To im­peach — or not, a his­tor­i­cal view

The News-Times - - OPINION - By Daniel C. Hud­son Daniel C. Hud­son is a res­i­dent of Ridgefield.

The rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion oc­curred be­fore the for­ma­tion of per­ma­nent po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The Found­ing Fa­thers did not write the Im­peach­ment Clause an­tic­i­pat­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties. George Wash­ing­ton warned against es­tab­lish­ing per­ma­nent po­lit­i­cal par­ties fear­ing that a party in­ter­est would tri­umph over prin­ci­ple and sound judg­ment in the na­tional in­ter­est.

An­drew John­son, a Ten­nessee Demo­crat, did not se­cede with his state and be­came Re­pub­li­can Abra­ham Lincoln’s run­ning mate to em­pha­size the Union cause over party and sec­tional loy­alty. He was im­peached for defying the Re­pub­li­can Party’s pro­gram of Re­con­struc­tion. In his trial be­fore the Se­nate, seven Re­pub­li­cans voted him not guilty of high crimes and mis­de­meanors.

Richard Nixon did not face an im­peach­ment trial be­fore the Se­nate be­cause he re­signed when key fel­low Re­pub­li­can lead­ers in­formed him that they would judge him guilty. Again prin­ci­ple pre­vailed.

In Bill Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment po­lit­i­cal par­ti­san­ship was ev­i­dent. The Re­pub­li­can Party con­trolled the Se­nate 55 to 45 and the House nar­rowly. They could vote ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment, but it was clear that Clin­ton’s Demo­cratic Party would have more than the one-third of the votes in the Se­nate nec­es­sary to judge Clin­ton not guilty. Clin­ton’s pub­lic ap­proval rat­ings were high even though most Amer­i­cans de­plored his mis­be­hav­ior in the Lewin­sky mat­ter.

In his re­port, Robert Mueller cites the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s rul­ing that a sit­ting Pres­i­dent can­not be in­dicted as his rea­son for avoid­ing draw­ing, “ul­ti­mate con­clu­sions about the Pres­i­dent’s con­duct.” To do so, Mueller rea­sons, would leave the Pres­i­dent with­out a ju­di­cial process to clear his name. Mueller’s re­port goes on to say, “if we had con­fi­dence . . . that the Pres­i­dent clearly did not com­mit ob­struc­tion of jus­tice we would so state. Ac­cord­ingly, while this Re­port does not con­clude that the Pres­i­dent com­mit­ted a crime, it also does not ex­on­er­ate him.”

The Mueller Re­port chal­lenges Congress to use its Con­sti­tu­tional power to im­peach the Pres­i­dent and lays out a course for an Im­peach­ment In­quiry on ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants con­di­tions to pre­vail as they did be­fore the Nixon res­ig­na­tion. A pre­vi­ously di­vided coun­try reached a consensus in­clud­ing the Demo­cratic House cau­cus, a sub­stan­tial num­ber of Re­pub­li­can House mem­bers, a bi­par­ti­san group of Sen­a­tors, and pub­lic sup­port for an Im­peach­ment In­quiry. Right now it seems in­con­ceiv­able that the Repub­li­can­con­trolled Se­nate would ren­der a twothirds vote to con­vict Don­ald Trump of high crimes and mis­de­meanors.

Pelosi is ac­cused of putting Demo­cratic Party in­ter­ests ahead of the prin­ci­ple that no per­son is above the law. How is that prin­ci­ple re­al­ized if bit­ter partisan pol­i­tics de­ter­mine the out­come? Some say that an of­fi­cial Im­peach­ment In­quiry would over­come ob­struc­tion­ism and al­low full ac­cess to tes­ti­mony and doc­u­ments. How so? Why would not cur­rent re­fusal to abide by sub­poe­nas and ig­nor­ing of con­tempt ci­ta­tions con­tinue, fur­ther tear­ing the fab­ric of our Con­sti­tu­tion? Would it not make the ob­struc­tion of jus­tice more ob­vi­ous? Well, maybe. Would it not make the help­less­ness of our in­sti­tu­tions in the face of de­fi­ance more ob­vi­ous and engender even more con­tempt for them? Well, maybe.

Mueller placed re­spon­si­bil­ity upon the Congress, but there is an­other re­spon­si­ble agent here — the pub­lic that elected the cur­rent Pres­i­dent and will re-elect or re­ject him in 2020. Do we care enough about our Con­sti­tu­tion, our democ­racy, our coun­try, to open our­selves to be­com­ing in­formed? How many of us will read the Mueller Re­port and not rely on At­tor­ney Gen­eral Barr’s four-page dis­torted sum­mary, and upon Trump Tweets?

Speaker Pelosi is try­ing to fos­ter a process of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. She is be­ing thwarted from the Right by ob­struc­tion­ists and from the Left by pun­dits, who while crit­i­cal of Trump, seem to thrive on con­flict, and im­petu­os­ity as much as he does. Good for rat­ings! Who is be­ing po­lit­i­cal?

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