Im­peach­ing Trump: We can’t af­ford it

The Southern Berks News - - OPINION - Po­lit­i­cally Un­cor­rected By G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young


That’s the num­ber of sep­a­rate fed­eral and state on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions tar­get­ing Pres­i­dent Trump. This num­ber omits the dozens of civil law­suits the pres­i­dent or his busi­nesses are also con­fronting.

Un­der this un­prece­dented scru­tiny Trump is eas­ily the most in­ves­ti­gated pres­i­dent in Amer­i­can his­tory. Nor is it end­ing. As Democrats take over the House, they will ini­ti­ate mul­ti­ple new in­ves­ti­ga­tions into all as­pects of Trump’s per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life, as well as his busi­ness em­pire.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the pres­i­dent has con­fided to close friends his deep con­cern about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of im­peach­ment. He should be con­cerned. Ma­jor­ity House Democrats now can im­peach him since the power to im­peach re­sides solely in the House — while ac­tual re­moval from of­fice re­quires two thirds con­cur­rence in the Se­nate af­ter a trial.

The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion spells out the grounds for im­peach­ment: “Trea­son, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Mis­de­meanors.” In re­al­ity, how­ever, im­peach­ment is a po­lit­i­cal rather than a le­gal process, Hence the grounds for im­peach­ment are what­ever a ma­jor­ity of the House de­cides.

In the first case of ac­tual im­peach­ment, Pres­i­dent An­drew John­son was im­peached in 1868 on a straight party line vote — osten­si­bly for his fir­ing of Sec­re­tary of War Ed­mund Stan­ton, a fir­ing that vi­o­lated the Ten­ure of Of­fice Act. But the real cause of John­son’s im­peach­ment was po­lit­i­cal. A Demo­crat, he was fol­low­ing a more le­nient pol­icy to­ward the de­feated states of the South af­ter the Civil War. Repub­li­cans run­ning Congress feared he would dis­rupt their tougher re­con­struc­tion poli­cies.

Nev­er­the­less, John­son sur­vived re­moval in the Se­nate by a sin­gle vote.

The im­peach­ment of Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton in 1998 was also rooted in pol­icy dif­fer­ences, ex­ac­er­bated greatly by Re­pub­li­can dis­like for Clin­ton and con­tempt for his be­hav­ior in of­fice. Ul­ti­mately, Clin­ton’s de­nial of an af­fair with a White House in­tern led Clin­ton into a maze of le­gal de­po­si­tions and Grand Jury tes­ti­mony in which he per­jured him­self. This in turn led to ac­cu­sa­tions of ob­struc­tion of jus­tice, per­jury and abuse of power. Even­tu­ally the House ap­proved two ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment, al­leg­ing per­jury and ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. Clin­ton, how­ever, was com­fort­ably ac­quit­ted in the Se­nate.

Any fair read­ing of his­tory must con­clude that im­peach­ment has been a flawed tool for re­mov­ing a pres­i­dent. His­tor­i­cally, from An­drew John­son through Bill Clin­ton, it has not worked as the Found­ing Fa­thers hoped it would. (Although in Nixon’s case it can be ar­gued that its threat brought about a nec­es­sary end.)

Worse per­haps, we don’t re­ally have a bet­ter con­sti­tu­tional method to deal with the con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis brought on by a failed pres­i­dency. We are not a par­lia­men­tary sys­tem so can’t re­move a pres­i­dent with a “vote of no con­fi­dence” as for ex­am­ple the UK can (and his­tor­i­cally has fre­quently done). And much to our credit and sta­bil­ity as a na­tion, we have no his­tory of coups or other non-con­sti­tu­tional meth­ods to re­move a pres­i­dent.

Con­se­quently, the op­tions to re­move a pres­i­dent from of­fice are few. Some sort of ne­go­ti­ated ar­range­ment sim­i­lar to that ac­com­pa­ny­ing Richard Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion is pos­si­ble — pre­sum­ably with sim­i­lar le­gal in­duce­ments that al­lowed Nixon to en­ter pri­vate life im­mune to pos­si­ble crim­i­nal charges. But a Nixo­nian style set­tle­ment seems un­likely to­day since on­go­ing sep­a­rate state in­ves­ti­ga­tions might still en­snare Pres­i­dent Trump in a le­gal morass.

The re­main­ing op­tion is to al­low Trump’s term to run out, aban­don­ing ef­forts to re­move him early from of­fice. No one fully knows the im­pli­ca­tion of Trump fin­ish­ing his term. But Amer­ica in two and a half cen­turies has sur­vived much worse than an­other two years of a Trump pres­i­dency.

More­over, he was con­sti­tu­tion­ally elected — and up to 40 per­cent of vot­ers still sup­port him. Un­like An­drew John­son in the 19th cen­tury or Richard Nixon in the 20th, ef­forts to re­move Trump early would leave the coun­try even more di­vided and po­lar­ized than it is now. The costs to be in­curred from two more years of a Trump pres­i­dency may be triv­ial com­pared to the costs of re­mov­ing him.

“What can’t be cured must be en­dured” is a hoary old maxim that nev­er­the­less fits our sit­u­a­tion. The prob­lems of the Trump pres­i­dency prob­a­bly can’t be cured — but they can be en­dured.

We can’t af­ford the al­ter­na­tive.

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