By Avigail Winokur
President Donald Trump has been acquitted in the Senate. On December 18th, 2019, he became the third president to be impeached in the 243 years since the founding of the United States. Before Trump, both Presidents Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were impeached, though neither were ultimately removed from office. Clinton, impeached in 1998, was caught lying under oath about his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Johnson faced impeachment in 1868 after removing Secretary of War Edwin Staton from the cabinet, which violated the Tenure of Office Act. President Richard Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal, resigned rather than face the prospect of impeachment.
Impeachment is part of the ultimate check on the executive branch by the legislative branch, but it is only half the story. By itself, impeachment is only an accusation by the House. To remove an official from office, the Senate must also vote to convict. Before an official may be removed from office, both the House and Senate must act. According to the Constitution, Article II, Section 4, “The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The process of removing an official, such as the president, from office is two-pronged. The power of impeachment belongs solely to the House of Representatives, as Article II states that they “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
The House can initiate impeachment in one of two ways: through a bill or by passing a resolution authorizing an impeachment inquiry. Trump’s proceedings were authorized by the latter. The articles of impeachment are presented and debated, and for them to be adopted, the House has to pass them via a simple majority vote. Once these articles are adopted and sent to the Senate, the president is officially impeached. However, impeachment itself does not mean he is removed from office. At present, Trump is still and will remain (unless removed from office), the president until the end of his term.
Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution states that “the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments…[but] no person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.” Once the articles are sent to the Senate, a trial begins. At this trial, members of the House referred to as “House Managers,” act as prosecutors. Senators are presented with evidence and may hear witnesses, after which they vote to either acquit or convict the impeached official. In any presidential impeachment trial, the Chief Justice of the United States presides over the trial. For there to be a conviction, which results in the official being removed from their office, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict. The Senate can also vote to prevent the official from holding any future public office.
The two articles of impeachment brought against President Trump are charges of (1) abuse of power and (2) obstruction of congress. According to the Democrats, the abuse of power article relates to Trump abusing his position as President of the United States by pushing Ukraine to investigate his 2020 election political rival, Joe Biden. He insinuated he would withhold a previously planned White House meeting and $400 million in U.S. security aid if Ukraine didn’t agree to investigate corruption involving Joe Biden’s son’s employment with a Ukranian oil company. The second article of impeachment alleges that Trump obstructed Congress’ investigation into him by blocking subpoenas and refusing to permit “key senior officials” (CNN 2019) to testify before the House of Representatives.
Nancy Pelosi delayed sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate, in an attempt to sway majority leader Mitch McConnell to concede to her demands regarding rules for the trial. On January 16th, 2020, the trial began. House managers argued that “the facts are indisputable, and the evidence is overwhelming” that President Trump abused his power by seeking foreign interference in an election, and he followed that action by obstructing a congressional investigation.
The main argument against Trump’s impeachment, in the words of his famed defense lawyer and constitutional expert, Alan Dershowitz, is that the accusations aren’t impeachable offenses. It is a similar argument used in the days of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, which ultimately resulted in his acquittal. Dershowitz argued on ABC News: “If the allegations are not impeachable, then this trial should result in acquittal, regardless of whether the conduct is regarded as OK by you or by me or by voters… When you read the text of the Constitution, treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, ‘other’ really means that crimes and misdemeanors must be akin — akin to treason and bribery”. Dershowitz argued that even if Trump is guilty of these acts, they are not constitutionally impeachable offenses. This debate lies in exactly what defines “other high crimes and misdemeanors.” If one considers an “abuse of power” to fall into that category, then the president is guilty of an impeachable offense. However, Dershowitz, a constitutional expert and self-defined liberal Democrat, is adamant that abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not within the constitutional criteria (NPR 2019).
On January 31st, there was a vote regarding the rules of the final stage of the trial. This was a vote, mostly along party lines, rejecting the possibility of adding more witnesses and documents to the case. The Democrats were arguing for the addition of more testimony and witnesses, however, they failed to build a thorough case during the House portion of the impeachment proceedings, claiming that the trial needed to begin as soon as possible. However, Pelosi proceeded to contradict this point, by her month-long delay in sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate. The final vote was set for Wednesday, and President Trump was acquitted.
Trump’s defense team, as well as many Trump supporters, view the entire impeachment trial as political means of “reversing” the outcome of the 2016 election. The 2016 election was a watershed moment for politics, as rarely have two such highly controversial and polarizing candidates competed for office. Donald Trump is not a conventional president, nor is he the polished and refined politician people may envision in such a high office, but he has helped the American people.
The economy is extremely strong, unemployment rates are low, and many Americans are generally healthier, wealthier, and more successful than they have been under previous administrations. While many of his policies are viewed as controversial, specifically in regards to immigration and border security, it is clear that President Trump is attempting to keep the American people thriving and safe. However, the impulsive and brash manner in which he communicates isn’t necessarily dignified or respectful of the diversity that this country demands.
One can dislike President Trump, criticize his policies, and even protest those same policies. However, disliking a president, no matter how much, isn’t grounds for impeachment. Perhaps President Trump is guilty of what he has been accused of, but as Dershowitz has argued, in the same manner as Johnson, if these aren’t impeachable offenses, President Trump may not be impeached for them. His defense team argued that though his actions weren’t correct, they were within the bounds of his executive power. On the other hand, there is a certain irony in the Republican party, which has historically argued for a lessened level of executive power, now arguing for the expansion of it.
Specifically in regards to the pro-Israel community, it is vital to the future of the State of Israel that we have a president in power who is willing and able to cultivate a positive relationship with Israel. President Donald Trump has proven time and time again to be a great friend to the Jewish people and committed to our success and safety in the United States. He has also shown to be an ally to Israel, as seen in both the embassy moves and his peace plan. His peace plan demonstrates his respect for Israeli security needs, as well as the unbreakable bond the Jewish people have with the entire land of Israel. The Palestinian’s recent rejection of the plan has proven that efforts respectful of their desire for sovereignty, within realistic constraints, will always prove futile. This of course, is unless Israel offers up virtually its entire state to the destructive hands of Abbas.
The fact that the impeachment process has been so polarized, with Democrats so strongly on one side and Republicans on the other, demonstrates how problematic the entire proceeding has been. An impeachment is intended to be the ultimate check on executive power, a fair and just analysis of a president’s actions. Instead, it has turned into a platform of thinly veiled agendas and juvenile side-taking. On both sides, this process has been a disgrace to the sanctity of the Constitution and the American people.
This impeachment trial, if anything, has left Trump with united Republican support and an increase in the fervor of his supporters. If you’re unhappy, then vote against Trump in the next election. Until then, “Not my president!” remains just a shallow cry.