By Tim Wheeler
America is facing something rare in the wake of the impeachment proceedings that House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has begun in order to investigate President Donald Trump and his allegedly corrupt dealings with the Ukraine President.
Impeachment occurs when there is evidence that a president, or any governmental leader, has committed crimes while in office. It does not immediately convict the political leader, but is more like an indictment where the charges are presented to begin the proceedings to potentially convict the president for the alleged crimes.
Robert Hendershot, a history professor at Grand Rapids Community College, directs us to Section Four of Article II of the US Constitution, which states that, “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.”
“In the case of the U.S. Presidency” Hendershot said, “it is for the House of Representatives to decide on impeachment, and therefore the decision as to what constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor rests with that body.”
While the impeachment proceedings are meant to be factual and avoid any bias, many American citizens are still weary to speak about the controversial figure that President Trump is. When The Collegiate reached out to the communications department at Grand Valley State University, Nate Hoekstra, GVSU’s associate director of digital media, suggested in an email that The Collegiate contact GRCC faculty. “Also, our faculty have been reluctant to speak about the impeachment, as it’s a sensitive subject,” he wrote.
With Pelosi deciding to begin impeachment proceedings because of new light on events that are believed to be impeachable offenses, one might ask what constitutes an “impeachable offense.” The best way to answer that question is to look to our past, and to speak with those who know of American History.
President Andrew Johnson was formally impeached in 1868 for high crimes and misdemeanors after he violated the Tenure in Office Act (an act that ceased to exist in 1887) where he removed an official who was protected by this very act. He was not convicted and the impeachment proceedings ended less than three months after they began.
President Richard Nixon was the next president to face threats of impeachment in 1974. Nixon was never formally impeached as he resigned from office before congress could officially begin the proceedings and vote on impeachment. Nixon was the president behind the Watergate Scandal in which his administration was accused of breaking into the Democratic National Convention Committee Headquarters and then covering it up, showing the president had full knowledge of the illegal activities.
Hendershot wrote in an email on Nixon’s scandal, writing, “Broadly speaking, Nixon’s encounter with impeachment stemmed from his role in the Watergate break-in and attempts to cover up his (and his administration’s) involvement. In 1974 the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment – abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress. Nixon resigned shortly thereafter.”
President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice. These stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton by Paula Jones, who was an Arkansas State Employee while Clinton was governor. In Clinton’s deposition in the sexual garassment case, he said, under oath, that he did not have sexual relations with a White House intern.
The woman in which Clinton lied about under oath was Monica Lewinsky. The impeachment was formally forwarded to the Senate to be voted on conviction where Clinton was acquitted on a 55-45 vote on the first count and 50-50 on the second. You need a two-thirds majority to formally convict a president, which Clinton avoided.
Presidents have been subject to impeachment because of violating established laws and acts, covering up offenses, sexual scandal, and lying under oath. With so many college students never living through a presidential impeachment, they may ask why is our current President being Impeached, and why does it matter?
President Trump has been accused by two “whistleblowers” of a “quid pro quo” where he asked officials from Ukraine to investigate the son of Joe Biden, his political rival. It is illegal for a president to use his political power to advance his career and hurt the career of a rival, as it can be seen as abusing the power of the Presidential Office. There is also concern that the White House is attempting to cover up details of the call with Ukraine, thus allegedly obstructing justice.
When asked why Congress was concerned with Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, Hendershot said, “the main idea here is that Trump used the power of his office to pressure a foreign government to harass his political rivals, stoke conspiracy theories, and thus interfere with a U.S. election.”
With the knowledge of why political leaders get impeached, and specifically why President Trump is facing impeachment, the question should be asked, why should we care? Firstly, this is a rare occurrence. Only two U.S. Presidents have been impeached, and only 19 Political figures have been impeached in 243 years of American History.
In an email, Hendershot explained why American citizens, including college students, should have an interest.
“A big question facing the American people is: what are we willing to tolerate in our leaders?” Hendershot said. “Every president has enormous power to shape U.S. politics and set important precedents for the future. If Trump’s maleficence is proven, and yet there are no repercussions, the new normality of U.S. politics may well be terrifying.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated Wed., Oct. 23 to add a direct quote from a GVSU communications staffer to clarify that faculty are reluctant to discuss the impeachment proceedings, but not restricted from doing so as an earlier version of this story incorrectly implied.