdouts, into favoring an impeachment inquiry -- that is they didn't favor impeachment. They did favor looking into it.
By affecting those final six votes, the whistleblower report on the Ukraine call thus affected the timing but not the fact of the building call for an impeachment inquiry. The testimony of numerous people has so far supported the whistleblower's two-part statement of 1) what Trump in the call said that he wanted, and 2) that US military aid which had been voted by Congress because Ukraine is under Russian attack; had been withheld from Ukraine by president Trump without notice to Congress.
Public opinion, which had been indifferent since hearing the Barr summary of Mueller, moved to a slight majority approval of an inquiry, then of impeachment, as news of Ukraine leaked out.
DOXXING THE WHISTLEBLOWER
All but one of those accusers have come forward by name. In the Senate trial, they will be there to face President Trump and his attorneys. However, the widespread idea spread first by Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul and then by President Trump that Trump has the right to face the whistleblower is untrue.
The due process clause of the US Constitution is applicable only to someone facing loss of life, liberty or property in a criminal proceeding. This is not a criminal proceeding. Even if he is tried by the Senate and found guilty, Congress will not fine him, send him to jail, or threaten his life. The punishment would be to let Vice President Mike Pence take over.
In the United States, moreover, people who alert the nation to situations -- people on police action lines and whistleblowers speaking out because of perceived wrongdoing in government or big corporations -- are granted exemption to from due process requirement to face those whom they accuse. Like sources on deep background with reporters, they are basically people sending up a flare.
The whistleblower has voluntarily offered to answer under oath in writing any questions the Republicans may have but according to the AP few or no Republicans have accepted the offer. Even if he had not offered to answer, even if the additional witnesses had not so far validated the report made by the whistleblower, his identity should have been protected, according to all existent statutes. Yet angry Republicans trying to kill the messenger or at least paint a target on his back have doxxed the whistleblower, broadcasting his name and all the personal information they can find.
That has played well among people who already support Trump, but how did the doxxing-the-whistleblower caper affect public opinion, say the 50% who are Independents, as a whole? If you are hoping to see the outcome before it arrives, zero in on three key aspects:.
1) whether new evidence supports or refutes Trump's carrying out a quid pro quo, using withheld military aid to extort Ukraine for personal gain,
2) whether polls reveal change in the attitudes of not only Democrats and Republicans but of Independents in response to new information, and
3) whether impulsive actions by President Donald Trump's supporters strengthen or worsen the situation for him in the eyes of the nation.